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Formula 1

What we learned from qualifying for the F1 Austrian Grand Prix

The grid has been decided for the second of two back-to-back races at Austria's Red Bull Ring. What have we learned following qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix?

Analysis
To news overview © Red Bull Content Pool / Getty Images

Qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix saw Max Verstappen claim pole
position, with McLaren's Lando Norris snatch a sensational second place ahead of Red Bull's Sergio Perez.

With Mercedes on the back foot in fourth and fifth place, it's set to be a race of damage limitation for the Brackley team.

Let's look at some of the key talking points from the qualifying day in Spielberg, and what we have learned from qualifying at the Red Bull Ring.

Red Bull the clear favourites for victory

In a somewhat rare display of a driver acknowledging their dominance, Max Verstappen didn't even try to hide the fact that he should have been on pole position by far more than the half a tenth he seized it by.

"Q1 and Q2 were very good. It was all going really smooth and the laps were good enough and nice," he said afterwards.

"Just in Q3 I locked up in Turn 3, so that wasn’t amazing. And in the second run I was the first car out so I just lost time on the straights, so I couldn’t improve my lap time even with a more normal Turn 3. Still good enough for first but I would have just liked to have a better Q3."

With Verstappen and Hamilton separated on the grid by Norris and Perez, the Dutch driver just needs to nail the start to give himself the best possible opportunity of sprinting away at the front.

Unlike last weekend, Perez starts on the optimal race tyre. With Norris, presumably, set to fade away in similar fashion to last week, Perez and Hamilton are likely to be able to pass the McLaren with relative ease early on. Perez has proven that he's more than capable of providing excellent reargunner defence for Verstappen, and he's usually more impressive on Sundays than on Saturdays.

Red Bull are in absolute prime position to romp this race, and it's their race to lose from here.

Norris quickly becoming one of the sport's leading lights

Consistently brilliant so far this season, Norris took it to a whole new level on Saturday in Austria. Having threatened a top spot in Imola, the British driver didn't put a wheel wrong this time to just barely miss out on pole position.

Looking back at the comparative laptimes, Norris was actually ahead of Verstappen until the very last corner. While he lost out to the Dutch driver through that final Turn 10, Norris explained afterwards that he had weighed up the 'risk vs. reward' factor. Despite the potential to repeat the disappointment of Imola, Norris threw caution to the wind.

"I improved already quite a bit in those last few corners compared to the rest of my laps," he explained to media, including RacingNews365 after the session.

"So it's like risk versus reward and how much do you really risk and I think I took the risk, and I ended up where I did.

"If I think I had loads more opportunities, or you give me another opportunity, I don't necessarily think I would improve that much more. So we are where we are."

Realistically, Norris can't really hope for a podium tomorrow with a straightforward race, given the respective race pace of the McLaren versus the Red Bulls and Mercedes. But he can be there and ready for if someone from those two teams drops the ball.

Unlike Daniel Ricciardo, whose star continues to wane at McLaren. On a day where Norris was making headlines, Ricciardo was a nondescript 13th. The Australian admitted afterwards that he wasn't struggling and, in his head, felt that the car was solidly under him. It's a long road ahead for Ricciardo, who is now the only driver at a new team who is yet to show signs of finding his feet.

Damage limitation for Mercedes

"We are losing time in specific [at] Turn 1, Turn 3 and 4," Wolff told media, including RacingNews365, after the session.

"You couldn't even pinpoint one or two corners that are responsible for most of the time loss, it's just tiny bits everywhere."

Lewis Hamilton ended up finishing three tenths away from Verstappen at the end of qualifying, with a marginally bigger deficit to the Red Bull than last weekend. Having spent the week working, including a trip to the Mercedes simulator, Friday practice suggested a closer weekend between the two teams.

But qualifying seems to have dashed that hope, although Wolff also explained that they appeared to struggle specifically on the C5 soft compound that they used in Q3.

Mercedes' race pace is sure to be better, and Hamilton can't be ruled out of producing something magic on Sunday but, realistically, trying to steal second place away from Perez is the most likely target for the reigning Champion on a weekend that he freely admits is about reducing the damage in the championship.

"We tried everything to get more out of the car and it's just the underlying pace," Hamilton said.

"That is where we're at the moment. So we've got to really find performance in the following races."

Stewards had to punish Vettel, no matter how unfair

Sebastian Vettel didn't really do a whole lot wrong in Q2, despite the blatant nature of his block on Fernando Alonso. Having tried to find space between Turns 8 and 9, as instructed by Race Control, Vettel had to back off a huge amount due to the queue forming in front of him.

While Carlos Sainz and Valtteri Bottas escaped penalty for doing, fundamentally, the same 'wrong' thing that Vettel did, the German was unlucky in that Alonso came storming around on his hot lap right as Vettel was about to put the foot down to start his own flying lap.

Sainz and Bottas were both fortunate to escape, with the stewards ruling that too many drivers had contributed to the build-up of traffic. But, having been the one to impede a driver according to the sporting regulations, Vettel had to be the one to fall on his sword.

A furious Alonso quickly calmed down after the session, going so far as to defend Vettel afterwards. The Spaniard called for harsher penalties to be applied by the FIA, saying their reluctance to apply penalties when required is what leads to such a situation.

“I’m sure the FIA will have to learn as well and police this a little bit better because in the top category of motorsport, you cannot see Turns 9 and 10 with 10 cars waiting to open the lap at 5 kph,” Alonso told media, including RacingNews365 after qualifying.

“I think that has to be managed a little bit better in the top category and be harsh with penalties. This is a consequence of being too soft on penalties."

RN365 News dossier F1 2021 Austrian Grand Prix

The latest news about the Austrian Grand Prix straight from the Red Bull Ring.

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