Qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix saw Max Verstappen claim pole position, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton taking second and third respectively. But with Bottas receiving a three-place grid penalty, the two title contenders will once again line up on the front row together.
Whilst these drivers are no strangers to the top three, the session threw up several surprises and key talking points. So what have we learned from qualifying day at the Red Bull Ring?
Red Bull even stronger than expected?
So far during the 2021 F1 season, the battle between Red Bull and Mercedes has seen the momentum swing between each team. The early signs during Friday's practice sessions were that Red Bull might have an advantage at their home race - but it seems that their edge in qualifying may have been even bigger than many had anticipated.
Verstappen secured pole position with a time of 1:03.841, whilst second-placed Bottas' lap was 1:04.035. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted he was surprised that the Mercedes were not closer to their cars.
"We thought that they had a little bit more in hand, but the temperature has gone up a little bit and that's affected the cars," Horner told Sky Sports F1.
"It's such fine margins at the moment between the two teams that I think we've just managed to get within a window that you know certainly Max is very happy with and extract a good lap."
Just don't ask Verstappen about the straight-line speed. When quizzed about this in the post-qualifying press conference, the Dutchman hinted he was fed up of being asked about this in relation to the Honda engine and suggested that the speed was down to the rear wing.
Bottas resurgent but Mercedes still making mistakes?
Bottas' weekend did not get off to the best start when he spun in the pit lane during FP2 on Friday, resulting in him being handed a three-place grid penalty. The Finn seemed determined to turn things around in qualifying though, and managed to beat teammate Hamilton to put in the second-best time of Q3.
Whilst Bottas' penalty promotes Hamilton up to the front row, the seven-time World Champion did not seem overly happy. Hamilton did three runs rather than two in Q3, and admitted later that his decision to jump the queue ahead of his final lap did not work out, causing him to pick up dirt on his tyres. He also made an error in the final sector.
Horner has hinted that the decision to do three runs put Hamilton under pressure, suggesting a strategic error on the part of the Briton and his team.
"It's something we've looked at previously but it puts you under so much pressure on the out laps, you can't do your build laps in the way that you want, it puts everything much more condensed, but it's just a different way to go about it."
These uncharacteristic slip-ups appear to continue to haunt Mercedes after similar little mistakes in previous Grand Prix weekends.
Midfield battle too close to call?
Many drivers had predicted that qualifying would be tight for the Styrian Grand Prix, and this certainly proved to be the case amongst the midfield. Lando Norris was the standout performer, beating Red Bull's Sergio Perez to qualify in fourth, though this will become third thanks to Bottas' penalty.
The latter half of the top 10 saw a mixture of drivers from AlphaTauri, Ferrari, Alpine and Aston Martin battle it out. Whilst McLaren often seem to have a slight edge, it seems hard to predict from one weekend to the next who will fare the best in the midfield. With the likes of Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso in this pack, this part of the grid will definitely be worth watching in Sunday's race.
Ricciardo still struggling?
What was a great day for Norris was the opposite for his McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo. There had been signs of progress for the Australian at the previous race in France, where a strong outing saw him finish in sixth, equalling his best result of the year so far.
But it looked like this momentum had been lost during qualifying at Austria's Red Bull Ring. The 31-year-old was fortunate to make it out of Q1, but saw his luck run out in Q2. He qualified down in 13th, and admitted to being confused by his difficulties after looking much stronger during FP2 on Friday.
"What happened to me today is a bit of a mystery," Ricciardo told RacingNews365.com and other members of the media after qualifying. "We were obviously quick yesterday, and I know it's only Friday practice. I didn't expect to be fighting for pole position today, but obviously we were pretty comfortable with everything.
"We put the car on track today and we are one second back pretty much. I think qualifying was also a product of this morning, we were just off the pace. But why? Not sure. It was definitely one of those days, a bit of a frustrating one, so we'll obviously try to understand why."
Ricciardo will be hoping to turn things back in his favour on Sunday.
Williams on the up?
Nicholas Latifi was the surprise star of Q1 during qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix. The Canadian put in an impressive lap, at one stage even breaking into the top 10, but unfortunately lost time in his final run due to traffic. This meant that he narrowly missed out on making it into Q2 and will start the race from 16th, yet there were clearly signs of improvement.
Meanwhile teammate George Russell further added to his reputation of being a Saturday man by again reaching Q2. The British driver put in one of his strongest showings yet to qualify in 11th, ahead of the likes of Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel. Whilst left frustrated at just missing the opportunity to get into Q3, Russell was pleased with his result and hopes to get into the top 10.
"I was pushing to my absolute limits in qualifying and the car really came alive when it mattered, so the lap felt really strong," Russell said in a statement from Williams. "It’s frustrating when we were so close to Q3, eight thousandths of a second really is nothing, but we’ll have tyre choice in P11 tomorrow so that’s a good place to be.
"The team is putting a lot of effort into race pace at the moment, so to still get a great result on Saturday is very pleasing. We’re here on merit today; we did a good job and the car is feeling strong. There’s no reason why we can’t keep the others behind us tomorrow, I’m not looking in my mirrors, I’m looking forward, and I want to get inside that top 10."
All of this bodes well for the team as they continue to battle for their first point of the season, as well giving them an edge in the fight to stay ahead of Haas in the Constructors' Championship.
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