Max Verstappen fastest in Styrian GP qualifying for third F1 pole of season

F1 Styrian pole Verstappen
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SPIELBERG, Austria — F1 championship leader Max Verstappen took pole position Saturday for the Styrian Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring.

The Red Bull driver became the first this weekend to complete a lap below 1 minute, 4 seconds as he timed 1:03.841 in Q3 to beat Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas by 0.194 seconds.

With Bottas getting a three-place grid penalty from a pit-lane incident in Friday’s practice, Verstappen will share the front row with defending champion Lewis Hamilton, who trailed his Mercedes teammate by 0.032 seconds in third.

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McLaren’s Lando Norris and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez will start from row two.

It’s Verstappen’s second consecutive Formula One pole and third of the season, compared to Hamilton’s two.

At the French GP last week, Verstappen completed a hat trick of pole, fastest lap, and victory.

Red Bull has won the last three races, while Hamilton is looking for a first triumph since winning the Spanish GP seven weeks ago.

Charles Leclerc had the seventh-fastest time after both Ferraris finished outside the top 10 in practice Friday. Leclerc earned pole position in two of the last three GPs.

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo finished 14th and went out in Q2, a day after he was runner-up to Verstappen in the second practice.

Earlier Saturday, Hamilton timed the fastest lap in the third and final practice as he was just over two-tenths of a second faster than Verstappen.

Verstappen, who leads Hamilton by 12 points in the season standings, was fastest in both practices Friday.

Hamilton also timed the quickest lap in Friday’s second practice but went too wide on a turn, making him one of many drivers who had lap times deleted for exceeding the track limit.

A day after getting a three-place grid penalty for spinning while leaving the Mercedes box, Bottas had another pitlane scare as he narrowly avoided Pierre Gasly, who overlooked the Finnish driver when leaving the AlphaTauri box.

With a track record of just under 1 minute, 3 seconds, the Red Bull Ring has the quickest lap times of the F1 season.

However, it is only the fifth-shortest track, behind Monaco, Netherlands, Mexico, and Brazil. It has three long straights and features the fewest corners – 10, and three of them are taken at full throttle.

It leaves drivers few opportunities to find time, usually making for a tight qualifying.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
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Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.