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Verstappen Takes Pole in Qualifying Amid Track Limit Breaches

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

Credit - Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Nobody could stop Max Verstappen in qualifying once again, as the Dutchman romped to yet another pole position, his fourth in a row, amid a dramatic session, which saw a plethora of lap times deleted due to track limit infringements.

Verstappen’s pole position inherits him the position for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, with the sprint shootout set to decide the grid order for tomorrow’s sprint race, as part of the revised sprint race weekend format in 2023.

Q1 got underway, and as many as nine drivers fell foul of track limits straight away, including the Reigning Champion Verstappen. A brief stoppage in proceedings too occurred, as a result of a red flag induced by Valtteri Bottas spinning his Alfa Romeo across the grass at turn one. Nevertheless, Bottas managed to get going, and returned to the pits without further incident.

Normal proceedings resumed shortly after, and Verstappen laid down the benchmark once again, ousting McLaren’s Oscar Piastri from the top of the standings. Soon, it would be crunch time, and many drivers found themselves on the bubble, looking to improve their lap times to progress to the next. Unfortunately, it would be both AlphaTauri drivers making way in Q1, with one of 2023's revelations Yuki Tsunoda just missing out on a Q2 spot. The Japanese driver missed out by the slender margin of 0.02 seconds to Valtteri Bottas, who was back on the track after his excursion earlier.

Nyck de Vries finished the session at the rear of the field, in another tough qualifying session for the Dutch driver. He was joined by fellow rookie Logan Sargeant, who had initially set the same lap time as Bottas, before the Finn improved. Kevin Magnussen and Zhou Guanyu too couldn’t find enough time to make it out of Q1, losing out to their teammates right at the death.

The tight confines of the Red Bull Ring made for a closer field spread than usual, with just over eight tenths separating the two Dutch drivers at either end of the grid.

Q2 would bring even more surprises and qualifying shocks, with more drivers at the receiving end of track limit infringements. The big headlines would be Mercedes driver George Russell’s third Q2 elimination in six races.

However, a bigger shock saw Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez find himself knocked out in Q2 again - for the fourth race in a row. Perez had all his lap times deleted in the session, for exceeding track limits at turns nine and ten. Verstappen too faced a lap time deletion due to track limits, but found enough time to make it into Q3.

The duo were joined by Piastri and Esteban Ocon, also victims of the harsh track limits around the 4.3 km (2.6 mi) circuit. They line up 12th and 13th on the grid for the race, with Bottas ahead of the disappointed Perez.

The track limit deletions pushed Alex Albon up to tenth, as he made it to Q3 for the second race in succession, along with Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas. This meant eight teams would have at least one car in the top ten for the race.

The top-ten shootout proved to be an exhilarating one, as it was a game of fine margins at the front. Verstappen set the tone with a 1:04.503 lap time, and was closely tailed by the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, the duo having a much better qualifying session compared to two weeks ago.

Lando Norris was doing wonders in his newly-upgraded McLaren, sitting up in fourth, ahead of Fernando Alonso. Three drivers had their lap times deleted for track limits during the session - Nico Hulkenberg, Lance Stroll, and Alex Albon. While Stroll managed to outqualify his teammate, Albon’s lap time cost him a chance of going one better on the grid, and he will line up 10th on Sunday.

Back at the front, Verstappen raised the bar, setting a rapid lap of 1:04.391 around the Red Bull Ring, but he had two Ferrari drivers pushing hard to usurp that lap time. And while it got ever so close at the end, Verstappen held on, and took pole position by 0.048 seconds from Leclerc. Sainz rounded out the top three, an identical trio from the qualifying session the year prior.

Nevertheless, an exciting qualifying session has set the grid for Sunday’s race, and with certain drivers starting out of position, one can only wonder what they will be able to achieve, over the course of 71 exciting laps around the Red Bull Ring on Sunday.


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