Max Verstappen dominates the Spielberg qualifying: demonstration of power through setup magic

In his living room, Max Verstappen was once again untouchable at the Red Bull Ring. While on Friday it was a story between him and rival Lando Norris in the sprint qualifying and partly in the sprint, the world champion dominated the qualifying for the Austrian GP at will. He beat Norris by 0.404 seconds, who will have his chance to take revenge for the sprint in the race tomorrow. It is the 41st pole position in Max Verstappen’s career.

Red Bull does magic in the setup: I haven’t had this feeling in the car for a long time

For Verstappen, the key to success was the improved setup compared to the sprint qualifying and sprint, where he was still able to take pole and victory. “The car was in a better window. I was able to push a bit more and rely on the car’s grip because of the better balance. I really enjoyed that,” enthused the Red Bull driver. Dr. Helmut Marko added: “We are also surprised, but the whole team did an excellent job. Four tenths on this track is incredible. That was a demonstration of power.”

Red Bull seems to have drawn the right conclusions from the experience of sprint qualifying and the sprint when it comes to setup. With the sprint format introduced in 2024, these are allowed after the sprint, as the parc fermé is reopened. “We tried to fine-tune the balance here and there, but every lap I drove was very good,” explained Verstappen. “Then it’s just about hitting every corner well. It’s been a while since I’ve had that feeling in the car.”

Red Bull’s successful setup change is also reflected in the analysis. Compared to the sprint qualifying, Verstappen improved on Saturday, especially in the DRS areas. Red Bull optimized the setup more for top speed on the straights. At the same time, however, Verstappen did not have to accept any losses in the slower corners. The times in the remaining corners are at a similar level compared to SQ3.

Almost a second behind: Sergio Perez disappoints again

The gap to his teammate Sergio Perez once again shows how dominant Verstappen’s performance was. The Mexican was 0.888 seconds away from pole position. On the Red Bull Ring, which is only 4.318 km long, this gap is worlds apart. At least Perez managed to make it into Q3 for the second time in a row, even if it required all of the fresh soft tires. In the last race, only he and Esteban Ocon did not have an unused set of tires available. The rest had been able to save at least one set beforehand.

“We didn’t have enough of a gap early in qualifying. It was all so close, so unfortunately we had to use more tyres than we wanted,” said Perez. “I was only four tenths off P2 and I was on a used tyre, so I think we could have got more out of it today.”

Verstappen is the clear favorite in Austria: Only something extraordinary can stop him

After the demonstration of power, Verstappen is once again the clear favorite in front of his numerous fans. A feeling that is not new, but certainly a little unusual considering McLaren’s upswing in recent weeks. “The last few races were all pretty close, so today was very positive for the team,” acknowledged Verstappen.

The world champion hopes that the gap from qualifying will also be transferred to the long-run pace in the race. An area in which Red Bull has recently lost out to McLaren. “I feel that the car has improved in terms of balance, which will hopefully help with the tires tomorrow, because it will be a hot and long race,” explained the world champion. “You have to be extremely careful with the tires and that’s what we’ll try to do tomorrow.”

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen
Flowery prospects for the race?, Photo: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Motorsport consultant Dr. Helmut Marko, as usual, was a little more aggressive and confident about the expectations for the Grand Prix, even though Norris will enjoy a small advantage compared to the sprint. “Norris can concentrate on Max in the race and doesn’t have a teammate breathing down his neck,” explained Marko. “But with the lead we have, with our two fresh sets of hard tires, in these temperatures and the way Max is driving, only something extraordinary can stop him.”

On the track, things are going well for Red Bull at their home race. But off the track, the fires just won’t cool down. Recently, the dispute between Red Bull team boss Christian Horner and Max Verstappen’s father Jos escalated, and the father then cancelled his participation in Red Bull’s Legends Parade. You can read what Max Verstappen thinks about the issue here:

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