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F1 Austrian GP: Verstappen storms to pole by 0.4s from Norris but faces investigation

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen dominated qualifying for Formula 1’s 2024 Austrian Grand Prix, finishing 0.4s clear of McLaren driver Lando Norris, with George Russell third for Mercedes.

But the Red Bull driver faces a post-qualifying investigation for possibly driving too slowly through the pitlane exit at the Red Bull Ring ahead of his final Q3 effort.

After being put under much pressure from Norris and McLaren in sprint qualifying and Saturday’s first race of the weekend, Verstappen was in command throughout the session that sets the grid for the main event.

In Q3, Verstappen led the leading pack around and went quicker still with a 1m04.426s, with Norris chasing him at this stage 0.361s slower but with an edge in the first sector.

On the second runs, Verstappen still did not beat Norris’s session-leading sector one time and then did not better his personal best in the middle third of the lap, but a mighty final sector improved the pole time to 1m04.314s.

Norris shuffled his team-mate Oscar Piastri back to claim second before the other McLaren had its best time deleted to running too wide at Turn 6 on the second Q3 runs.

Russell then moved into third with the final Q3 lap, which was not spoiled by Charles Leclerc going off for Ferrari ahead.

The Scuderia’s post-sprint changes appeared to have made it much more competitive, with Carlos Sainz ending up fourth and one spot better than he managed in sprint qualifying.

But Leclerc was its best hope in Q3 as he had been close to the McLaren drivers’ times despite being on used rubber in Q2 and then at the start of Q3, but on his sole new tyre run Leclerc clipped the Turn 6 gravel and lost time, then went off dramatically at the final two corners.

Leclerc being able to drive through the run-off meant no yellow flags flew to interrupt the laps of the chasing Mercedes drivers, as Lewis Hamilton ended up fifth and Russell leapt up the order.

Leclerc finished sixth, boosted by Piastri’s fall to seventh, with Sergio Perez eighth after being left with no new softs to run in Q3 in the other Red Bull.

Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top 10 for Haas and Alpine, as Hamilton too faces a post-session investigation for dragging a Mercedes jack out into the pitlane as he left his garage at the start of Q3.

At the end of Q2, several drivers set personal bests but failed to beat Ocon’s time – despite running behind him on the track that was still gripping up.

These were Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen, while behind them Pierre Gasly lost his best time to a track limits violation at Turn 6 that had the Alpine’s right-side wheels skating through the adjacent gravel trap.

Gasly losing his best time put him behind Magnussen, with Yuki Tsunoda 14th and Fernando Alonso 15th – the latter complaining he “nearly crashed” at Turns 7 and 10 on his run midway through Q2.

Also in that segment, Hulkenberg was clocked possibly joining the fast lane in the pits ahead of Sergio Perez, despite having his front wheels over the white line as the regulations require, which followed the German being involved in a similar incident in Q1 and both instances will be investigated now qualifying had been completed.

In Q1, Alonso’s last-gasp improvement knocked out Alex Albon – despite the Williams driver doing a personal best on his last run in the opening segment, where he was the first to take the flag and so missed the last bits of track evolution.

Behind came Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin, Valtteri Bottas – the only driver to fail to beat their personal best right at the end of the Q1 fallers – Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu.

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