He won the French Grand Prix from pole. Next, he won the Styrian Grand Prix from pole too. And now, Max Verstappen, who has just bagged a hat trick of pole positions, his first in Formula 1, is in a commanding position to win yet another Formula 1 Grand Prix from pole.
And should he do that amid the serene Styrian Alps, holding an absolutely clear view out in front being the track leader currently at Spielberg, he will collect his fifth win of the season.
So far, he has already shown sensational form at previous events, starting in Italy, then Monaco, France, and finally, his last win – the Steiermark GP. That told, for a change it won’t be Lewis Hamilton in Max Verstappen’s rearview mirrors, albeit a much younger and rising force in the form of Lando Norris, who bagged a career best qualifying result, finishing just mili seconds off the pole sitter.
The last time a McLaren was out in the front row was back in 2012 when both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were teammates, if that says a thing or two about the long void McLaren have endured in enjoying being out in front.
Though in so doing, Norris bettered his qualifying form here at Spielberg, having bagged a P4 last week for the 2021 Steiermark Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez is all set to begin from third on the grid with two Red Bull cars in the top three and that too, at their home track.
It was a qualifying performance to forget for the two Mercedes drivers-as Lewis Hamilton could only manage a P4, though just enough to beat Valtteri Bottas, even as talk continues to build about the rumoured car upgrades, which may just come to the fore at Silverstone in two weeks’ time- but we shall have to wait and see!
Down in sixth was Pierre Gasly in his Alpha Tauri, the young Frenchman improving vastly after running wide over the kerbs on Turn 9 early on during Saturday’s Q1 session. But this effort was enough to hand the experienced driver advantage over young Yuki Tsunoda, who’s set to begin from seventh.
Meanwhile, down in eighth was Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, who turned 34, the birthday boy, once again beating teammate Lance Stroll, who could only manage tenth on the grid. Though Vettel’s effort was enough to keep Williams’ George Russell behind him, an excellent run, nonetheless for everyone’s favourite “Mr. Saturday,” as the Williams #63 made it to Q3 for the first time on a Williams.
The key part to note from the top ten is that all the top five start on the medium compounds for the race on Sunday.
Surprise disappointments in Q2
That being said, there was disappointment for the two Ferraris, even as Sainz held the edge over his more-experienced Scuderia teammate Leclerc, the latter bagging a P12. Down in thirteenth was Daniel Ricciardo, utterly outperformed once again by cars that do not match up to the straight line speed of the roaring MCL 35M. These are issues that only Ricciardo and his trackside engineers can resolve.
Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, took a respectable fourteenth, though an effort that won’t compel the experienced Samurai to sport a massive smile, especially since he’d beaten both the Alpha Tauris and the Aston Martin’s in Q2.
Down in fifteenth was the Italian Jesus Antonio Giovinazzi, but not after giving teammate Raikkonen a run for his money, once again, on pure qualifying pace.
Those who lagged behind and were knocked out in Q3 included Kimi Raikkonen, due to start from sixteenth on the grid. Quick in P1, and even faster for once over Antonio, Raikkonen would feel it’s not the worst qualifying especially from the perspective of his effort last weekend where he began from eigthteenth on the grid, managing to go up to eleventh by the time the checkered flag arrived.
Behind Kimi was Esteban Ocon, in the other Alpine machine, enduring another disappointing performance, particularly when compared to Fernando Alonso.
Can Max Verstappen collect his fifth race win of 2021?
Latifi, Schumacher, and Mazepin completed eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth on the grid, respectively.
But the key question is whether Max Verstappen can romp home comfortably to collect a sixth race win for Red Bull in nine events. Though for that to happen, Max Verstappen will not only have to keep Lando Norris- always keen for a great duel- at bay but defy the twin Mercedes’ as well, who’d be keen to make up lost ground for a forgettable Saturday come the Grand Prix on Sunday.
“Q1 and Q2 were very good and comfortable but I was not entirely happy in Q3 as my laps weren’t amazing. I’m of course happy to be on pole, especially at the Red Bull Ring again, and having three poles in a row is great for the Team. But I cannot be entirely happy as I always want to be perfect and I always want to analyse what went well and what went wrong. Maybe that is how I grew up but I also believe that is how you keep improving. Now I’m just looking forward to tomorrow as we have a good race car and of course with Checo being third as well it is great for the Team and hopefully we can push together and score a lot of points. It was also an amazing lap by Lando and they have been quite close this weekend but I don’t expect them to be our main rivals in the race tomorrow. I’m very pleased with the whole package, the car and engine together have been working so well over the last few races, so we have good confidence for tomorrow but for sure it’s never easy and it’s softer compounds compared to last week so it will be tough to manage those in the race and we still have strong competition. It was also amazing to see the orange army back in the grandstands. It has been a long time and they are so happy to be here cheering us on which I love to see,” said Verstappen after qualifying.
To conclude, even as Max Verstappen never improved on his penultimate flying lap in the final Q3 session, conceding the fact that he’d love to improve on Sunday’s race pace, it appears that it may not be all that simple given Lando Norris’ confidence is currently on a different level altogether.
Though, at the very same time, the motivation to collect a victory at his team‘s home race event would be difficult to diffuse, don’t you think?