Max Verstappen dusts the field in qualifying at the F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Champions answer the bell.

Early in the second segment of qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix, the field was condensed at the front, with not much separating the drivers atop the timing sheets. To that point, the first segment of qualifying was the closest-ever Q1 since the sport implemented the three-segment qualifying format, a testament to just how compact the grid is this season.

Then Red Bull bolted on a fresh set of soft tires onto Max Verstappen’s RB20, and the three-time Drivers’ Champion posted a blistering lap that was almost five-tenths clear of the rest of the field, which remained condensed behind him.

While Lando Norris and company closed that gap in Q3 Verstappen delivered again in the final segment of qualifying, holding Norris off by over four-tenths of a second. Verstappen’s final run of the day was a stunning 1:04.314, another thunderous effort from the champion.

Formula 1 in 2024 has certainly seen the field more compact than ever, but one driver remains at the tip of the spear, and that is Verstappen. The Red Bull driver, hours after securing victory in the F1 Sprint Race despite challenges from Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, captured yet another pole position, setting himself up for another massive day on Sunday.

“No one is near Max Verstappen,” declared Alex Jacques on F1TV. “That was a masterclass.”

“The car felt a lot better for me today,” said Verstappen to Jolyon Palmer trackside after the session. “It’s a great feeling, I think this is a great statement.”

Here are the full results from qualifying, along with some more winners and losers.

Winner: Lando Norris

Lando Norris has answered a bell of his own so far this weekend. The McLaren driver arrived in Austria under the weather and has been battling himself in the cockpit all week long.

Still, he put himself on the front row for the F1 Sprint Race on Friday, and will again start alongside Verstappen in Sunday’s main event.

However, starting alongside Verstappen, while notable, does not finish the job. The real challenge that Norris faces is translating one of these starts next to Verstappen into something bigger.

His second F1 Grand Prix victory.

“Max was a league of his own,” said Norris to Palmer trackside. But can he catch Verstappen tomorrow?

“It’s tough, when you look at the pace it’s clear that we’re gonna have to give it a lot,” added Norris. “I’ll do a better job than this morning, that’s for sure.”

Norris has been brutally honest regarding his performances in recent weeks. He blamed himself for failing to pull out a win at the Spanish Grand Prix despite wrestling pole position away from Verstappen at the death. After Saturday’s F1 Sprint race, he referred to himself as an “amateur” when discussing an early-lap fight with Verstappen that opened the door for teammate Oscar Piastri to snatch P2 away from him. The young driver is his own biggest critic, an admirable quality in this sport.

Having answered one bell already this week, fending off his illness to put in some solid performances, Norris can massively answer another bell tomorrow if he can find a way to keep Verstappen in sight and deliver his second Grand Prix victory.

Losers: Aston Martin

F1 Grand Prix of Austria - Qualifying

Photo by Bryn Lennon – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

At this point, it might be fair to ask what is wrong at Aston Martin.

To that point, that is exactly what Jolyon Palmer queried from the F1TV commentary box: “What on earth is going on with that team?” asked Palmer at the end of Q1.

While they were the darlings of the early 2023 F1 season, their fortunes have changed since then. While they arrived sitting sixth in the Constructors’ Championship and were just a few weeks removed from their best result of the season, which saw them bank 14 points at the Canadian Grand Prix thanks to double points from Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, they finished with anything to show for their efforts in Barcelona, and look on track for something similar this weekend.

Both Alonso and Stroll were eliminated in SQ2 on Friday, and they finished outside the points in the F1 Sprint Race earlier in the day.

Qualifying for the Grand Prix was not much better.

Stroll was eliminated in Q1, placing 17th. Alonso squeaked into Q2, placing the 15th-fastest time in Q1, but his day ended there, as he will start the Austrian Grand Prix in 15th.

In the studio on F1TV Alex Brundle outlined how both Stroll and Alonso were dealing with balance issues on the AMR24. “You can see it really plowing through the middle of the corner,” described Brundle as he talked over replays from Q1 and Q2. “Nasty balance.”

It is fair to point out that during Friday’s FIA Press Conference team boss Mike Krack outlined how tracks such as Barcelona and Red Bull Ring might not suit the AMR24 given its current performance.

“We knew that Barcelona, Spielberg, Silverstone will be hard for us because we struggle in tracks where you have a large spread of corners and also where you have a lot of high-speed corners,” said Krack on Friday. “So it was not a surprise. We raced the same car two weeks before in Montréal, where we came away with the highest points score that we had this year. So it shows you how the situations can change quickly. And also, I think in Montréal, you then run in free air, which helps everything. And in Barcelona, you’re not. We had a lot of degradation in Barcelona and then things get just worse and worse and worse over the course and there’s not much you can do other than bring it home. and that is what we did.”

However, track layout is one thing, and many teams face the occasional track or two that do not suit their challenger. But the bigger question for Aston Martin at the moment is the lack of development. That was an issue for the team last year, as they followed their tremendous start with some mid-season development struggles.

Heading into 2024 the word from the team was that they needed to do a better job of upgrading their challenger throughout the campaign. “We’ve seen, particularly last season, but also the season before, the in-season development races is absolutely fierce, and we want to be as competitive in that as we have been going into the new season,” said Technical Director Dan Fallows at the launch of the AMR24. “So that’s what we’ve been really focussed on is to make sure that we’ve got a good, stable basis for us to go and develop the car and keep those updates coming and keep the performance coming.”

But the upgrades to date have not delivered in this department, as Krack admitted on Friday.

“I think you’re right,” said Krack when asked if the in-season development has stalled as it did a year ago. “I would not say stalled, but I think clearly others do a better job than we do, and that is something that we have to seriously put under scrutiny. There is never one thing in Formula 1, obviously.

“You always have several factors contributing, but I think we have to have a close look at aerodynamics because this is performance differentiator number one in F1 and also how we do how we do these things. So that’s something that is clearly being analysed thoroughly not only now over the last month and I think we have understood some of our issues and trying to solve them as quick as possible. But we still have a long way ahead.”

That long way ahead seems even longer today.

Winner: George Russell

The summer of progress continues at Mercedes.

For the third race weekend in a row, the Brackley-based team put a car into the top three of a Saturday qualifying session. George Russell started that streak with his stunning pole position at the Canadian Grand Prix, which Lewis Hamilton extended with his P3 in qualifying at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Russell continued that on Saturday, capturing P3 after Oscar Piastri’s best lap was deleted for exceeding track limits by the slightest of margins.

In this sport, every margin matters.

Now Mercedes has a chance to extend another streak, as the Silver Arrows have secured 27 points or more in each of the past two race weekends. Mercedes banked 28 points at the Canadian Grand Prix and added 27 more in Barcelona. They enter Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix having already added eight points to their account, thanks to Russell’s P4 and Hamilton’s P6 in the F1 Sprint Race.

That puts them on a path to keep that streak alive tomorrow in the main event.

“The car’s feeling really great at the moment,” said Russell trackside. “It’s definitely going in the right direction for us.

“Three races in a row for us that we’re in the top three,” added the Mercedes driver.

While Russell conceded that Mercedes’ race is likely with the cars behind him, such as the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc, as well as a lurking Piastri, the team has certainly made progress over these past few weeks.

That progress has translated into podiums, and with a little luck, it could start translating into something more for Mercedes.

Perhaps even a win.

Losers: Williams

“We know our limitations and these conditions isn’t it. Such a shame, man.”

That was the report from Logan Sargeant following the end of Q1, which saw both Sargeant and teammate Alexander Albon eliminated at the back of the field.

Williams arrived at Red Bull Ring hopeful that the layout would provide fertile ground for improved performance. But that hope has yet to materialize, as their struggles on Friday continued into Saturday. Both Albon and Sargeant — who out-qualified Albon for the first time in his F1 career when he advanced into SQ2 on Friday — were eliminated in Q1, and that left both drivers seeking answers.

However, those answers might not arrive in time for Williams to salvage anything this weekend.

Winner: Nico Hülkenberg

F1 Grand Prix of Austria - Sprint

Photo by Bryn Lennon – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

The last points result for Haas came in the F1 Sprint Race at the Miami Grand Prix. On that hot and humid Saturday afternoon Nico Hülkenberg came across the line seventh, adding a pair of points to the team’s account.

Since then Haas has been kept out of the points, and in that time they have seen Alpine leapfrog them in the Constructors’ Championship standings, thanks to a pair of double-points finishes from Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly over the last two race weekends.

This is a team that badly needed a positive result to answer that challenge, and they took a big step towards that result on Saturday. Both Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen advanced to Q2 in Saturday’s session, and while the Danish driver saw his session end there Hülkenberg advanced into Q3, and qualified ninth, matching his previous best this season.

While there is still work to be done, this is a result that the driver, and the team, truly needed.

Incomplete: Sergio Pérez

Sergio Pérez advanced into Q3 and qualified eighth for the Austrian Grand Prix, setting himself up for a solid day of points in Sunday’s main event.

But the Red Bull driver might face more questions than answers right now.

Pérez entered the 2024 F1 season facing questions about his future at Red Bull. With his contract due to expire at the end of the current campaign, Pérez came out firing on all cylinders to start the year, scoring podium finishes in four of the first five race weekends. At the Miami Grand Prix Pérez added another 18 points to his account over the F1 Sprint Race and the Miami Grand Prix itself.

It has been a much different story since then.

The Mexican driver has added just nine points to his account since Miami, and that includes the point he added earlier this morning with an eighth-place finish in the F1 Sprint Race at Red Bull Ring. His eighth-place result in qualifying today matches his best qualifying performance over this difficult stretch, which has also seen Pérez in Q1 twice (Monaco and Canada) and Q2 once, at Imola.

A year ago Pérez endured a similar mid-season swoon, one that effectively ended any thought of him challenging Verstappen atop the Drivers’ Championship standings. However, this mid-season swoon comes in a year where, as noted above, the field has caught the rear wing of Red Bull. Last year the Bulls were able to easily overcome the rest of the field and cruise to a second-straight Constructors’ Championship, even with Pérez’s mid-year struggles.

Could 2024 be a different story?

Improved form from Pérez might end that story, and see Red Bull again pull away from the field in the Constructors’ Championship. But the longer he continues this inconsistent form, the more that door remains open for a team like Ferrari or McLaren to barge through.

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