Verstappen wins Styrian GP qualifying for 3rd pole of season

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SPIELBERG, Austria (AP)Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen maintained his momentum over rival Lewis Hamilton by taking pole position for the Styrian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Verstappen became the first driver this weekend to complete a lap below 1 minute, 4 seconds as he timed 1:03.841 in his Red Bull in Q3 to beat Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas by .194.

With Bottas getting a three-place grid penalty from a pitlane incident in Friday’s practice, Verstappen will share the front row with Hamilton. The defending champion trailed his Mercedes teammate by .032 in third.

McLaren’s Lando Norris and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez will start from row two.

”It’s been a very good weekend,” Verstappen said. ”Again in qualifying the car was really good to drive. I am super happy to be on pole here at home.”

The Dutch driver called his fastest lap ”not too bad.”

”It’s definitely a small track but it’s really hard to get a good lap out of it,” he said. ”I think that first lap in Q3 was not too bad, it’s never perfect, but it’s good enough.”

The lap earned Verstappen his second straight pole and third of the season, compared to Hamilton’s two. Both drivers have won three races this season.

At the French GP last week, Verstappen completed a hat trick of pole, fastest lap, and victory when he overtook Hamilton in the penultimate lap.

”It’s never easy but that’s good for racing,” Verstappen said. ”I am sure again tomorrow it will be very tight, so hopefully again it will be as interesting as in France.”

Red Bull has won the last three races, while Hamilton is looking for a first triumph since winning the Spanish GP seven weeks ago.

Verstappen drew praise from Hamilton.

”Firstly, well done to Max, he has been so fast this weekend,” said Hamilton, who is chasing a record eighth F1 title this season.

However, Red Bull’s dominance left him in doubt about his chances in the race.

”They generally had a quarter of a second on us all weekend. It will be interesting to see whether we can manage it. I don’t think we have the raw pace to overtake them, that’s for sure,” Hamilton said.

”We have been giving it absolutely everything. It wasn’t the greatest of sessions but nonetheless we are still on the front row. I did everything I could and we go into the race tomorrow for a fight.”

Charles Leclerc had the seventh-fastest time after both Ferraris finished outside the top 10 in practice Friday. Leclerc earned pole position in two of the last three GPs.

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo finished 14th and went out in Q2, a day after he was runner-up to Verstappen in the second practice.

Earlier Saturday, Hamilton timed the fastest lap in the third and final practice as he was just over two-tenths of a second faster than Verstappen.

Verstappen, who leads Hamilton by 12 points in the season standings, was fastest in both practices Friday.

Hamilton also timed the quickest lap in Friday’s second practice but went too wide on a turn, making him one of many drivers who had lap times deleted for exceeding the track limit.

A day after getting a three-place grid penalty for spinning while leaving the Mercedes box, Bottas had another pitlane scare as he narrowly avoided Pierre Gasly, who overlooked the Finnish driver when leaving the AlphaTauri box.

With a track record of just under 1 minute, 3 seconds, the Red Bull Ring has the quickest lap times of the F1 season.

However, it is only the fifth-shortest track, behind Monaco, Netherlands, Mexico, and Brazil. It has three long straights and features the fewest corners – 10, and three of them are taken at full throttle.

It leaves drivers few opportunities to find time, usually making for a tight qualifying.

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