F1: Verstappen under pressure from Norris ahead of Austrian GP this weekend

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F1: Verstappen under pressure from Norris ahead of Austrian GP this weekend


  • Verstappen turned in a blistering lap in the closing seconds that edged Norris by the tiny margin of 0.09 seconds in the Austrian GP qualifying.
This weekend Lando Norris faces the challenge of trying to edge Verstappen at the Red Bull Ring, where the Dutch driver has won four of the last six races. (AFP)

Lando Norris has closed the speed gap to Max Verstappen and will try to beat the Formula 1 ace on Red Bull’s home track. Norris has steered his McLaren to consecutive runner-up finishes behind the defending world champion. This weekend he faces the challenge of trying to edge Verstappen at the Red Bull Ring, where the Dutch driver has won four of the last six races. Red Bull is based in Britain but holds an Austrian license.

Verstappen got the edge — barely — over Norris on Friday in sprint qualifying for Saturday’s sprint race, when eight points will be up for grabs for the winner. That compares to 25 points going to the Grand Prix winner on Sunday.

Verstappen turned in a blistering lap in the closing seconds that edged Norris by the tiny margin of 0.09 seconds. Norris’ McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri will start the sprint race from third behind the top two.

“It’s great to be first in front of my home fans and at my home grand prix,” Verstappen said before adding that he was not “too stressed” about the performances of Norris.

Verstappen cruised to a third consecutive world title last year by winning 19 of 23 races, while his Red Bull partner Sergio Pérez gobbled up another two, leaving just Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz as the only other driver to savour a victory.

Verstappen is still on top with seven wins in 10 races in 2024, but the field is giving him more of a fight.

Norris has emerged as his No. 1 challenger ever since the British driver recorded his first career victory in Miami in May. Verstappen started that race from the pole but made a costly mistake when he hit a chicane and had to pit.

Norris finished second to Verstappen in Montreal three weeks ago and followed that with a very strong weekend at the Spanish GP last weekend. Norris beat Verstappen for the pole position in qualifying and lamented a poor start that he believed cost him a victory in Barcelona.

Verstappen recognized that McLaren was, at least for now, better in some areas, especially in making their tyres last.

“McLaren at the moment are just very solid,” Verstappen said. “They’re good everywhere, every single track.

“Also I think you could see in Barcelona, they were very good on their tyres. They could just push more on them compared to everyone else on the grid … Lando was definitely catching up a lot.”

Norris has moved into second place in the drivers’ standings at 69 points behind Verstappen. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is two points behind Norris in third.

In Spain, Norris was convinced that his car was the fastest — he picked up a point for the quickest race lap — and that his mistake at the race start when he was passed by Verstappen and Mercedes’ George Russell condemned him to a second-place finish.

He said that to get that edge over a poised champion like Verstappen he will need a “perfect” race.

“We’re on a level now where everything has to be perfect,” Norris said ahead of the Austrian GP. “We’re against one of the best drivers ever in Formula 1, who’s performing at an incredibly high level, and anything that wasn’t perfect, like my start last weekend, you pay the price for. Simple as that.”

Mercedes is also aiming to stay in the thick of it after finishing third and fourth in Montreal and Barcelona.

Lewis Hamilton earned his first podium of the season — in his last season with Mercedes before he joins Ferrari next year — last weekend.

SPRINT QUALIFYING

Mercedes’ George Russell will start the sprint race from fourth in front of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Hamilton in sixth.

Leclerc was unable to clock a time in the final part of qualifying and will start from 10th on the grid. He complained to his team radio that the engine “switched off” and left him stranded. Ferrari has dipped in form since Leclerc won on the slow Monaco track.

Logan Sargeant bettered Williams’ partner Alex Albon and will start from the 15th. Daniel Ricciardo qualified 16th after his RB and both Saubers were among those eliminated in the first part of qualifying that culls the five slowest cars.

The Austrian GP is the third of six races this year to include a sprint race, which is about a third of the distance of a Grand Prix.

INSIDE THE LINES

The novelty of this year’s race is the track change to help avoid the penalties stewards handed out for drivers who raced outside the track limits in 2023. A track limit is violated when all four wheels of a car go outside the white line bordering the track.

To try to encourage drivers to keep inside the lines, FIA has added a gravel strip beyond the curb of the particularly troublesome Turns 9 and 10. They also moved the white line on Turn 4.

First Published Date: 29 Jun 2024, 11:51 AM IST

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