Max Verstappen accused Formula One’s referee of making the sport’s superstars look like “amateurs” in qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix.
Verstappen put his Red Bull on pole position for Sunday’s 71-lap race in Spielberg after he saw off a late flurry from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
He was subsequently cleared of impeding Kevin Magnussen in Q1 – therefore keeping pole – after being called before the stewards.
Carlos Sainz starts third in the other scarlet car ahead of Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton who qualified fourth and fifth respectively.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez finished only 15th after all three of his laps in Q2 were deleted for exceeding track limits.
Verstappen also had four runs scrubbed off by the stewards for putting his Red Bull over the white lines. In all, an extraordinary 47 laps were deleted by race director Niels Wittich.
“This is a joke,” said Verstappen over the radio. “Honestly, with these track limits, f****** ridiculous.”
Verstappen managed to fend off Leclerc by just 0.048 sec, but moments after he stepped out of his Red Bull, the Dutch driver took aim at Wittich’s refereeing.
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“Today, it was very silly,” he said. “It made us look like amateurs with the amount of laps that were being deleted and some of them were so marginal.
“We spoke about it in the briefing before, and when it is very marginal, it is impossible to judge if the car is out or in, and yet laps were still getting deleted. It was not a good look today.
“People will say, ‘you should have kept the car in the white lines’. If it was that easy, you can take my car and try it, but you probably wouldn’t get up to speed in time.”
A Remote Operation Centre in Geneva consisting of six officials – FIA’s answer to football’s VAR system – flag up contentious laps to Race Control at the circuit using various camera angles. Wittich then has the final say.
It is understood that if the laps in question are marginal, Wittich will lean in favour of the driver.
But Verstappen continued: “We don’t do this on purpose. With these speeds and the high-speed corners it is so hard to judge where the white line is and that is why a lot of people got caught out.
“My first lap in Q3 was just a banker lap which takes out the joy. Today showed that it is not easy to have a clear rule about it.”
Despite the row, reigning world champion Verstappen will be favourite to take his seventh victory from the nine rounds so far this season and extend his 69-point championship lead over struggling team-mate Perez.
💬 “P11 is not the best but we’ve had some good results from further down the field. All is not lost.”
We go again tomorrow. 👊 pic.twitter.com/yBoE1dAa4c
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Behind the Dutchman, Norris impressed to take fourth spot in his revamped McLaren, one place ahead of Hamilton who finished 0.428 sec adrift of Verstappen.
The Red Bull Ring is hosting F1’s second sprint event of the year with a shortened qualifying and race to follow on Saturday before Sunday’s main event.
“Our car has not suited this circuit in the past and it showed again today,” said Hamilton. “It was a really tough and difficult session but we got through it, thank God.
“We will try to do better in sprint qualifying tomorrow, and then fifth on Sunday is a strong position to start from.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate George Russell managed only 11th on a disappointing afternoon for the Briton.