Max was in a league of his own – Lando Norris reflects on Verstappen masterclass

Lando Norris said Max Verstappen was “in a league of his own” after the Red Bull driver obliterated his rivals to take pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix.

On Red Bull’s home turf in Spielberg, and cheered on by 40,000 travelling Dutch fans, Verstappen produced a scintillating lap of the shortest track on the Formula One calendar to finish an eye-watering 0.404 seconds clear of McLaren’s Norris, with George Russell third for Mercedes, half-a-second back. Carlos Sainz took fourth, one place ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

The build-up to the 11th round has been dominated by Jos Verstappen’s row with Christian Horner following the former’s withdrawal from a parade of the sport’s legends ahead of Sunday’s 71-lap race.

Verstappen Snr claimed Horner did not want him to take part. Horner denied he vetoed Verstappen Snr’s participation.

However, Verstappen Jnr – although acknowledging that the public spat between his father and team boss Horner “hasn’t been nice” for everyone involved at Red Bull and “could have been avoided” – has done his talking on the track with another faultless weekend.

Verstappen took pole for Saturday’s 23-lap dash before he produced a defensive masterclass to keep Norris at bay to win. Four hours later, Verstappen was back at it to put himself in prime position to claim his eighth win of the season and extend his 71-point championship lead.

After running Verstappen close in the initial stages of Saturday’s dash to the flag, Norris, who has emerged as the Red Bull man’s closest challenger, might have hoped for more in qualifying.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner (Christian Bruna/AP)
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has been involved in a spat with Jos Verstappen (Christian Bruna/AP)

But the 24-year-old did not have the speed to match Verstappen, who is showing his supreme class in a Red Bull no longer the class of the field. Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez qualified only eighth, nearly nine tenths adrift of the man using identical machinery.

“Max was in a league of his own and clearly much quicker than us,” said Norris, who led for one corner in the sprint race before he left the door open to allow Verstappen to sneak back past. Norris was forced to settle for third.

“It wasn’t amazing today. We are going to need something extra to go our way in order to beat Max tomorrow. I will try, and I will do a better job than I did this morning. It is a long race and anything can happen, so let’s see.”

Fresh from landing his fourth straight Austrian GP pole, and his eighth in all this season, Verstappen said: “This is a great statement and hopefully we can show that again tomorrow in the race.”

Over at Mercedes, Hamilton recorded his best result of the season in Spain six days ago but the seven-time world champion has been on the backfoot here in the Styrian mountains.

He started and finished sixth in the sprint and then trailed team-mate Russell in qualifying for Sunday’s main event. Russell leads Hamilton 9-2 over one lap this year.

“Ah, I am just slow, mate,” he reported on the radio, as he finished nearly six tenths back.

Hamilton’s so-so weekend was summed up when he left his garage with the rear jack still attached to his Mercedes. The equipment fell off without major drama but Hamilton was still summoned to see the stewards on the charge of an “unsafe release”.

Mercedes were fined 5,000 euros (£4,240) for the offence.