Max Verstappen puts father’s Horner row aside to claim Austria sprint race pole

Max Verstappen put his father Jos’ row with Christian Horner to one side to take pole position for Saturday’s sprint race in Austria.

Verstappen beat McLaren’s Lando Norris to top spot by just 0.093 seconds at the Red Bull Ring, with Oscar Piastri third.

George Russell qualified fourth for Mercedes, two places and two tenths clear of team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Prior to qualifying, Red Bull team principal Horner was forced to deny he stopped Verstappen Snr from taking part in a parade of former Formula One drivers ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Remarks from Verstappen Snr, and Horner’s subsequent denial, reignited a feud between the two which started in the wake of the scandal which engulfed Red Bull at the beginning of the season.

However, despite the off-track distraction, Verstappen Jnr held his nerve to secure pole, with McLaren’s Norris less than one tenth behind the Red Bull.

“It is great to be first here in front of what feels like my home fans,” said Verstappen, roared on by his orange-clad fanbase who have made the short journey from the Netherlands to the Styrian Mountains. “It is a good start to the weekend. I am happy with today.

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner during the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix practice and qualifying day
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner denied blocking Jos Verstappen from a legends’ parade (David Davies/PA)

“We will find out what will happen tomorrow. I am not too stressed. I will enjoy my evening and try again tomorrow.”

Norris has emerged as Verstappen’s closest challenger and the British driver is primed to take the fight to the reigning world champion once more in Saturday’s 24-lap race, which takes place ahead of qualifying for Sunday’s main event.

Hamilton claimed his first podium of the season last time out in Spain, but he endured a scrappy afternoon on Friday, crashing into the opening kerb and running through the gravel in his very first quick lap.

The seven-time world champion managed to sneak through to Q2 but his confidence appeared rocked and he was unable to challenge at the sharp end, finishing more than half-a-second behind.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the first free practice at the Red Bull Ring racetrack in Spielberg,
Lewis Hamilton qualified in sixth place (Christian Bruna/AP)

“I wasn’t in the mix at all,” said Hamilton, 39. “The whole session was pretty disastrous from my point of view. We didn’t have the pace to be on pole but they were very bad laps.

“I don’t think overtaking is mega here. We will give it our best, but the focus will be on getting a better qualifying result (for Sunday’s Grand Prix) tomorrow.”

A more optimistic Russell added: “We are definitely fighting for the podium. This is validation that we are in the mix now, and probably ahead of Ferrari. It is nice to be at the front end more consistently.”

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc spluttered in the pit lane in Q3, denying him the chance to set a lap, leaving him 10th on the grid, with team-mate Carlos Sainz fifth. Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez finished seventh.

Daniel Ricciardo’s RB seat is looking increasingly vulnerable after Red Bull’s motorsport adviser Helmut Marko this week indicated the Australian’s days could be numbered.

And Ricciardo did little to ease the internal pressure after he failed to make it out of Q1. Ricciardo qualified 16th. Fernando Alonso could manage only 13th as he was out-qualified by Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll who will start 12th.