The Red Bull Racing team had to play second fiddle to the dominant Mercedes team in the qualifying session at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. The Mercedes drivers locked out the front row with Valtteri Bottas taking pole position. Max Verstappen had to be content with third position and Alexander Albon was further back in fifth position on the grid.
Verstappen and the team rolled the dice with a brave strategy decision by setting the fastest lap in the second qualification session on the medium compound tyres. The Dutchman will start on the more durable tyres even as all the other drivers in the top 10 will start on the soft compound tyres.
The contra-strategy and the higher temperatures expected on race day will help Verstappen close the gap to the Mercedes drivers. Verstappen was satisfied with third position and said: “I think third on the grid is a good start, of course I would have liked to fight for pole position but that wasn’t possible today. On a single lap around this track we have never been the strongest but there are things we can for sure improve moving into qualifying next weekend. Tomorrow is a different day and we have a different strategy starting on the medium tyres compared to everyone else around us on the soft.
“It’s going to be warmer as well so hopefully that will also work to our advantage. That doesn’t mean that Mercedes are going to be slow, but hopefully it will close the gap a little bit. First we need to have a good start as I don’t want to do the same as last year and then we will do everything we can to fight for the win. It’s a shame that the fans are not here at our home track as they really help to make a good atmosphere but we’ll try to make it an exciting race for everyone watching on TV.”
Albon did not have a clean qualifying session and allowed Lando Norris to take fourth position next to Verstappen on the second row. Albon on his less than optimum qualifying session said: “It feels good to be back in a qualifying session and I enjoyed it, but I’m not overly happy with my result. I struggled a bit at the beginning but by the end I was ok. We just weren’t able to maximise it today.
“On the first run in Q3 I was too far behind the pack and although it’s not Monza, it’s similar here in that a slipstream is worth a good chunk of time, but there was some time in my driving too. On my second Q3 run we got yellow flags after Bottas went off so that wasn’t ideal but P5 on the grid isn’t too bad and let’s see how our race pace is tomorrow.”
The ever combative Christian Horner, Team Principal of Red Bull, is confident of taking the fight to Mercedes during the race which is expected to take place in hotter temperatures.
“Mercedes gave a dominant performance today, but it was also a positive start for us, with Max qualifying in P3 and Alex in P5. We made a brave strategy decision resulting in Max being the only driver in the top ten to start on the medium tyre, which provides us with many strategic options for the race.
“The temperatures are also due to increase tomorrow which helped us take the win last year so that gives us confidence to take the fight to Mercedes. The entire Team are excited to be back racing and it couldn’t be better starting the season at our home track. Let’s see what tomorrow brings but it is shaping up to be a great race,” Horner concluded.