Formula 1 Racing

What the Red Bull Ring sprint race and qualifying tells us about the 2024 F1 Austrian GP

Verstappen set the four fastest times across qualifying and may be tough to catch

Those hoping that Max Verstappen‘s challengers would use the three-hour tinkering time between the Austria sprint race and grand prix qualifying to close the gap might feel, to put it lightly, a little downbeat.

A frisson of excitement permeated the Red Bull Ring on Saturday as the field was compressed within 0.798 seconds after Q1, intimating that the battle for pole might be a closely run affair, especially if the teams with an outside shot could find any smoking guns worth a couple of tenths over the short, 10-turn lap.

Instead, the opposite was true. Verstappen and Red Bull spent their time after lunch deciding how to hone up their already razor-sharp RB20, and tightened everything up to squeeze even more out of it over a lap. Case in point: Verstappen’s pair of Q2 laps would have already been good enough for pole had he set them in the final stage, where he found two more that were even quicker.

On lap time alone, the top five on the grid would have been thus: Verstappen, Verstappen, Verstappen, Verstappen, and Norris. Amusingly enough, Verstappen’s time for pole in sprint qualifying on Friday also would have been good enough to start at the front of the grid.

Looking ahead to the grand prix, we’ve got a glut of data to comb through with the earlier sprint and the progression into qualifying. It might be obvious which way the wind is blowing but, seeing as you’ve clicked on this, you might as well go the distance…

Verstappen looks set for glory with 0.4s gap in qualifying

Verstappen set the four fastest times across qualifying and may be tough to catch

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“Of course, I would like to win by 20 seconds, 30 seconds,” Verstappen said in the press conference after the Austria sprint. “Naturally, you still do the best you can. You’re still optimising your performance. But now that it’s a lot closer, then it requires you to be really on top form.”

Those aspirations of reprising his previously usual plunderings from the front of the grid have been upgraded to ‘quite likely’ given Verstappen’s hefty advantage in qualifying. Extrapolating his 0.4s advantage over Norris across the 71 laps around the Spielberg venue, that equates to 28.4 seconds in hand at the end – which probably fits within the Dutchman’s bracket of an acceptable winning margin.

It’s worth looking at where Verstappen found more than three tenths on his qualifying lap from the sprint; normally, one would consider…

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