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The Hills Come Alive with the Sound of F1 for Another Sprint Weekend

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 30, 2023 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo: Peter Fox/Getty Images)

SPIELBERG, Austria – For the second Sprint Weekend of the Formula 1 calendar in 2023, F1 made its way to Red Bull Racing’s home track, the Red Bull Ring, for the ninth race of the 2023 season.

Due to the Sprint Weekend format, the schedule is a bit more condensed, similar to how it was at Baku, with the only practice session occurring on Friday. The qualifying session is to set the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday.

With another round of upgrades for the teams on the grid, especially those attempting to close the gap to Red Bull, teams like Aston Martin, Mercedes, and Ferrari hope to at least make it a competitive race down the stretch in 2023. The first chance to see how these upgrades were performing came with the one and only practice session of the weekend.

With the Free Practice session, teams split the 1-hour session between long stints and shorter qualifying stints. Thankfully, for the teams, no major incidents occurred to lose valuable time before the qualifying session later.

Teams started the session running the harder tires for longer stints, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen leading the way, followed by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

During the transition from the hard tires to medium and then soft, Hamilton found himself at the top of the timing screen. However, during the final moments of the session, while most teams switched to the soft tires, the Red Bull duo stuck with the medium tires with Verstappen once again set the fastest time. The Ferrari pair of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc followed closely behind while setting their fastest time on the soft compound tires.

The focus during the qualifying sessions was on track limits. Multiple drivers in all three sessions had their laps deleted due to exceeding the track boundaries and crossing the white lines that mark the limits of where a driver can and cannot go.

Despite a small hiccup with exceeding the track limits, Verstappen continued to dominate and set the fastest time in Q1. The first elimination round saw the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg, the McLaren of Lando Norris, and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz drop out early. Their first attack on the track was cut short when Valtteri Bottas’s Alfa Romeo ended up in the gravel, leading to a red flag.

Verstappen’s initial benchmark was erased and he had to try again. Hamilton and Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo also joined him as Piastri’s McLaren took the top spot.

Once the session resumed, Verstappen set a new benchmark and remained at the top for the rest of Q1. His teammate Perez showed signs of improvement, or at least the potential to support Verstappen, while Norris demonstrated that the McLaren updates were working well for him.

By the end of the session, Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries from Alpha Tauri, Zhou, Logan Sargeant from Williams, and Kevin Magnussen from Haas found themselves outside the top 15 and unable to proceed to Q2.

The second session mirrored the first, with track limits once again being a concern.

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 30, 2023 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo: Clive Rose | Getty Images)

Although Verstappen had another lap deleted, he had already secured a fast enough time to stay at the top of the standings. Norris continued to impress, securing a spot in Q3, and after being named Driver of the Day in Canada, Alex Albon from Williams also made it to the final qualifying round with a strong lap.

Then again, the drama came from two of the front-runner team cars. Mercedes’ George Russell and Red Bull’s Perez found themselves also on the outside looking in after not having a fast enough lap time set to be safely into Q3.

This is especially a problem for Perez as this is the fourth time in a row this season that he has found himself missing the third round of qualifying in a car that matches the car that has won six of the eight races this year. They were joined by Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Piastri, and Alfa Romeo’s Bottas.

The third round happened to be the least dramatic of the day as Verstappen put down two benchmark laps in his two runs putting him just out of reach of the pair of Ferrari drivers. Lance Stroll was the only one in the session that found himself with a lap deleted. Still, he was still able to put in a decent time later.

Verstappen picked up a hat-trick of poles at the Red Bull Ring to be followed by the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. Norris showed out once again in his upgraded McLaren to pick up fourth with Hamilton going fifth fastest.

In a surprise twist, the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll got a faster time than his teammate Alonso, with Hulkenberg, Gasly and Albon finishing out the top 10 starting spots for Sunday.

Now that Friday’s sessions are completed, all eyes mostly turn to Saturday. It’s a whole new qualifying session ahead of us for the Sprint Race afterward.

What remains to be seen is if this is the end of Perez at Red Bull after another disappointing qualifying session in which he has been outclassed by his own teammate.

John Arndt is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree of communications who has been a life-long fan of NASCAR and motorsports. John is a member of The Podium Finish's photography team based in Texas and his home track is Circuit of the Americas. With a love of multiple racing series, he has started to write about Formula 1 and sports car racing to help expand the reach of The Podium Finish.

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