F1 leader Verstappen dominates qualifying to take pole position for Austrian GP

SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) — Max Verstappen is looking unbeatable again at the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Formula 1 leader followed up his win in the sprint race on Saturday with another dominant performance in qualifying to take pole position for the fourth straight year at the Red Bull Ring.

It ended a streak of three straight races where the three-time defending F1 champion failed to take pole position, and dealt a blow to his closest rivals who hoped to challenge him on Red Bull's home circuit this weekend.

“It's been a while that we've actually been on pole. So it's a great feeling,” Verstappen said. “This is a great statement and hopefully we can also show that tomorrow in the race.”

After qualifying in the last three races was decided by narrow margins, this one wasn't even close.

Verstappen's final lap in the third qualifying session beat McLaren’s Lando Norris by 0.404 seconds and earned his eighth pole of the season. Norris’ teammate Oscar Piastri was initially third but had his time deleted for narrowly going outside track limits, pushing him down to seventh place and lifting George Russell of Mercedes into third.

Carlos Sainz Jr. of Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes rounded out the top five.

Norris entered the weekend hoping to get even closer to Verstappen's pace after consecutive runner-up finishes behind the Dutch driver, but may have to lower his expectations after Red Bull showed much better speed than McLaren throughout the day.

“Max was in a league of his own, clearly much quicker than what we had,” Norris said. “We're going to need something extra to go our way to beat the pace of Max and the Red Bull. ... Normally we are better in the races than we are in qualifying, so we'll see.”

Russell said he was pleased with third place after Mercedes used a setup that was meant to help save their tires for the grand prix on Sunday rather than going all out in qualifying. But he still didn't hold out much hope of challenging for the win, unless the two drivers in front of him get into a tangle.

“I will sit back and watch (Norris and Verstappen) do their thing and try and hopefully just sneak through inside, but realistically they’ve got the pace on us," Russell said. "The race is probably going to be behind us, unfortunately.”

Verstappen won the sprint race earlier Saturday ahead of Piastri and Norris to extend his lead in the overall standings to 71 points. The defending champion is looking for his eighth race win of the season and fifth in seven years at the Austrian GP.

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