The damp conditions in Austria meant that the usual tyre restrictions in the Sprint Shootout no longer applied. Had it been dry, drivers would have had to run new medium tyres in SQ1 and SQ2 and then soft tyres in SQ3. But with the track having been declared wet, drivers could now run any dry tyres they wanted. And with a dry line emerging, most were heading out on soft tyres.
Interestingly eight drivers didn’t have any new soft tyres, which hindered them for this Sprint Shootout. Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton, Pierre Gasly, Valtteri Bottas, Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg, and Alex Albon only had used softs. Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez had two sets while George Russell and Charles Leclerc had one set. Advantage Red Bull if there would be no more rain.
Green light on and SQ1 was under way at the 4.318-kilometre Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. Everyone seemed to be going out on dry tyres with the exception of the two Williams who led the cars out on intermediates, as teams weather radars were suggesting no rain for the first 20 minutes.
Carlos Sainz had a problem as he reported a brake by wire failure. The Spaniard said over the team radio: “I have a brake by wire failure. Let me know. Brake pedal feels strange.” He cames into the pits and was being wheeled into the garage. Max Verstappen was fastest on a 1:10.201, but he appeared to go very wide at the penultimate corner. It was Verstappen, Tsunoda, Alonso, Hamilton, Magnussen. It was a constantly changing picture at the top of the timesheet as the track dried out: Oscar Piastri led the way before Lando Norris jumped him and then Fernando Alonso slotted into P2. With five minutes to go in SQ1: Alex Albon popped in a 1:07.506 to go fastest, but then the two Red Bulls go ahead with Sergio Perez beating that by four tenths of a second.
Carlos Sainz was unfortunately still stuck in the garage with Ferrari inspecting his car. Meanwhile, Oscar Piastri looked like he was impeded by Charles Leclerc at the pit entry, but the Ferrari driver was pitting anyway.
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Out came Carlos Sainz with two minutes until the end of SQ1: he needed a heroic effort to try to switch those old set of soft tyres on. Ferrari were in big trouble here because Charles Leclerc was down in 18th with one minute to go. It was Hamilton fastest from Alonso, Tsunoda, Perez and Piastri. Chequered flag: Charles Leclerc got himself up to eighth with his final lap, while Carlos Sainz with one timed lap went to the top of the time sheets. The big surprise was Lewis Hamilton out of the Sprint Shootout, as most of the drivers improved on their final attempt. That was a bit messy for Ferrari, but both drivers were thankfully through, as Charles Leclerc survived by 0.001s after a very dramatic SQ1. Double trouble for Mercedes as George Russell reported he felt he had a hydraulic problem on the other car. What a nightmare start to Saturday for the Silver Arrows. Hamilton was fastest with one minute remaining, but had that lap deleted for track limits. A huge pat on the back to Carlos Sainz: the Spaniard had one attempt in that session after the brake-by-wire issue on his Ferrari and went and set the fastest time to ease through.
Away we were on for SQ2! No time to rest as the track continued to dry. Max Verstappen put in a 1:05.624 to set the benchmark time. Fernando Alonso went second, with Lando Norris in third. Everyone was on soft tyres. Mercedes confirmed George Russell would not make it out. The team said the hydraulic problem was requiring a steering rack change so Mercedes will have their drivers lining up P15 and P18 this afternoon. At the top it was a Red Bull 1-2 with Verstappen leading Perez. Then came Sainz, Alonso, Norris, Stroll, Ocon, Hulkenberg and Alex Albon does a good lap to go ninth.
Charles Leclerc was in trouble again, down in 12th with two minutes to go. The Monegasque aborted his lap so he could charge the battery and go for it again. And it was fourth for Charles Leclerc! It looked like he stayed within tack limits too. Meanwhile, Verstappen went quickest. Both cars in SQ3. Good job for the Maranello team. The drivers out in SQ2 were Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda, Nyck de Vries, George Russell.
SQ3 was green! The Red Bull car had been sat at the end of the pit lane for two minutes interestingly. They would have lost a lot of tyre temperature by doing that, but were happy that they could fire them up on the out lap. Sergio Perez was told there are “a few spots” of rain but nothing heavier than that.
Max Verstappen popped in a 1:04.613 for the first time in SQ3. That was the time everyone needed to try and beat. Lando Norris popped his McLaren behind Max Verstappen but he was ahead of Sergio Perez who was nearly half a second slower than his team-mate. The Spanish duo of Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso went fourth and sixth. The Ferrari man was on the mediums, as was Nico Hulkenberg in fifth. Charles Leclerc could only go fifth fastest with his first effort in the session. And the Monegasque was behind team-mate Carlos Sainz who posted his time, which was enough for fourth at that stage, on the medium tyre as opposed to Charles’ soft. Given how short the Red Bull Ring’s track is, other drivers were managing to get into the pits to put another set of tyres on for another run.
The final runs were coming up: Max Verstappen went even faster on a 1:04.440 and Sergio Perez joined him on the front row, as the Dutchman will start on pole position for this afternoon’s Sprint. It’s Carlos P5 and Charles P6 in Sprint Qualifying with Ferrari not able to replicate the same pace as yesterday in these different track conditions.
So here is how the top 10 will line up for this afternoon’s Sprint:
1. Max Verstappen
2. Sergio Perez
3. Lando Norris
4. Nico Hulkenberg
5. Carlos Sainz
6. Charles Leclerc
7. Fernando Alonso
8. Lance Stroll
9. Esteban Ocon
10. Kevin Magnussen