Motor racing-Verstappen on pole in Austria as Mercedes crash

Formula One F1 - Austrian Grand Prix - Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria - July 8, 2022 Red Bull's Max Verstappen in action during practice REUTERS/Florion Goga

(Reuters) -Formula One leader Max Verstappen handed his Red Bull team a home pole position for Saturday’s sprint race at the Austrian Grand Prix after Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and George Russell crashed in qualifying.

The 24-year-old Dutch driver produced a best lap of one minute 04.984 seconds at the end of a nail-biting, two-minute shootout as the red-flagged session resumed at Spielberg's scenic Red Bull Ring.

Hamilton and then Russell had both spun off into the tyre barriers, halting the decisive final phase of qualifying while pushing hard.

Already on provisional pole, Verstappen then fended off Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by just 0.029 seconds.

Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who took his first Formula One win less than a week ago at Silverstone, put his Ferrari third with the top three separated by just 0.082.

"It was a very long wait between the two runs," said Verstappen after taking the 16th pole of his career and third this season.

"That's never great once you are in a rhythm, it’s nice to just keep on going. In the end it was a very tight qualifying."

Verstappen leads the overall standings by 34 points from team mate Sergio Perez, who qualified fourth but was demoted to 13th after his final lap times were deleted for exceeding track limits in the second phase.

Had the violation been punished at the time, Perez would not have made it through to the final phase at the expense of AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, who now moves up to 10th.

"It is disappointing to lose fourth place, the track limits are very tight here this season," said the Mexican.

Leclerc is third, 43 points off the lead. The Monegasque, an early championship leader, has taken six poles this year but has not won since the Australian Grand Prix in April.

"In the last lap I struggled a little bit bringing the tyres back after such a long time in the pits but Max was just a little bit quicker," said Leclerc.

Mercedes, who showed a strong turn of speed with an upgraded car in Silverstone, were again looking good but their hopes of pole were dashed as Hamilton’s car snapped out of control and into the barriers at turn seven.

Russell spun out at the turn nine-10 sequence shortly after, halting proceedings. Stewards later handed the Briton a warning for crossing the track on foot and without permission from marshals.

"So sorry guys," said Hamilton, who will start ninth with Russell fourth.

Esteban Ocon moved up to fifth for Alpine ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher who made sure both Haas cars were in the top-10. Fernando Alonso in the other Alpine will start eighth.

McLaren had a session to forget with Australian Daniel Ricciardo knocked out in the opening phase. His team mate Lando Norris, lacking confidence on the brakes, was knocked out in the second part of the hour-long session.

The Briton will start 15th with Ricciardo 16th.

Aston Martin endured another nightmare qualifying with neither Sebastian Vettel nor Lance Stroll making it past the first phase for the third weekend in a row.

Four times champion Vettel had a lap time deleted for exceeding track limits and will line up last.

The Austrian weekend is being run to the sprint format which means Verstappen's pole will go down in the record books regardless of where he starts on Sunday.

The results of Saturday’s 24-lap race decide the grid for Sunday.

There will also be a maximum 34 drivers' points on offer from the weekend, compared to the usual 26, with the winner of the sprint scoring eight.

(Reporting by Abhishek Takle in Mumbai/Alan BaldwinEditing by Peter Graff and Toby Davis)

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