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Verstappen tops sprint qualifying, Mercedes suffer double blow

World champion and series leader Max Verstappen dominated a damp ‘sprint shootout’ qualifying for Saturday’s sprint race at the Austrian Grand Prix as Red Bull secured a front row lockout.

The defending double champion clocked a best lap in one minute 4.440 seconds to outpace team-mate Sergio Perez by half a second with Lando Norris third in his upgraded McLaren.

“It was good,” said Verstappen.

“Of course the track was drying so lap after lap you were improving and had to be on the track at the right time.

“I think we did well. The car was in a good window, good balance.

“I am very happy to be first.

“It’s going to be quite difficult — the race for all the drivers will be quite hard to manage around here.”

Both Mercedes failed to make progress to the top ten -– Lewis Hamilton suffering track problems in SQ1 and George Russell with hydraulics problems in SQ2.

It was Hamilton’s first early cut since the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

“It is what it is,” said Hamilton.

“It’s only the sprint… I’ll go out to have some fun at the back. That’s all there is to it.”

Nico Hulkenberg took fourth place for the sprint ahead of the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc and the Aston Martins of two-time champion Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.

Esteban Ocon was ninth for Alpine and Kevin Magnussen 10th in the second Haas.

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