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SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 29: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing looks on in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 29, 2024 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Norris: Verstappen in a league of his own

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 29: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing looks on in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 29, 2024 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Echoing what the Formula 1 world is saying, Lando Norris put Max Verstappen “in a league of his own” after the Red Bull driver all but annihilated his rivals to take pole position for the 2024 Austrian Grand Prix.

On Red Bull’s home turf. Turned into Orange Bull Ring in the Spielberg hills, and cheered on by 40,000 travelling Dutch fans, Verstappen produced a scintillating lap on the shortest track on the F1 calendar to finish an incredible 0.404 seconds clear of McLaren’s Norris.

George Russell was third for Mercedes, half-a-second back on the top time. Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz took P4, one place ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the other Silver Arrow.

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The build-up to the 11th round of the 2024 F1 World Championship was overshadowed by the rehashing of Max’s father Jos Verstappen’s row with Red Bull team boss Christian Horner following the former’s withdrawal from a parade of the sport’s legends ahead of Sunday’s 71-lap race.

Verstappen Snr claimed Horner did not want him to take part. Horner denied he vetoed Verstappen Snr’s participation. Although Max acknowledged that the public spat between his father and team boss Horner “hasn’t been nice” for everyone involved at Red Bull and “could have been avoided” he has done his talking on the track with another faultless weekend.

Verstappen also annexed pole position for Saturday’s 23-lap dash before he produced a defensive masterclass to keep Norris at bay to win. Four hours later, Verstappen was back at it to put himself in prime position to claim his eighth win of the season and extend his 71-point championship lead.

After running Verstappen close in the initial stages of Saturday’s dash to the flag, Norris, who has emerged as the Red Bull man’s closest challenger, might have hoped for more in qualifying.

Norris: Something extra special is needed to beat Verstappen

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 29: Sprint winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing talks with Third placed Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren in parc ferme during the Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 29, 2024 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, for the final shot in Q3, the 24-year-old Englishman did not have the speed to match Verstappen, who is showing his supreme class in a Red Bull no longer the class of the field. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez qualified only eighth, nearly nine-tenths adrift of the man using identical machinery.

“Max is in a league of his own and clearly much quicker than us,” said Norris, who led for one corner in the sprint race before he left the door open to allow Verstappen to sneak back past. Norris was forced to settle for third.

“It wasn’t amazing today. We are going to need something extra to go our way in order to beat Max. I will try, and I will do a better job than I did this morning. It is a long race and anything can happen, so let’s see.”

Fresh from landing his fourth straight Austrian Grand Prix P1 start, and his eighth in all this season Verstappen revealed he made setup changes after the earlier Sprint Race, reporting a marked improvement: “More stable balance, a bit more connected front to rear. And that worked out well. Yeah, I think we made the right changes.

“You can see that it’s little things that sometimes can actually make quite a bit of a difference in lap time. So I’m, of course, very happy with that because, like I said before, we haven’t had the easiest of runs, and I think pure pace has been a bit harder for us compared to the last two years.

“This is definitely very positive for everyone and a great statement. Hopefully we can show that again in the race,” concluded Verstappen. (Combined reports from PA Media, Reuters & Agnes Carlier in Spielberg)