Will Austrian GP Sprint format catch out Red Bull and Max Verstappen?

Max Verstappen finished just 2.2 seconds ahead of McLaren's Lando Norris at the 2024 Spanish GP

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Max Verstappen warned Red Bull can’t afford a ‘messy’ start to the 2024 Austria Grand Prix weekend with just one hour of free practice to prepare the RB20 before the meaningful sessions begin with sprint qualifying on Friday afternoon.

Verstappen‘s won three of the last four races – including last week’s Spanish GP – since his streak of finishing first was broken by Lando Norris in Miami, often in spite of a slow start to the weekend with Red Bull‘s race-winning pace often only first showing itself in qualifying.

Meanwhile McLaren‘s Oscar Piastri believes the sprint format will benefit them as they’ve hit the ground quicker than Red Bull in Imola, Monaco, Canada and Spain, but the Red Bull Ring remains one of Verstappen‘s most successful Formula 1 tracks.

“I would say Barcelona we had just a normal weekend, we were just too slow and tried to keep on making adjustments, and then luckily in qualifying it all felt a bit better,” Verstappen told members of the press, including Total-Motorsport.com.

“But that was probably just a normal progression that you have throughout the weekend. Before that of course we had some messy weekends so we can’t afford that anymore, I just hope for a clean weekend basically like we did in Barcelona but hopefully a little bit more pace as well.”

The starkest ‘messy weekend’ for Red Bull was the Emilia Romagna GP, when Verstappen slid backwards from 0.250 seconds off the pacesetter at the start of the weekend to over five and eight tenths in FP2 and FP3, looking like it’d be a battle to even reach the podium.

However, he stormed back when it really counted by taking pole position and then leading virtually every lap of the grand prix, even if he came under late pressure from Norris. The question is whether he can repeat that feat with just one practice session and save Red Bull‘s Austrian GP.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen races the McLaren of Lando Norris and the Mercedes of George into turn one at the start of the 2024 Spanish GP | Peter Fox/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Piastri confident of McLaren challenge

McLaren may be the biggest threats to a Red Bull Austrian GP victory while Toto Wolff also has his sights set on the resurgent Mercedes finally returning to the top step of the podium, but the Silver Arrows haven’t typically loved sprint weekends in recent times.

The Spanish GP was somewhat of a backwards step in practice for McLaren, but Norris still turned things around in qualifying and was just a couple of seconds away from challenging Verstappen for victory despite a bad start.

“I would say normally yes, Barcelona aside, I think I’ve been very comfortable with the car from the first lap of practice,” Piastri added. “And yeah I think we should be pretty confident that we can hit the ground running.

“Last weekend was maybe a bit of a reminder that it’s not always easy to achieve that. But I think we should be confident that we’ll be strong out of the blocks.”

Adam Dickinson
Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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