Max Verstappen beat a sensational Lando Norris to score a third straight pole position, while Lewis Hamilton qualified fourth on an unpredictable Saturday afternoon at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen started the hour as pole favorite after dominating last weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix at the same circuit, and the Dutchman took provisional pole after the first runs of Q3l but his second lap was poor, and he failed to improve.

Norris, wringing the maximum from his McLaren car, was on the attack just behind the Dutchman and benefiting from the slipstream. The Briton was already second after his first pole attempt and went purple at the first split with his final flyer to project himself onto pole.

But his middle sector was more than a tenth off Verstappen, dropping him back behind the benchmark, and a fractionally off-the-pace final sector left him an agonizing 0.048s adrift.

Verstappen secured his fourth pole of the season, although he wasn’t happy to have advantaged who turned out to be his chief rival with a tow.

“I think Q3 was pretty bad,” he said. “Of course I’m happy to be first, but not the way we got it.

“To be twice on pole here nevertheless is pretty good, so hopefully we can finish it off tomorrow.”

Norris was ecstatic to secure second after finishing a comfortable fifth, best of the midfield, in last weekend’s race, placing him well for a repeat performance.

Lando Norris acknowledges the crowd’s cheers after his spectacular qualifying run for McLaren. Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images

“I feel epic — it was cool,” he said. “After the last race I wanted to do that one more step, and I did two more, so it’s nice.

“It’s probably one of the best laps I’ve done, I think. A good feeling. Tomorrow’s race is going to be tough, but we did the best job we could today.”

Sergio Perez beat both Mercedes drivers to third after what the Mexican described as a difficult weekend to master the car.

“It’s been a really hard weekend up to now,” he said. “We’ve been chasing the balance a lot, just exploring the car.

“It didn’t come easy. It was very hard work, harder than you might think. But in the end we got a good lap and a good starting position for tomorrow, because I believe tomorrow we’ve got a better race car than in quali.”

Hamilton, chasing an 18-point deficit to Verstappen, will start fourth after qualifying 0.294s behind the championship leader, with teammate Valtteri Bottas 0.035s further adrift in fifth. The Briton described his outlook for Sunday as one of “damage limitation.”

AlphaTauri were superb to qualify sixth and seventh with Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda.

Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel qualified seventh but is unlikely to start there after attending a stewards investigation later today for impeding Fernando Alonso at the end of Q2.

George Russell was ecstatic to deliver Williams its first Q3 appearance since 2018, the Briton qualifying ninth in his best Saturday result for the backmarker team to beat Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc will start a bittersweet 11th and 12th after failing to progress to the pole shootout with the medium tire, though starting just outside the top 10 gives both free tire choice for the start of the race anyway.

Daniel Ricciardo qualified 13th for the second weekend in a row, the Australian 0.304s behind teammate Norris in Q2, albeit on the soft tire while the Briton was using mediums.

Alonso was furious to be knocked out 14th at the end of what was shaping up to be a rapid lap when he encountered a slow-moving Vettel between the final two corners. The Spaniard had to come off the throttle to avoid a high-speed crash, and he gesticulated angrily and swore to his engineer as he crossed the line and failed to progress.

Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen qualified 15th and 16th.

Esteban Ocon was knocked out a lowly 17th, blitzed by Alpine teammate Alonso by almost 0.6s in Q1. He lines up alongside Williams driver Nicholas Latifi.

Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin will line up on the back of the grid in 19th and 20th.