June 21, 2024
Lewis Hamilton

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fought off a challenge from Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz to take pole position for the Australian Grand Prix.

Sainz was quickest in the first two parts of qualifying but the world champion bounced back in the top 10 shootout to take pole by 0.27 seconds.

Lando Norris will start third ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc after a grid penalty for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
Mercedes’ George Russell was seventh while Lewis Hamilton only 11th.

Norris’ team-mate Oscar Piastri made it a four-six for McLaren while RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and the Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10.

A Red Bull comeback
Verstappen and Red Bull had looked comparatively out of sorts for most of the weekend, there or thereabouts but not topping any of the practice sessions on the way to qualifying.

And when Sainz was fastest in both first and second qualifying, the Spaniard looked a favourite for pole, just 15 days after having an operation for appendicitis that forced him to miss the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

But two exquisite laps from Verstappen in the final session were too good for the Ferraris and the Dutchman took his third pole position in a row this season, one he has started in even more dominant style than his record-breaking 2023.

“A bit unexpected in qualifying today but very happy with Q3,” Verstappen said. “Both of those laps felt very nice. Bit of a tricky weekend but we managed to be there at the end.”

Red Bull typically have an even greater advantage in the race than in qualifying but Ferrari’s long run in second practice looked strong and Verstappen said he was expecting a challenge in the race.

“They seem very quick also in the long runs so a bit of a question mark also for tomorrow but that makes it interesting,” he said.

It was a momentous performance from Sainz, in remarkable form considering he was just two weeks out from abdominal surgery.

He said: “It has ben a tough couple of weeks, a lot of days in bed, waiting to see if I could be here today. To make it this weekend and put it on the front row after leading all the way through qualifying, I almost could not believe it.

“Very happy to be here. I was a bit rusty yesterday but I got up to speed and feeling good with the car.

“I am not going to lie, I am not in my most comfortable state when I am driving out there but I can get it done. A lot of discomfort and weird feelings but no pain so it allowed me to push flat out.”

Perez took third in qualifying, 0.359secs slower than team-mate Verstappen, but was later given a three-place grid drop for impeding the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg in the first part of qualifying.

Leclerc had looked competitive on Friday but he said he felt the car had gone away from him on Saturday, developing understeer, and he had a “messy” qualifying as a result, adding too much front wing for the final run and generating oversteer instead.

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton was eliminated in the second session

Mercedes’ struggles continue

Norris’ fourth place was McLaren’s best result of a year after they have started a little bit behind where they expected to be.

Mercedes, meanwhile, continued to struggle in Australia after a difficult weekend in Saudi Arabia last time out.
Lacking pace in the high-speed corners in Jeddah, the team have spent the time between the two races trying to understand why their car was not behaving as expected.

But little progress appears to have been made.

Last year, Russell was on the front row with Verstappen, but this time he was more than 0.8secs off the pace.

And Hamilton did not even make it into the top 10, losing out to his team-mate in the second session by 0.059secs.

Both drivers insist the car has potential, but after three races it remains stubbornly elusive and Mercedes still have plenty of work to do.

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