Formula 1: Verstappen claims first pole in Melbourne; Russell bags front-row start for Australian GP

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Defending champion Max Verstappen qualified in pole position, his first-ever in Melbourne, for Sunday’s 2023 Australian Grand Prix with two Mercedes drivers snapping at his heels in second and third position.

With this latest pole position, Red Bull driver Verstappen drew level with Spaniard Fernando Alonso at 22 career pole positions. Mercedes’ George Russell qualified second and former Drivers’ Championship winner Lewis Hamilton will line up third for Sunday’s main race.

Verstappen set a time of 1m 16.732s to take his first Australian Grand Prix pole position ahead of Russell, who was 0.236s off the pace in Q3. Mercedes’ Hamilton ended up third on the grid, 0.372s off the pace, while Fernando Alonso was 0.407s off the pace in fourth position.

Carlos Sainz qualified fifth for Ferrari in front of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, while Charles Leclerc struggled on the way to P7. Alex Albon managed a stellar P8 for Williams to leave Alpine’s Pierre Gasly ninth and Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Haas.

Sergio Perez of Red Bull ended up 20th after a crash in the 1st Qualifying session.

Yellow flags ruled the first qualifying session – where the official risk of rain was 90% – as Logan Sargeant went off track, just before Perez brought out red flags by locking up and beaching his Red Bull in the Turn 3 gravel having struggled throughout FP3. Conditions stayed dry and Verstappen set the fastest time in Q1 ahead of Russell and Hamilton.

In the second qualifying session (Q2), Verstappen continued his run to top the session ahead of Alonso, which set up a nail-biting Q3 where Verstappen took a provisional pole in Q3 but reported gearshift issues. Despite that, he improved to cement pole with a blistering effort.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was caught in traffic and eliminated from Q2 in P11, 0.08s off safety, while Yuki Tsunoda was visibly annoyed at being held up in the pit lane weighbridge before he was eliminated in P12 for AlphaTauri.

McLaren’s Lando Norris made a brace of mistakes in Q2 and finished P13 ahead of Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, while Nyck de Vries finished P15 in qualifying for AlphaTauri. Home hero Oscar Piastri was 0.047s off safety in Q1 as the McLaren driver qualified 16th ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Williams’ Sargeant in P18. Valtteri Bottas hit traffic in Q1 and qualified 19th, leaving Perez 20th after his Q1 excursion.

PEREZ BOWS OUT:

Earlier in the first qualifying period, drivers emerged on slick tires to make use of dry conditions at the start of Q1 despite the official risk of rain at 90%. Just six minutes into the session, Williams’ Logan Sargeant brought out a yellow flag by going off track out of Turn 13, and one minute later Red Bull’s Sergio Perez locked up at Turn 3 and beached his car in the awaiting gravel.

The clock paused with 11 minutes and 44 seconds remaining of Q1, with Nico Hulkenberg top of the timesheets and 10 drivers yet to set a flying lap. When the session resumed, laps came thick and fast with drivers fuelled up for multiple laps as their soft tires held up in the cool conditions.

Eventually, Verstappen held the top spot with an effort of 1m 17.384s as Russell was 0.270s off in P2 and Mercedes teammate Hamilton third by 0.305s. Esteban Ocon made a late jump to fourth for Alpine, 0.386s off, to leave the Aston Martins fifth and sixth with Fernando Alonso ahead of Lance Stroll.

Sainz took P7 in front of Alex Albon, who was on the pace throughout in his Williams, while Hulkenberg improved and took P9 ahead of Haas teammate Magnussen.

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