Leclerc beats Verstappen to Australian GP pole

Charles Leclerc

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has seized pole position for the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, by a margin of almost three tenths of a second over Max Verstappen.

Verstappen threw down the gauntlet to Leclerc when he wheeled his Red Bull to a 1:18.154s in the final minute of Qualifying 3 at Albert Park but, with the chequered flag out, the Monegasque stormed to a 1:17.868s.

Sergio Perez made it Red Bulls second and third, although he faces a post-session investigation for allegedly failing to slow for yellow flags during Qualifying 2, at Turn 11.

After neither McLaren had made Q3 in either of the first two rounds of 2022, Lando Norris put his onto the second row of the grid at Albert Park.

The Mercedes lock out Row 3, Lewis Hamilton edging George Russell, while Daniel Ricciardo qualified seventh for his home race in the other McLaren.

Qualifying ended just beyond 17:30 local time, 90 minutes after it had begun, due to red flags in Qualifying 1 and Q3, the latter caused by a crash for Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.

Verstappen had kicked things off in the final stanza with a 1:18.399s despite a small lock-up into Turn 13, but that made the difference when Perez was next through and set a 1:18.398s.

Esteban Ocon (Alpine) on a 1:19.087s and then Ricciardo on a 1:19.032s went to third on their respective first flyers, before Leclerc took over top spot on a 1:18.239s.

The Monegasque completed that lap barely seconds before a red flag was called due to Alonso crashing his Alpine at Ascari (Turn 11).

The Spaniard had missed the apex, careering across the gravel and into the tyre wall, although he reported a hydraulics issue and a replay would verify his claim that “I could not change gear”.

With the clocked stopped at 6:58s remaining, Leclerc was on provisional pole from Perez, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Ocon, Norris, and Hamilton, with neither Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), Russell, nor Alonso having set a representative lap time.

The session resumed at 17:25 local time, 13 minutes after it had been stopped, but only Mercedes duo Hamilton and Russell headed out again immediately.

As had become the pattern, they opted for two warm-up laps and, in the meantime, Perez came up 0.001s shy of a new fastest lap when he set a 1:18.240s.

Hamilton then moved to fifth on a 1:19.046s after an untidy exit from Ascari, but was back to sixth when Russell went to fourth on a 1:19.004s.

In the final minute before the chequered flag was unfurled, Verstappen moved up two positions to first with a 1:18.154s, making up his time in the final sector.

However, it was not enough to deny Leclerc pole when he steered the #16 Scuderia Ferrari entry to a 1:17.868s.

In the short period between those two laps, Norris had logged a 1:18.703s and that would stand up for fourth.

Hamilton set a very late 1:18.825s to edge team-mate Russell by 0.108s, with Ricciardo seventh on a 1:19.032s.

Ocon qualified eighth and Sainz could only manage ninth in the other Ferrari with a personal-best 1:19.408s in Q3, commenting on his way back to the pits that it was an “absolute f###ing disaster”.

Earlier in Q2, Perez was top after the first runs on a 1:18.340s from Verstappen on a 1:18.611s in the other Red Bull and Alonso on a 1:18.815s.

Russell had an early excursion up the run-off area at Ascari before going sixth on a 1:19.076s, with Sainz eighth on a 1:19.207s and Hamilton ninth on a 1:19.211s.

Sainz aborted the first push lap of his second run but then made his passage safe in clocking a 1:18.739s which moved Car #55 to third.

That became fourth once Leclerc drove his own Ferrari into second position on a 1:18.606s, in the last three minutes before the chequered flag.

With the chequers flying, Ocon lifted himself from 11th to eighth on a 1:19.136s, bumping Pierre Gasly out of the top 10, and the AlphaTauri driver could not get back in.

Sainz went back to second position on a 1:18.469s, Ricciardo crept up one spot to eighth on a 1:19.130s, and when Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) could only move up to 13th, Hamilton looked safe despite occupying 10th position at that moment.

The Briton advanced to eighth on a 1:19.106s anyway, with 11th through 15th ultimately being Gasly, Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo Sauber), Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo Sauber), and Mick Schumacher (Haas).

Back in Q1, Leclerc was quickest at the halfway mark on a 1:18.881s, from Verstappen on a 1:18.925s and Sainz on a 1:19.179s.

Verstappen had gone to the top on a 1:18.580s and team-mate Perez to second on a 1:18.834s by the time Aston Martin sent Lance Stroll out for the first time with just over four minutes remaining, after a crash late in Practice 3.

They need not have bothered, given he was part of an incident with Nicholas Latifi which triggered a red flag with 2:01s to go.

Latifi had let his fellow Canadian through in the car park complex, seemingly to optimise his track position for another push lap, then began to accelerate.

As he did, Stroll moved to drivers’ right and they made right-front to left-rear contact on the run between Turns 5 and 6, with the #6 Williams entry bearing the brunt of the damage as it spun down the circuit and into the wall.

At that point, Schumacher sat immediately above the drop zone on a 1:20.104s, with the bottom five being Alexander Albon in the surviving Williams, Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Latifi, Stroll, and Sebastian Vettel.

The latter had still not gone out after he too had crashed an Aston Martin earlier in the day but, after a 15-minute pause in proceedings, the green flags flew again and the four-time world champion was dispatched from the pits.

The top seven stayed in the lane while nine of the 11 who went out made it to the control line in time to start a lap, the exceptions being the two Mercedes.

In the end, it was largely academic, with Gasly climbing from 13th to 10th, Vettel only taking up 18th with a time of 1:21.149s, and the order otherwise unchanged.

There will be a post-session investigation into the incident involving Latifi and Stroll, who ended up 19th and 20th respectively.

Sunday’s 58-lap race is scheduled for a start at 15:00 local time/AEST.

Results: Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying

Pos Num Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 16 Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari 1:18.881 1:18.606 1:17.868
2 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:18.580 1:18.611 1:18.154
3 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 1:18.834 1:18.340 1:18.240
4 4 Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team 1:19.280 1:19.066 1:18.703
5 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG F1 Team 1:19.401 1:19.106 1:18.825
6 63 George Russell Mercedes-AMG F1 Team 1:19.405 1:19.076 1:18.933
7 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Team 1:19.665 1:19.130 1:19.032
8 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine F1 Team 1:19.605 1:19.136 1:19.061
9 55 Carlos Sainz Scuderia Ferrari 1:18.983 1:18.469 1:19.408
10 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine F1 Team 1:19.192 1:18.815 DNF
11 10 Pierre Gasly Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:19.580 1:19.226
12 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo F1 Team 1:19.251 1:19.410
13 22 Yuki Tsunoda Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:19.742 1:19.424
14 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo F1 Team 1:19.910 1:20.155
15 47 Mick Schumacher Haas F1 Team 1:20.104 1:20.465
16 23 Alex Albon Williams Racing 1:20.135
17 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team 1:20.254
18 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin F1 Team 1:21.149
19 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Racing 1:21.372
20 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin F1 Team DNF

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