Verstappen on pole in Australian GP as Perez endures nightmare

Max Verstappen comfortably captured pole position for the Australian GP

Max Verstappen comfortably captured pole position for the Australian GP

Max Verstappen clinched the 22nd pole position of his F1 career ahead of the Australian Grand Prix but for Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez the qualifying session proved to be a nightmare.

In the cool, overcast conditions, with a stiff breeze also blowing across Melbourne’s Albert Park, Verstappen was fastest throughout all three sessions, culminating in a decisive lap of one minute 16.732s.

In stark contrast, team-mate Sergio Perez will line up last of the 20-car field after seemingly suffering with a brake issue which led to him beaching his car after locking up at Turn 3 in Q1.

Reigning F1 champion Verstappen is joined on the front row by the Mercedes of George Russell as the team that has so far struggled with its W14 delivered a worthy one-lap performance for the first time this season.

Verstappen finished a quarter-of-a-second clear of Russell who, in turn, was 0.136s ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, out-qualifying the seven-time F1 champion for the third successive race this season.

It appears Mercedes has the edge on Aston Martin at this track, even though it was suggested its medium-speed nature would suit the AMR23 as Fernando Alonso starts fourth and Lance Stroll sixth, either side of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

Charles Leclerc lines up seventh ahead of the surprising Williams package of Alex Albon who enjoyed a superb qualifying, with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly ninth and Nico Hulkenberg a fine 10th in his Haas.

Perez fury as brake issue bites hard

With 11 minutes and 44 seconds of the opening 18-minute Q1 remaining, Perez’s horror day continued.

The Mexican driver had endured a wretched final practice in which he was only sixth fastest after suffering a number of off-track excursions due to him struggling with an inconsistent brake pedal throughout the hour-long session.

With just minutes remaining prior to qualifying, Perez’s RB19 was up on the jacks in the garage, with his mechanics working on the car.

Without a time to his name, Perez locked up his brakes on the approach to Turn 3, sending his car sliding across the gravel, where he duly beached his machinery.

A clearly frustrated Perez, who has only reached the top eight in qualifying in what is now 11 visits to Melbourne, said over the team radio: “We need to sort that issue man. It was the same f***ing issue again!”

Piastri misses out with under-balanced McLaren

At that stage, only nine drivers had set a time, with Hulkenberg leading the way, but once the pit lane re-opened, it did not take long for Verstappen to quickly jump to the top of the timesheet with a 1:18.063s.

Within seconds of Alonso taking over at the top with a lap a quarter-of-a-second-quicker than Verstappen, the Dutch driver jumped back to the front with a 1:17.469s, before lowering the benchmark again to 1:17.384s.

What was remarkable about the session was that the drivers were not pitting due to comfortable tyre wear, allowing them to conduct a hot lap, cool-down lap, before pushing again, as proved to be the case throughout the hour.

It resulted in the majority of the field biding its time to set a lap just before the clock ticked down.

Home hero Oscar Piastri, who had received his first reprimand before qualifying, missed out on a place in Q2 by just 0.046s.

Although improving on his final lap, the McLaren driver will start 16th, almost three-tenths of a second behind team-mate Lando Norris in Q1, after complaining of his MCL60 feeling under-balanced.

Alfa Romeo pair Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas also exited Q1, with the duo lining up 17th and 19th respectively, sandwiching Logan Sargeant in his Williams.

The American driver, who endured a spin prior to Perez’s off-track excursion, joins the Red Bull driver on the back row of the grid.

Norris takes to the gravel as Verstappen misses bird

In the middle 15-minute session, Norris suffered his own trip across the gravel at Turn 3 but managed to comfortably escape as he did not go as deep as Perez.

The Briitsh driver, however, did not have the pace to reach the top-10 shoot-out and starts 13th, with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda in his AlphaTauri ahead of him in 11th and 12th.

Behind him will be Kevin Magnussen in his Haas, the Dane seven-tenths of a second behind team-mate Hulkenberg who comfortably made Q3, and the second AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries.

Verstappen was again easily in a class of his own as he sat at the top of the timesheet for the majority of the session after setting an initial time of 1:17.219s before later improving to 1:17.056s.

The only scare for Verstappen throughout qualifying came in Q2 when he had to pull off a small swerve to avoid hitting a bird that was crossing the track at one stage.

In Q3, with rain apparently threatening, Verstappen was the first out of the garage, although only set a time of 1:17.578s – half-a-second behind his best lap in the second session.

Alonso then claimed provisional pole with a time of 1:17.303s but was quickly usurped by Hamilton by 0.032s.

But on his second hot lap, after a cool-down run, Verstappen managed to pip Hamilton by 0.009s as the session hit the midway point althugh he was soon complaining about the downshift in his car, as well as the battery.

Despite that, and after a change of tyres, in the closing stages Verstappen delivered the decisive, crushing lap with a stunning time of 1:16.732s.

The surprise was the Mercedes as Russell was the only other driver to post a time below 77 seconds, setting a lap of 1:16.968s.

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