Max Verstappen secured pole position for the Australian Grand Prix ahead of the two Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton as Sergio Perez went off early in Q1.
The Red Bull driver took half a second out of his own provisional pole time on his final run in Q3 to secure the top spot on the grid while the Mercedes drivers secured second and third with Fernando Alonso fourth.
Perez will start last on the grid for tomorrow’s race, barring any penalties, after he skidded off track on his first push lap in Q1.
A brief rain shower less than 20 minutes before the start of qualifying had threatened to affect the opening phase. But all of the cars that waited at the end of the pit lane for the green light to appear queued up on slick tyres. The Williams FW45s of Alexander Albon and Logan Sargeant led the field away as Q1 began, while the five teams in the top half of the constructors’ championship opted to remain in the garage.
Kevin Magnussen was the quickest of the initial runners with a 1’19.392, before Albon replaced him with his second consecutive push lap. Albon’s team mate Sargeant briefly brought out the yellow flags by spinning at turn 13 at the end of his flying lap, righting the car and returning to the garage.
Sergio Perez had struggled throughout final practice with braking problems, running off the circuit no fewer than four times. On his first push lap of qualifying, the problem struck again, with worse consequences. He locked up under braking for turn three and skidded off the track into the gravel. Despite his pleas to the marshals to push him, Perez was stranded in the gravel trap, his session over almost before it had started.
The red flags flew so the Red Bull could be recovered. After a delay of eight minutes, the session resumed with just under 12 minutes remaining. Max Verstappen immediately jumped to the top of the times with his first flying lap, while many of his rivals opted to run a tyre preparation lap before pushing flat-out on their second lap.
Albon improved to move up to second place, less than a tenth of a second behind Verstappen, while Carlos Sainz Jnr could not match the Williams and went third in his Ferrari. Fernando Alonso’s first truly representative lap in the Aston Martin was easily quick enough to put him top, but only for a matter of seconds before Verstappen lowered the best time to a 1’17.469.
With five minutes remaining, there was an intense battle in the midfield to determine who would be the four drivers to join Perez in being knocked out of the opening phase. Zhou Guanyu, Yuki Tsunoda, Valtteri Bottas and Sargeant were all at risk, with Sargeant, Zhou and Bottas all improving to move out of danger, which dropped the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri into the elimination zone.
Norris and Tsunoda improved, which pushed the two Alfa Romeos back into the bottom five. Bottas improved his time but not his position with his final lap, ensuring his elimination. His team mate Zhou also failed to escape the drop zone with his final effort.
Piastri disappointed the home fans by missing out on a Q2 berth by just 0.022s, with Sargeant the final driver with the opportunity to secure safe passage out of the first session. He could not match his team mate’s pace with his last effort and was the final driver eliminated from the first phase in 18th.
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Having secured a place in Q2 for the first time in 2023, Nyck de Vries was naturally eager to take to the track as the second segment got underway, the AlphaTauri driver becoming the first car out on the circuit. He was soon joined by the rest of the first, with only the Mercedes and Alpine drivers choosing to remain in the pits.
Alonso set the early benchmark with a 1’17.681, but he was bested by team mate Lance Stroll after his first lap of Q2. Ferrari then moved to the top of the times sheets courtesy of Leclerc, who beat Stroll’s best by less than a tenth of a second on his first flying lap. Verstappen then went comfortably quickest with a 1’17.219, fastest by over three tenths, before Alonso improved to within a tenth of the championship leader in the Aston Martin.
Norris could not get into the top ten with his first flying lap of Q2, sitting 13th, and then a mistake under braking for turn three on his next lap left him trailing through the gravel trap. George Russell’s first push lap moved him to fourth place in the Mercedes, while team mate Lewis Hamilton could only manage eighth.
As time began winding down, the drop zone consisted of Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly, Norris, Magnussen and De Vries. Norris briefly bumped Albon down into the bottom five, but the Williams improved to put Norris right back into danger. De Vries’ next effort saw him improve to go ahead of his team mate, but it was still half a second away from reaching Q3.
Gasly improved to put himself into the top ten at the expense of his team mate Ocon, who came across traffic in the final sector and was the first car knocked out of Q2 by just 0.007s. Tsunoda also followed Ocon out of qualifying in 12th, while 13th was the best Norris could manage in the McLaren on his final lap of a session in which he was clearly pushing hard, kicking up the gravel twice.
Magnussen was eliminated in 14th, over seven tenths slower than Haas team mate Nico Hulkenberg, with De Vries the final car out of Q2 in 15th place.
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Although the weather radar suggested qualifying would conclude with no further rain, teams wasted no time in heading out to complete their first Q3 runs early. While the majority of drivers opted to run a preparatory lap on their tyres before beginning a push lap, Verstappen immediately went for a time in the Red Bull.
He made a slight mistake at turn 13 on his flying lap, setting the first provisional pole time with a 1’17.5. That was beaten by Alonso on his first effort of Q3, taking over the top sport with a 1’17.303. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc then demoted Verstappen down the order, while Russell moved behind Alonso with his first effort.
Then Hamilton suddenly jumped up into provisional pole position with a 1’17.271, pushing Verstappen down to sixth place. However, the Red Bull driver had remained out on track and attempted a second push lap on his tyres. That effort saw him only just pip Hamilton to retake pole by just nine-thousandths of a second.
The field returned to the pits to fit on fresh tyres for their final runs of qualifying. Again, the majority waited for their second lap to push, with Verstappen waiting longer than his rivals to put all his effort into his first lap. Verstappen’s push lap comfortably quickest and he blitzed his own pole time by over half a second to lower pole to a 1’16.732. Alonso’s second lap was not fast enough to trouble the Red Bull driver and he could only manage a lap four tenths slower than Verstappen’s best.
Mercedes were the only ones able to get close to Verstappen, with Russell moving up to the front row ahead of Alonso but still two tenths behind the championship leader. Hamilton could not match his team mate with his final lap, but he still secured a top three starting position ahead of Alonso as the chequered flag flew.
Sainz secured fifth on the grid ahead of Stroll in the second Aston Martin, with Leclerc having to settle for seventh. Alexander Albon took a strong eighth for Williams, with Gasly and Hulkenberg rounding out the top ten.
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