Formula One: Verstappen takes pole position for F1 Australian GP

AP , Saturday 23 Mar 2024

Max Verstappen not surprisingly clinched pole position for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. More surprising was record eight-time Australian pole winner Lewis Hamilton not making it into the final round of qualifying on Saturday.

Max Verstappen
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car down pit lane during the qualifying session for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park, in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, March 23, 2024. AP


Verstappen, who has won both races to start the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez second both times, will start in the front row for Sunday's 58-lap race on the temporary Albert Park street circuit.

It was the 35th pole of Verstappen's F1 career.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, returning from appendix surgery, was second-fastest. McLaren driver Lando Norris will start third after a three-place grid penalty pushed Perez down to sixth. Charles Leclerc is fourth for Ferrari, followed by Norris’ teammate Oscar Piastri.

“It was a bit unexpected but I'm very happy,” Verstappen said. “It's been a bit of a tricky weekend so far. (Ferrari) seem very quick, so it's a bit of a question mark for tomorrow.”

“Even throughout qualifying, Q1, Q2, I didn’t really feel like (I was) fighting for pole. Then we made some little tickles on the car and that seemed to help me in Q3 to really push it to the limit; both of my laps I was quite happy with it.”

The biggest surprise of the day was Mercedes driver Hamilton. He failed to advance from the second qualifying session, finishing 11th. It was his worst qualifying position at the Australian Grand Prix since 2010.

"The inconsistency within the car — it really messes with the mind,” the seven-time world champion said, citing the afternoon wind as a problem.

“Our car is on a bit of a knife edge. When the wind picks up the car becomes a lot more unstable. But the others seem to (be able to) pick their pace up in qualifying, I'm not sure why. It's not a great feeling for everyone in the team, but we'll just keep working away.”

Ferrari’s performance here could have been compromised after Sainz declared he was ready to return to the cockpit, but not feeling 100% after surgery for appendicitis ahead of the last race in Saudi Arabia.

But the Spanish driver, who is out of contract at the end of the season, rebounded from a hospital bed a few weeks ago to the front row of the grid in Australia this weekend.

“It's been a tough couple of weeks, so to make it to this weekend I'm very happy,” Sainz said. “I was a bit rusty at the beginning but I got up to speed and I'm feeling good in the car.”

Sainz said he was still feeling the effects of the surgery.

“I am not going to lie, I am not in my most comfortable state, but i can get it done,” he said. "Obviously, a lot of discomfort and weird feelings, but no pain, so it allows me to push.”

Australian Daniel Ricciardo was eliminated in the first qualifying session for the first time at Albert Park after his fastest lap was deleted by stewards. Ricciardo surged into the top-10 near the end of the session and seemed certain to continue his impressive record of never qualifying lower than 15th in Melbourne.

But the 34-year-old Ricciardo was deemed to have exceeded track limits and was pushed back to start from 18th place in his first GP on home soil since 2022.

Alex Albon qualified 12th, repaying some of the faith shown from Williams after the British-born Thai driver sat in teammate Logan Sargeant’s car. Albon’s vehicle sustained extensive damage after he crashed into a wall during practice on Friday, with American driver Sargeant stepping aside for the rest of the weekend.

It was already an eventful week ahead of Saturday's qualifying. FIA’s Ethics Committee had cleared its president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, from “interference of any kind” at two F1 events last year was followed quickly by a social media post from Susie Wolff, who is director of the all-female series F1 Academy and also married to Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff, announcing that she had filed a criminal complaint in the French courts against the sport's governing body for statements made about her in December.

It was all against the backdrop of ongoing furor surrounding Red Bull Racing and its team principal Christian Horner.

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