- by Andrew Benson
- Head Writer for F1 in Melbourne
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took pole position for the Australian Grand Prix ahead of the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen beat Russell by 0.236 seconds and Mercedes had its best qualifying of the season. Hamilton was 0.136 seconds further adrift in third.
Fernando Alonso was fourth with the Aston Martin ahead of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.
Sergio Pérez crashed the second Red Bull on his first qualifying lap and will start the race at the back.
It’s a blow for the Mexican, who is just one point behind Verstappen in the championship after his victory in the last race in Saudi Arabia and who started the weekend saying he was confident he had the backing of Red Bull to challenge to your teammate.
Lance Stroll was fifth for Aston, ahead of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and Alex Albon’s impressive Williams.
Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas completed the top 10. McLaren’s difficult start to the season continued with Lando Norris in 13th.
Albon and Hulkenberg produced eye-catching top-10 performances in their normally uncompetitive cars, but it was the Mercedes that produced the qualifying upset.
Mercedes spring a surprise
Verstappen took a blind lap in his last race and when Alonso was second in the Aston Martin with a lap of 0.407sec behind the world champion, the front of the grid looked ready given Ferrari’s lack of pace this weekend.
But first Russell appeared between Verstappen and Alonso and then Hamilton slipped in there too.
“We didn’t expect that for sure,” said Russell, who has passed Hamilton three straight times in qualifying so far this season.
“Wow. What a session for us. The car felt alive. The lap was right on the limit.”
“I have to be honest: I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get pole. It’s funny how your expectations change in this business. Yesterday I would have been happy with fifth, but the car came to life.”
“Excited for tomorrow. It’s going to be tough against Max, but we’ll do our best.”
Hamilton added: “I’m very happy with this. This is totally unexpected. To be on the first two rows is honestly a dream for us.”
“We are all working as hard as we can and to be so close to Red Bull is amazing. I hope tomorrow we can give them a run for their money.”
Verstappen admitted that Red Bull had struggled to get the best out of his car this weekend, which had been difficult until qualifying.
“The last lap was pretty good,” Verstappen said. “Until then, the whole weekend has been difficult to get the tires in the right window and it was quite difficult to find the grip and nail it in one lap.
“But everything went well in qualifying. I’m very happy with that.”
A bit of a Hamilton-Alonso needle
In his post-race interviews, Hamilton seemed to take the opportunity to make a subtle hint at his old rival Alonso, whom he passed on his last lap after the Aston Martin had impressed all weekend.
Alonso said in an interview with a French newspaper this weekend that it was now clear that Hamilton no longer had the best car that “had weaknesses”.
And as he waved to the crowd, Hamilton said he hoped to have a similar first corner to the one he had in 2007 on his debut. “Does anyone remember that?” he asked.
It was an apparent reference to him passing his then-McLaren teammate Alonso around the outside of turn one in his first grand prix, the first dramatic moment in a season that became one of the most tumultuous in history. from F1.
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