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Australian GP Qualifying: Max Verstappen claims F1 pole from Carlos Sainz but Lewis Hamilton out in Q2

Ferrari's challenge to Max Verstappen just falls short in Melbourne qualifying; Lewis Hamilton in shock Q2 exit for Mercedes; Grid penalty drops Sergio Perez out of third; watch the Australian GP live on Sky Sports F1 at 4am on Sunday morning

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Qualifying highlights of the Australian Grand Prix from Albert Park.

Max Verstappen fended off a fierce challenge from the returning Carlos Sainz to maintain his perfect start to the 2024 season in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.

​​​​But there was fresh disappointment for Lewis Hamilton, who failed to make Q3 in his Mercedes and will start 11th for Sunday's 4am race - his worst grid position in Melbourne for 14 years.

Verstappen made it three poles from three at the start of the new season with a best lap of 1:15.915 to tee up his pursuit at matching his own record of 10 successive race wins.

But the world champion had to overcome Ferrari's impressive Sainz, who has returned to action just two weeks after the appendix surgery which kept him out of the Saudi Arabian GP. The Spaniard was fastest in Q1 and Q2 before Verstappen upped the ante in the decisive final session to secure pole by 0.270s.

Sergio Perez originally qualified third in the second Red Bull but was later demoted three places to sixth by Melbourne stewards for impeding Haas' Nico Hulkenberg in Q1.

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Red Bull driver Sergio Perez received a three-place grid penalty after impeding Nico Hulkenberg's hot lap during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.

McLaren's Lando Norris, who had qualified fourth, moves up to the head of the second row instead.

Fourth was already Norris' best grid slot of the season so far.

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Fifth-fastest Leclerc, who abandoned his final Q3 attempt in the other Ferrari, and Australia's Oscar Piastri, who was sixth-quickest in the second McLaren, also gain a place apiece on the grid at Perez's expense.

Australian GP Qualifying: Top 10

1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull

2. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

3. Lando Norris, McLaren

4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

5. Oscar Piastri, McLaren

6. Sergio Perez, Red Bull*

7. George Russell, Mercedes

8. Yuki Tsunoda, RB

9. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin

10. Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin

*three-place grid penalty for impeding

Qualifying off the front row for the first time since last October's Qatar GP, Leclerc chose to pit instead of completing his final lap after running slightly wide under braking at Turn Three.

He admitted the SF-24 had been difficult to drive, with a "very aggressive" front-wing change for his final Q3 attempt ultimately not helping matters either.

That description of the car from his team-mate made Sainz's sure-footed performance on his return all the more impressive.

"I'm not in my most comfortable state when I'm driving out there but I can get it done," said the Spaniard, who was replaced by Ferrari reserve driver Oliver Bearman at the last round in Jeddah.

"A lot of discomfort and weird feelings, but no pain, and that allowed me to push flat out."

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Huge shock as Lewis Hamilton is knocked out in Q2 by Lance Stroll, who improves his time and knocks the Mercedes driver down to P11

After a difficult Friday, Mercedes had appeared to show promise with what appeared to be a step forward in the earlier final practice session but qualifying again exposed the W15's weaknesses.

On the cusp in 10th after his final lap of the second stage, Hamilton was knocked out by a last-gasp improvement from Lance Stroll with team-mate George Russell only just making it through himself.

Russell went on to qualify seventh, eight tenths of a second off the pace. Mercedes' drivers had been second and third on the grid behind Verstappen here last year.

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes felt great in P3 but struggled in the wind at Albert Park and is frustrated with the inconsistency of the car

Yuki Tsunoda impressed again over a single lap to take RB into the top 10, the Japanese driver outqualifying both Aston Martin cars in eighth place.

On what will be an all-green row five, Stroll outqualified Fernando Alonso for the first time this year. Stroll's sole run in Q3 provided the team's quickest lap after Alonso damaged the floor of his AMR24 in a high-speed trek across the grass on his first attempt, which compromised performance on his second.

But while there was a second successive Q3 appearance for Tsunoda, RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo's disappointing start to the season suffered a fresh setback on home soil as he qualified only 18th after a lap-time deletion for running off track at the end of Q1. The lap had originally placed him on the right side of the cut line in 12th.

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Williams team principal James Vowles defends his decision for Alex Albon to take Logan Sargeant's car after his crash left the team with one chassis

Meanwhile, after making the brutal call on Friday night to withdraw Logan Sargeant from the remainder of the weekend so Alex Albon could take over the one-remaining FW46 chassis after the Thai driver crashed his own heavily in opening practice, Williams' sole-remaining driver appeared to justify the decision by qualifying 12th to match their best of 2024 so far.

Mercedes' woes continue with Russell ahead of Hamilton again

Mercedes' quest to discover what they remain convinced is more inherent pace in its new-for-2024 W15 car, particularly in faster corners, remains very much unsolved on the latest bruising evidence of Saturday in Melbourne.

From finishing fourth and fifth fastest and within a tenth of Ferrari's pace in the morning's final practice session, the W15 ended up the best part of a second adrift of the leading pace when it mattered most in absolute low-fuel qualifying.

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Mercedes lack of performance is not for a lack of trying but it is not good enough after qualifying P7 and P11

A frustrated Hamilton, who has claimed a record eight poles at Albert Park and who last started outside the top 10 at the circuit when a McLaren driver in 2010, admitted to Sky Sports F1: "The inconsistency within the car, it really messes with the mind.

"But George did a good job. It is what it is. I just have to try and do a better job [in the race]."

Russell finished the right side of the cut line for Q3 by only 0.059s from Hamilton, but that was enough to ensure that, as was the case this time last year, he goes 3-0 up on the seven-time champion in qualifying at the start of the new season.

"From my side, I feel a bit more confidence and consistency with the car," said Russell.

"We know we need to improve in the high-speed corners and on this track there are quite a few of those.

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George Russell believes the Melbourne circuit does not play to the Mercedes' strengths but hopes they will be in a better position in the race tomorrow

"I think we will be in a much better place tomorrow when we have more fuel in the car and the pace is a little slower from everybody. But this circuit is not playing to our strengths."

Sainz eyes up Ferrari challenge to Verstappen for win

Qualifying may have still ended up with the reigning triple world champion at the end of the Q3 timesheet, but Verstappen acknowledged that F1's familiar outcome had not been a given for Red Bull up to the final session.

Ferrari's car had looked better-balanced around the technical Albert Park through practice and the SF-24's long runs were actually quicker than the hitherto dominant RB20s on Friday, when Verstappen ran off track and damaged his floor.

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Ride onboard with Red Bull's Max Verstappen as the three-time world champion secures his third pole position in a row at the Australian Grand Prix

Ferrari's long-run pace led Verstappen to state after qualifying: "In the race because it looks like Ferrari is also very fast and quite comfortable the whole weekend already. So, yeah, hopefully it will be an interesting race."

Asked if he felt Ferrari were closer to them this weekend than the opening two rounds in the Middle East, Verstappen replied: "Yeah, maybe it's because we were not on top of things, but they looked well dialled in, let's say, like that from the start.

"And probably from our side, it was a bit the opposite way. And yeah, we managed to improve it. But the race is going to be quite tough with the softer compounds that we have this year."

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Carlos Sainz says he is really happy with qualifying on the front row for the Australian Grand Prix despite still not feeling 100 per cent after his appendix surgery last weekend

Sainz also suspects that Ferrari "might have a chance" to end the Dutchman's long winning run if they can execute Sunday's 58-lap race to perfection from the front row.

It was the Spaniard who stopped Verstappen's record 10-race winning sequence in Singapore last September.

"I need to be 100 per cent to beat Max," said Sainz, who conceded he had not been in Q3 with some mistakes on his final laps.

"I will give it my absolute everything to do it because it's been a while since Singapore, and he's been on that top step since. But yeah, if there's one weekend where we have a good pace, it's this one. Tricky track to overtake, tricky on tyres. So who knows? I think we might have a chance."

Australian GP Qualifying Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1) Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:15.915
2) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.270
3) Sergio Perez* Red Bull +0.359
4) Lando Norris McLaren +0.400
5) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.520
6) Oscar Piasti McLaren +0.657
7) George Russell Mercedes +0.809
8) Yuki Tsunoda RB +0.873
9) Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1.157
10) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +1.637
Knocked out in Q2
11) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:16.960
12) Alex Albon Williams 1:17.167
13) Valtteri Bottas Sauber 1:17.340
14) Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:17.427
15) Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:17.697
Knocked out in Q1
16) Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:17.976
17) Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:17.982
18) Daniel Ricciardo RB 1:18.085
19) Zhou Guanyu Sauber 1:18.188
*3-place grid penalty

Sky Sports F1's live Australian GP schedule

The third round of the 2024 F1 season takes place on Sunday, with lights out at 4am on Sky Sports F1
Image: The third round of the 2024 F1 season takes place on Sunday, with lights out at 4am on Sky Sports F1

Sunday March 24

  • 12.30am: F2 Feature Race
  • 3am: Australian GP build-up: Grand Prix Sunday
  • 6am: Australian GP reaction: Chequered Flag
  • 7am: Ted's Notebook
  • 7.30am: Australian GP highlights
  • 8.30am: Australian GP build-up: Grand Prix Sunday replay
  • 9.30am: Australian GP race replay
  • 10am: Australian GP highlights (Sky Showcase)
  • 11.30am: Australian GP reaction: Chequered Flag replay

Formula 1's biggest ever season continues with the Australian Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 at 4am on Sunday, live on Sky Sports F1. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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