Verstappen on pole ahead of Sainz at Australian Grand Prix

Published March 24, 2024
MELBOURNE: Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the third practice session of the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit on Saturday.—AFP
MELBOURNE: Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the third practice session of the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit on Saturday.—AFP

MELBOURNE: A “very satisfied” three-time world champion Max Verstappen clinched a third straight pole of the season on Saturday at the Australian Grand Prix as the flying Dutchman targets a record 10th consecutive win.

Under hazy skies at Albert Park, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, back in the car barely two weeks after appendicitis surgery, came second in tense qualifying and will keep the Red Bull ace company on the front row.

Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull came third but will start from sixth after being slapped with a three-place grid penalty for impeding Nico Hulkenberg, bumping up McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari — who won in 2022 — moves up to fourth with McLaren’s Oscar Piastri fifth.

“Very happy with that because so far this weekend it has been a bit tough to find a good balance in the car,” said Verstappen, who is looking to repeat his feat from last year when he started first and won a chaotic race in Melbourne.

“And even throughout qualifying in Q1 and Q2 I didn’t really feel I could be fighting for pole. But then we made some little tickles on the car and that seemed to help me in Q3 to really push it to the limit.

“Obviously things can improve, but overall very satisfied with the performance.”

The 26-year-old knocked out his rivals to earn a 35th career pole with a flying lap of one minute 15.915, 0.270 secs ahead of Sainz, who missed the last race in Jeddah.

“I don’t feel 100 per cent, it’s impossible after spending a lot of days in bed like I did to try and recover,” said the Spaniard after his remarkable comeback in front of 130,000 fans.

“But the good thing is that I have no pain, I just have discomfort and everything feels a bit weird.

“Today, when the adrenaline came out I could close the visor and go for it which is a good thing.”

Mercedes’ George Russell came seventh ahead of RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and the Aston Martin pair of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso.

But there was disappointment for Mercedes’ seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton who missed Q3 and will start from 11th.

“It’s not a great feeling for anyone in the team at the moment but we will keep working away,” said Hamilton, a two-time Melbourne winner.

“I’ll be focused on coming back tomorrow and trying to do a better job.”

He will need something special to stop Verstappen, who won the opening two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, both from pole.

The Dutchman is chasing a 10th straight victory to match his own record set last year, while Red Bull are attempting to score a third straight 1-2 finish for the first time in the team’s history.

Sainz topped Q2 from Verstappen and Leclerc with Hamilton — an eight-time Australian pole-sitter — a key casualty.

His loss was Tsunoda’s gain as the only interloper outside of the big five teams joining the Q3 ranks.

Haas’ Kevin Magnussen also missed out in Q2, along with Valtteri Bottas in the Sauber, Esteban Ocon in his Alpine and Alex Albon in the sole Williams.

Sainz was also fastest in Q1 ahead of Perez and Verstappen.

Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu came last with RB’s Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly in the other Alpine and Haas’ Hulkenberg also failing to progress.

Logan Sargeant was absent after his Williams was given to team-mate Albon.

Albon crashed on Saturday and with no spare chassis Williams was left with just one car and opted for the Anglo-Thai driver over the American.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2024

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