Verstappen beats returning Sainz to Melbourne pole, Hamilton in shock exit

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Verstappen beats returning Sainz to Melbourne pole, Hamilton in shock exit

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 2024 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 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.

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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

Sainz had topped qualifying’s first two knockout sessions, with Ferrari also second-quickest in Q2 with Charles Leclerc, but Verstappen still had unlocked speed up his sleeve to find in his superb RB20 and delivered two laps that would have been good enough for pole in the decisive Q3 segment.

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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

Verstappen’s pole-winning lap of 1:15.915 was 0.270s quicker than Sainz could manage in the end.

Just under a tenth further back was Sergio Perez who took third in the second Red Bull, with McLaren’s Lando Norris fourth in the Briton’s best result of the season so far ahead of Leclerc.

Australia’s Oscar Piastri was sixth in the other McLaren.

Third-placed Perez is under a post-session investigation for allegedly impeding Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg in Q1.

Australian GP Qualifying: Top 10

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 Piastri, 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

Qualifying off the front row for the first time since last October’s Qatar GP, Leclerc ended up only fifth after abandoning his final attempt when 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 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 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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Karun Chandhok takes a look at Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying lap after his shock Q2 exit in Melbourne

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 Tsunoda with team-mate George Russell only just making it through himself.

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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

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.

Aston Martin rounded out the top 10 with Lance Stroll ahead of Fernando Alonso for the first time in qualifying this year after the two-time champion ran off track and through the grass at high speed on his first attempt.

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 at his home race as the Australian had his best lap time deleted and dropped out of Q1 in 18th place.

Ricciardo had looked to have secured a place in Q2 by setting the 12th-fastest lap with his final attempt but Race Control ruled he had exceeded track limits at Turn Three in doing so. That lap was therefore deleted, dropping Ricciardo to 18th place ahead of only Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu.

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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.

The Melbourne grid is down to 19 cars after Williams had to withdraw one of theirs after Alex Albon crashed heavily in Friday’s opening practice session and caused excessive damage to his original chassis. But with Albon the team’s senior and recognised lead driver, the Williams chose to keep the Thai driver in the field for the remainder of the weekend with Logan Sargeant withdrawn instead and his team-mate taking over his car.

Though a brutal call, Albon appeared to justify the decision in qualifying by taking the sole-remaining FW46 to 12th on the grid to match the team’s best grid slot of the season so far.

Mercedes’ early 2024 woes continue with Hamilton outqualifed again

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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.

Mercedes’ quest to discover what they remain convinced is more inherent pace in the W15, 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.

A frustrated Hamilton, who has claimed a record eight poles at Albert Park, 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 is 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.

“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.”

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

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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