Max Verstappen fights off Ferrari to secure stunning Australian GP pole

Max Versteppen fought off a strong challenge from Ferrari to take pole position at Albert Park

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Max Verstappen will start the Formula 1 2024 Australian Grand Prix on pole position ahead of Carlos Sainz after a thrilling battle between Red Bull and Ferrari at the Albert Park Circuit.

It looked as if it would be a three-way fight for pole in Q2 as Verstappen set the quickest lap time with a 1:16.387, two tenths up on Sainz, followed by his Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc. But in reality, Verstappen was once again on a whole different level after beating Sainz by nearly three tenths in the Q3 shootout session.

Sainz, having only recovered from laparoscopic surgery two weeks ago, posted the fastest time of Q2 by two tenths. On his first run in the Q3 shootout session, he showed similar pace with a 1:16.331 to edge ahead of Leclerc, but Verstappen had unlocked some pace with two fine laps when it truly mattered.

The Dutchman, eyeing a hat-trick of consecutive poles, blew both Ferraris out of the water with a stunning 1:16.048 – putting nearly three tenths of a second between himself and the two Ferraris, with Sergio Perez a further tenth adrift. That set the benchmark to beat him to pole, but no one had the pace of the RB20.

He improved by a further two tenths to creep into the 1:15s, with Sainz securing second on the grid ahead of Perez in third and Lando Norris surprised everyone by securing his place on the second row in fourth.

Leclerc aborted his final attempt after a scrappy lap and will start fifth, ahead of Oscar Piastri in sixth to represent a fine session for the McLarens. George Russell, Yuki Tsunoda, Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso rounded off the top 10.

Hamilton struggles deepen

But the biggest shock of the session came when Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of qualifying by six hundredths of a second after Tsunoda and Stroll both improved their Q2 lap times at the checkered flag.

The Briton had qualified on pole eight times in Australia before, and he will start 11th represented his worst starting position Down Under in his 17-year career to underpin his miserable start to the campaign.

Alex Albon, who was controversially brought in to replace Logan Sargeant despite crashing in FP2, could only manage 12th.

Lewis Hamilton will start 11th. | Mercedes

At his home race, Daniel Ricciardo will be desperately disappointed to start 18th on the grid after being eliminated in Q1 for the first time in Melbourne after his final lap time was deleted for violating track limits.

He was joined by Zhou Guanyu, Pierre Gasly and Nico Hulkenberg in being knocked out and starting at the back of the grid.

Hulkenberg and Perez will face the stewards after the session following an impeding incident involving the Haas and Red Bull drivers, meaning there could yet be some changes to the final order for Sunday’s race.

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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