F1 – Verstappen takes Melbourne pole ahead of Mercedes duo but Pérez slides to last
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen outpaced Mercedes pair George Russell and Lewis Hamilton to take pole position for the 2023 FIA Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, but there was disappointment for Dutchman’s team-mate and title standings rival, Sergio Pérez, who slid out of qualifying in Q1
With rain threatening, a queue of cars lined up at the pit exit and when the lights went green, Williams’ Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant led half the field out on track. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen set the early pace with a lap of 1:19.392 but there was little time for others to post a first flying lap as the red flags were soon out for Pérez.
As he began his first flying lap, the Mexican driver locked up into Turn 3 and slid into th3 gravel trap where his car became beached. He quickly climbed out and there was a short delay while recovery vehicles removed his car.
After an eight-minute halt, the action resumed, and Verstappen emerged on the same set of soft tyres used for the flying lap he’d been forced to abandon due to his team-mate’s incident. He quickly jumped to P1 with a lap of 1:18.063.
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso then briefly took top spot with a lap of 1:17.832, but after a cool down lap, Verstappen put in another flyer and he retook P1 with a lap of 1:17.469. 0.363s ahead of Alonso.
The Spaniard then improved to close up to the Red Bull, but Verstappen was also finding more grip and he set a new benchmark of 1:17.384 before retreating to the pit lane.
Behind him, Russell eventually took P2 ahead of Hamilton with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in P4 ahead of Alonso. There was no place in Q2, though, for McLaren’s Oscar Piastri who went out in P16 ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, Sargeant, the second Alfa of Valterri Bottas and Checo.
The weather continued to stay dry as Q2 got underway, but with forecasters still predicting rain, the pit lane exit was again crowded at the start of the middle segment.
Alonso set a target of 1:17.616, that was soon beaten by his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll who shaved six hundredths of a second off Alonso’s time before he too was bypassed, this time by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who posted a lap of 1:17.560 to take top spot.
However, as the Ferrari driver crossed the line, Verstappen was deep into his opening flyer of the segment and he took P1 with a time of 1:17.219. Alonso then improved to P2 with a second flyer to sit just over six hundredths of a second off the Dutchman.
With four minutes remaining, Verstappen headed out for his final run and he went quicker again, setting a time of 1:17.056 before heading back to the pits as the clock ran out.
Behind the Dutchman, Alonso held P2 ahead of the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Leclerc and the Haas of Hülkenberg. There was disappointment for Alpine driver Esteban Ocon, though. The Frenchman was pipped for P19 at the end of the session by Williams’ Albon who claimed the final Q3 spot by just 0.007s. Ocon was therefore ruled out ahead of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, McLaren’s Lando Norris, Magnussen and the second AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries.
Verstappen was first out of the blocks in Q3 and after a big moment of understeer in the penultimate corner he stopped the clock on his first flyer in 1:17.578, well off his Q2 pace.
That allowed Alonso to take P1 with a time of 1:17.303 and then Hamilton took top spot a little over three hundredths ahead of the Spaniard. Max. though, put in another warm-up lap and with his second flyer he returned to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:17.262, just 0.009s ahead of Hamilton.
Verstappen was in no mood to be denied, however and on his final run the champion powered to a lap of 1:16.732 to claim the 22nd pole position of his career, his first at the Australian Grand Prix and the team’s first in Melbourne since 2013. The title leader will be joined on the front row for the race by Russell, who finished 0.236 off Max. Hamilton will line up third ahead of Alonso, with Sainz fifth. Stroll is set to start sixth ahead of Leclerc with Albon in eighth ahead of Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Hülkenberg.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull RB19 Red Bull Red Bull 1:16.732
2 George Russell Mercedes W14 Mercedes Mercedes 1:16.968 0.236
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W14 Mercedes Mercedes 1:17.104 0.372
4 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin AMR23 Aston Martin Mercedes 1:17.139 0.407
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari SF-23 Ferrari Ferrari 1:17.270 0.538
6 Lance Stroll Aston Martin AMR23 Aston Martin Mercedes 1:17.308 0.576
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari SF-23 Ferrari Ferrari 1:17.369 0.637
8 Alex Albon Williams FW45 Williams Mercedes 1:17.609 0.877
9 Pierre Gasly Alpine A523 Alpine Renault 1:17.675 0.943
10 Nico Hülkenberg Haas VF-23 Haas Ferrari 1:17.735 1.003
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine A523 Alpine Renault 1:17.768 1.036
12 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri AT04 AlphaTauri Red Bull 1:18.099 1.367
13 Lando Norris McLaren MCL60 McLaren Mercedes 1:18.119 1.387
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas VF-23 Haas Ferrari 1:18.129 1.397
15 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri AT04 AlphaTauri Red Bull 1:18.335 1.603
16 Oscar Piastri McLaren MCL60 McLaren Mercedes 1:18.517 1.785
17 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo C43 Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1:18.540 1.808
18 Logan Sargeant Williams FW45 Williams Mercedes 1:18.557 1.825
19 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo C43 Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1:18.714 1.982
20 Sergio Pérez Red Bull RB19 Red Bull Red Bull