AUSTRALIAN GP – Charles Leclerc beats Max Verstappen to pole in heavily interrupted qualifying

Testing & Race Reports

Charles Leclerc has beaten Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to pole position by three tenths following a heavily interrupted qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix. The Monacan set an 18.239 on his first run before the session was red-flagged after Fernando Alonso crashed at Turn Eleven.

The Alpine driver had just set his best time in sector one, before crashing the car going into the wall a hydraulic failure. Once the session resumed Verstappen did go faster but Leclerc pulled out a final lap to tale pole by nearly three-tenths of a second. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was third, on the first runs in Q3 he looked able to say with the top two.

Red Bull looked to be in control in Q1 and Q3, but the Ferrari had always looked the more stable car and Leclerc once again delivered when it mattered most. Leclerc’s advantage being mainly built through the last two corners Prost and Sixteen. Red Bull have the advantage as Sainz is out of position, although Perez is under investigation for allegedly not slowing sufficiently for yellow caution flags and may face a penalty.

The race tomorrow is once again set to be  Red Bull having two against one versus Ferrari thanks to Sainz’s struggles. Sainz being caught out by the red flag while on his best lap metres from the line, then couldn’t get his second attempt together. The two early favorites for this years championship set to go head to head once again from the race win.

Leclerc said: “It felt good, even more because it is a track I have always struggled at in the past. It was a bit of a messy free practice for me, not everything together. But in Q3 I managed to put everything together and very happy to be starting on pole.”

Verstappen said: “I didn’t feel good in the car the whole weekend so far. There wasn’t one lap where I felt confident. Second is good but it’s not great when you can’t go to the limit.”

Explaining what happened, Alonso said, “We lost the hydraulics on the car, so we lost the gear change and power steering and everything. I think we could fight for pole position today. Been waiting many years for that possibility and it is amazing we have been so unlucky in these first three races.”

Lando Norris put his McLaren fourth going ahead of both Mercedes, Albert Park has appeared to be a better circuit for McLaren following a nightmare triple-header of testing and the opening races in the Middle East. So far this season McLaren has struggled to get both cars into Q3, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for his home Grand Prix.

Mercedes have continued to struggle with the proposing, especially through Clark and Turn Ten, Lewis Hamilton had been behind teammate George Russell throughout the session before pulling out half a tenth to take fifth. Esteban Ocon put his Alpine eighth, the timing of the red flag left Sainz ninth ahead of Alonso.

Mercedes have not brought upgrades this weekend, but both Hamilton and Russell, split by just a tenth, impressed, the team got their underperforming W13 car into a better window despite the heavy porpoising. Their strong session being put down to the performances of both drivers.

From McLaren’s end, they appear to have solved their brake issues and say the new high-speed Albert Park layout helped them.

Alonso’s crash in Q3 wasn’t the only incident, the biggest coming in Q1 thanks to miscommunication between Lance Stroll and Nicolas Latifi. Fighting for track position through Whiteford the Aston Martin ran into the back of Latifi, ripping the rear off the Williams.

Latifi had just let Stroll by as they ran at slow speed towards Turn 5 – the tight, fast right-hander than ends the track’s first sector – when the Williams accelerated and passed the Aston on its right-hand side, with Zhou approaching both from behind at higher speed.

As Latifi was passing by, Stroll possibly to get out of Guanyu Zhou’s way, they made contact breaking the Aston’s right-front suspension and sending Latifi spearing into the wall and smashing all the corners on his Williams.

Perez has been placed under investigation for failing to slow for the double waved yellows.

Pierre Gasly starts eleventh ahead of Valtteri Bottas both drivers not managing to improve on his final laps, Bottas failing to make Q3 for the first time since 2016. Yuki Tsunoda put his Alpha Tauri thirteenth going half a second faster than Zhou, Mick Schumacher put his Haas fifteenth.

Haas appears to slip backwards this weekend after their promising start to the season, Kevin Magnussen only managing seventeenth ahead of Sebastian Vettel. The four-time champion enduring a tough start to 2022, his return following a positive Covid test, left him with only one lap on Friday, then he crashed out of in Q1.


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