Winners and losers from the 2024 Australian Grand Prix qualifying

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso.

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso each figure on our list of winners and losers from the Australian GP qualifying.

Max Verstappen put in the big lap when it was needed most, snatching pole position on a day when it looked good for Ferrari.

With Carlos Sainz topping the times in Q1 and Q2 to continue Ferrari’s strong showing from practice, Max Verstappen rose to the occasion in Q3 to deny the Scuderia pole position in Melbourne.

Australian Grand Prix qualifying: Winners and losers

Winners

Max Verstappen

With Ferrari having led the way in practice, Verstappen complaining about understeer early in Q1 wasn’t a good omen – particularly as the Scuderia took first and second with ease.

The status quo didn’t change in Q2 either, with Carlos Sainz continuing to lead at the front ahead of Leclerc.

But, in Q3, Verstappen did what the Ferraris couldn’t – digging out that extra two or three-tenths that was needed to get one over on the red cars.

It was the type of qualifying performance expected of a World Champion, snatching the top position away on a day where it looked near-certain to be going to someone else.

“Yeah, it was a bit unexpected, I think, today in qualifying, but very happy with Q3,” Verstappen said afterwards.

“I think both of those laps, they felt really, really nice, and that was very enjoyable. But, yeah, it was a bit of a tricky weekend so far, but, yeah, we managed to be there at the end, so I’m very happy with that.”

Carlos Sainz

It almost seems unfair to have Sainz on this list, given he’s much lighter than he was two weeks ago having shown incredible dedication to his craft by removing an organ from his body just to save a few grams and allow for slightly better ballast distribution on his Ferrari.

Before any engineers start making similar demands of drivers still laden down with pesky and completely optional appendixes, it’s worth remembering Carlos Sainz was actually not fully certain to be race-fit for Australia.

His stellar performance in qualifying capped off what has been a strong weekend so far, particularly given he’s playing slight catch-up after missing all the important parts of the second race weekend of the season.

Certainly, Sainz looked far more comfortable than Leclerc did in qualifying, and even suspected pole position could have been within reach if he had been fully fighting fit and not having to worry about his discomfort in the cockpit.

What can the sans-appendix Sainz manage over a race distance?

PlanetF1.com recommends

F1 2024: Head-to-head qualifying record between team-mates

F1 2024: Head-to-head race statistics between team-mates

Lando Norris

With all the attention on Oscar Piastri as the Australian driver enjoys the adulation of his home crowd, Lando Norris has quietly got on with it all weekend – and, like Verstappen, rose to pop in the important time when it mattered.

Having loitered behind Piastri through Q1 and Q2, Norris did a 1:16.315 in Q3 – more than quarter of a second clear of what Piastri managed. This gave Norris fourth on the grid, promoted to third following Perez’s grid penalty, and even ahead of Charles Leclerc on merit.

The McLaren hasn’t looked quite in the same league as Ferrari and Red Bull yet this season, so starting from third on the grid will mean a tough fight to try to secure a podium place.

Piastri found a tenth of a second between Q2 and Q3, with Norris finding four-tenths – leaving the British driver smiling as he starts ahead of his highly-rated team-mate.

“I think we made a good turnaround,” he said.

“I’ve been struggling a little bit all weekend with balance. We changed quite a bit going into today and made some good steps forward, so I’m now feeling much happier.

“I felt like I got a bit more comfortable with the car, and as soon as that happens, I can roll out some speed. So, a big thanks to everyone here at track and back in Woking for their help overnight. A good day, a good position and hopefully we can transfer it into good points tomorrow.”

Sergio Perez

Granted, he did end up with a three-place grid penalty for blocking Nico Hulkenberg in Q1, but the Mexican driver again performed as Red Bull need him to as he put in a solid qualifying session to claim the third-fastest time.

Perez only needs to be bringing home podium places and getting in the mix right behind Verstappen, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing since the start of the season – every session and race that goes by with him performing at this level brings him a step closer to retaining his seat with Red Bull for 2025.

George Russell

Another qualifying session, and another far more comfortable outing for George Russell in the W15 than it was for Lewis Hamilton.

Making it into Q3 by half a tenth as Hamilton was knocked out, the younger British driver went on to claim seventh on the grid and said afterward that he’s not encountering the same issues that are plaguing Hamilton’s efforts.

“I’m definitely not having the fluctuations in confidence or performance on my side of the garage, or in my car, compared to what Lewis is experiencing,” he said.

“I’m reasonably happy with how the car is handling, we just don’t quite have the performance.”

That’s 3-0 in qualifying, in Russell’s favour – that Ferrari move can’t come soon enough for Lewis, apparently.

Yuki Tsunoda

Having been urged to dig deep by Helmut Marko, Yuki Tsunoda continued to turn the screw on Daniel Ricciardo with a strong qualifying performance in Melbourne.

Making it into Q3, Tsunoda placed his car in eighth – given that there are at least four or five teams accepted as being quicker than RB at present, it was a real maximisation of his efforts.

Even better for Tsunoda in the head-to-head with Ricciardo, the Australian did set a time good enough to make it into Q2 – only to have that time deleted for having gone well outside track limits at Turn 5.

The pressure is mounting on both RB drivers, but Tsunoda is handling it with greater aplomb than Ricciardo right now.

Losers

Lewis Hamilton

At what point do the caveats and extenuating circumstances for poor outings give way to simply pointing at the driver and saying they need to do better?

Hamilton was only half a tenth off Russell’s time in Q2, the difference between making it through and not, but it was the younger of the two Mercedes drivers who once again had the upper hand.

It’s been a tough start to Hamilton’s final season with Mercedes, and the ongoing experimentation with setups is likely playing a role in some of his struggles.

But Hamilton appears to be struggling to drive around issues with the car in ways that hasn’t been evident in his past – and it’s this decreasing adaptability that drivers on the downward curve of their career trajectory usually suffer first.

Subdued and muted are the words that best sum up Hamilton’s start to his final year with Brackley – can he find the magic with them again before he heads to Ferrari?

Daniel Ricciardo

As my colleague Oliver Harden wrote in this same column in Saudi Arabia, Ricciardo’s hopes of reclaiming his former seat alongside Max Verstappen at Red Bull is a “rapidly dying dream”.

This situation only solidified with his poor qualifying showing in Australia. With Tsunoda making it through into Q3 and eighth on the grid, Ricciardo was knocked out as one of the four drivers eliminated in Q1 – a self-inflicted fact as he failed to keep his car between the lines at Turn 5.

His time was one of just two deleted in the entirety of qualifying, with the other – Alex Albon – doing it early in Q1 and sorting himself out with a later lap.

“I knew in Turn 4 I was sliding and fighting to put the car on the limit, and in that lap, I washed a little bit wider,” Ricciardo said.

“I knew I used more kerb than I wanted on the exit, but I wasn’t sure whether it would be off track or not.

“I had already forgotten about it by Turn 5 and 6 until I came into the garage and Pierre told me the lap was deleted.

“We’ve been facing some struggles all weekend, but it’s not anything in particular; I feel the car and I’m comfortable with it, with the balance and the braking and that’s why the grid position is really painful.

“Tomorrow will be a long race, probably it’s a two-stop one, so perhaps this will give us a bit more opportunities. I feel like I’ve got a little bit of my anger out of something, so probably something in my driver room will get broken and then I’ll feel better.”

Human, relatable, and likable? Of course, that sums Ricciardo up. But, as his World Champion compatriot Alan Jones pointed out, perhaps Ricciardo’s best days are now behind him.

Pierre Gasly

Ocon enjoyed a four-tenths of a second advantage over Gasly at the end of FP3, and maintained this advantage in the only part of qualifying to feature both Alpine drivers.

Finishing four-tenths down on Esteban Ocon in Q1, despite Ocon needing to limp back to the pits after hitting the wall on his first run, resulted in Gasly being knocked out.

Ocon brushed himself off and bounced back, and celebrated with jubilation the fact he’d made it through into Q2. Since the start of the season, Ocon has been much more upbeat about Alpine bouncing back from their terrible start to the season, and this positivity is making itself felt with the effort the drivers are putting in to try improving their status.

While Gasly pointed to what “felt like” a small downshift issue on his car being to blame for his struggles, Ocon chose to focus on the positives.

“The car was the best it’s felt since the start of the season and we extracted the most we could,” he said.

“I pushed the limits today – and more – clipping the wall at the final corner on my first run in Q1. I was fortunate not to pick up any damage and we could turn the car around quickly.

“We kept pushing to the end and managed to progress through to the next part of qualifying. That was really the maximum today, but we’re aware we still need to find some performance to make that next step. We’ve seen that a lot can happen here in the race, and as we’ve seen in the past, if you stay out of trouble, you can seize opportunities to move up the field.”

Fernando Alonso

21 years to the day after claiming his first pole position – at the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix – Alonso couldn’t muster up any of the same heroics on this occasion.

Having had the edge on Lance Stroll through Q1 and Q2, Alonso made a big error on his first flying lap in Q3, resulting in him skittering across the gravel at high-speed and damaging the floor of his Aston Martin.

As a result, his second flying lap was uncompetitive and he had to settle for 10th while Stroll kept his nose clean in Q3 to go on and take ninth. Alonso doesn’t make many mistakes but, on this occasion, his error may have cost him a seventh or eighth place grid slot.

“Getting both cars into Q3 was more or less what we expected today,” he said afterward.

“My first lap in Q3 wasn’t great: I went off into the gravel at Turn Six. My mistake. So, on my final push-lap, I didn’t really have full confidence in the car. It was tricky.

“I feel we are a little bit less competitive than we were in Jeddah. The car was sliding; a little sensitive in the wind; lacking consistency. But it’s the same for everybody. Still, we need to find more pace. There will be lots going on tomorrow.

“It’s not going to be an easy race for the tyres – graining will be a concern for everybody – so let’s see if we can manage them better than the others. We want to get both cars home in the points tomorrow.” 

 

Read next: F1’s last five super subs as Oliver Bearman prepares for shock Ferrari debut