Aus GP Qualy: Max Verstappen back on pole as Sergio Perez’s day went from bad to worse

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen looking to the right in his RB19. Melbourne April 2023 practice

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen looking to the right in his RB19. Melbourne April 2023

Max Verstappen continued Red Bull’s run of pole positions for 2023, the reigning World Champion beating George Russell to the coveted grid slot in qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix.

Fastest in final practice, the Red Bull driver went into the session as the one to beat while his team-mate Sergio Perez was hoping to shake off his practice struggles. But it was not to be, the Mexican driver in the gravel and out of Q1 on his very first flying lap in qualifying.

As it had when Verstappen suffered a driveshaft failure in Saudi Arabian GP qualifying, that opened the door for a non-Red Bull driver to bag a front row spot, that going to Russell.

While Verstappen was quickest in qualifying with an 1:16.732, the Mercedes driver’s fastest time was 0.236s off the pace with Lewis Hamilton third fastest.

The drivers were prepared for a tricky qualifying session with light rain having made the circuit slippery but not wet. They ventured out for Q1 on the soft tyres with Nico Hulkenberg fastest of the early runners but then the big boys came out to play… and out came the red flags.

Perez, who had a nightmare FP3, locked up into Turn 3 and went off into the gravel with his wretched Saturday at the Albert Park circuit over. “We need to sort that issue man, it was the same f****** issue again.” He’ll line up P20 on the grid.

In sharp contrast his team-mate Verstappen went P1 with a 1:17.384, 0.3s up on Hamilton with Fernando Alonso P3. Hometown lad Oscar Piastri missed out on a Q2 berth by 0.046s as he went out along with Zhou Guanyu, Logan Sargeant, Valtteri Bottas and Perez.

Q2 was once again a Verstappen versus Aston Martin battle although this time Lance Stroll also got involved as he pipped Alonso by 0.07s while Verstappen ran wide on his first flying lap and then went P1 on his second. Alonso improved to P2 while his team-mate was overhauled by Charles Leclerc and Russell.

On a track where the soft tyres were improving over several laps, Verstappen, Leclerc, Stroll and Carlos Sainz pitted for fresh tyres but with another time to still put in more than one attempt at a flying lap.

Verstappen upped his pace to a 1:17.065 to finish 0.2s up on Alonso with Carlos Sainz third ahead of Nico Hulkenberg. The five drivers who didn’t progress were Esteban Ocon, Yuki Tsunoda, Lando Norris, Kevin Magnussen and Nyck de Vries.

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As the remaining 10 drivers took to the circuit for Q3, the pole position shoot-out, Sainz was told there could be rain in the final four minutes. That led to a flurry of activity with Alonso’s opening gambit putting him 0.4s up on George Russell only for Hamilton to come through with a 1:17.271. Verstappen was down in P6 after a small mistake on his hot lap.

As the drivers continued to lay down the laps Verstappen went onto provisional pole by 0.009s. But again Verstappen had shift problems, complaining that his “downshifts are getting worse”.

As the traditional traffic jam and backing up took place, Verstappen had free air to lay down a 1:16.732 with Russell up to second place, two tenths down. Hamilton went third and will line up on the second row of the grid alongside Alonso.

Sainz was fifth ahead of Stroll, Leclerc, Albon, Gasly and Hulkenberg to round out the top 10.

Qualifying classification

1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:16.732
2 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.236
3 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.372
4 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.407
5 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.538
6 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.576
7 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.637
8 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.877
9 Pierre GASLY Alpine 0.943
10 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team 1.003
11 Esteban OCON Alpine 1:17.768
12 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri 1:18.099
13 Lando NORRIS McLaren 1:18.119
14 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team 1:18.129
15 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri 1:18.335
16 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren 1:18.517
17 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo 1:18.540
18 Logan SARGEANT Williams 1:18.557
19 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo 1:18.714
20 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing no time