Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes set up mouth-watering pole battle

Charles Leclerc set up a tantalising battle for pole at the Australian Grand Prix by topping a tight final practice session at Albert Park.

The Ferrari driver set the benchmark with his final lap of the session, a 1:16.714, to finish just 0.020secs faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Mercedes was also in the hunt for top spot despite early complaints from its drivers, particularly Lewis Hamilton.

Only 19 drivers took to the track following Alex Albon’s FP1 crash on Friday, though Williams opted to end Logan Sargeant’s weekend in order to give the former its only remaining chassis to complete the event.

When track running got underway, the medium tyres initially looked the stronger compound for the track conditions, with Carlos Sainz’s initial best effort holding up until the very last lap of the session.

The Spaniard’s medium-tyre run would eventually be good enough for third, 0.077s down on teammate Leclerc at the top.

Hamilton and George Russell finished fourth and fifth fastest after the late qualifying simulations, though the seven-time champion was left perplexed by the early gaps between the Silver Arrows and its rivals,

When told early on that he was losing 1.1 seconds in a straight line, the response was delivered with a tone of dejection and surprise, though similar struggles disappeared on low-fuel.

Fernando Alonso had struggled with his set-up at Aston Martin but following a late change at the front of his AMR24, the two-time champion was able to jump to sixth fastest, ahead of Sergio Perez and Oscar Piastri.

Lance Stroll was ninth and Lando Norris tenth as all drivers completed the final hour of practice with little drama.


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