Verstappen makes the key difference in Q3

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Max Verstappen secured pole position for the 2024 Australian Grand Prix, however, that is not something which was predicted ahead of Q3.

Ferrari were the favourites ahead of qualifying, with Lando Norris having predicted that they would claim pole after the second practice session. “Ferrari is going to take pole position,” said Norris on Friday.

Norris’ prediction was looking accurate, as Carlos Sainz was the fastest man in Q1 and Q2. However, it was all change in Q3. Verstappen was just over two-tenths faster than the Spaniard in Q3, leaving the competition bewildered once again.

But just how did Verstappen catch everyone by surprise? Ferrari seemed to be the fastest team on Friday, whilst Verstappen, despite finishing second three times in free practice, was a bit behind the leading times.

The Dutchman suffered floor and chassis damage in the first free practice and also got a new engine on Saturday as a precaution. Not an ideal preparation. As qualifying went on, things got better and better, and by the end he was back in his familiar first place.

Whilst looking at the data, Verstappen personally made the difference in the battle with Sainz. The Ferrari driver was still about two-tenths faster than Verstappen in Q2, but did not take an extra step in Q3.

In Q3, Sainz was only four-thousandths faster than his best time in Q2, whereas Verstappen managed to find a staggering four-tenths of a second. Sergio Perez and Lando Norris also made a similar step in the final part of qualifying.

Of course, track evolution plays a role, but the difference between Verstappen and Sainz is still striking. The driver was the deciding factor this time.

View the fastest times of the top four in Q2 and Q3 below. The text continues after that.

Understeer

How Verstappen made the difference? By making improvements with the team. In Q1, Verstappen was still complaining a lot on the radio. The reigning world champion was suffering from understeer and even got a cynical response from race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase:

“Only good news today, Max!” joked Lambiase. Nevertheless, Red Bull and Verstappen managed to turn it around when it mattered. Verstappen knows how to explain in detail what the problems are, enabling Red Bull to make accurate adjustments.

Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko confirmed the optimal cooperation between the team and Verstappen after qualifying.

“Incredible interplay between the engineers, the tyre specialists and Max!” said Marko. “The most minimal changes, a little more tyre pressure here, a little more front-wing there! In the beginning of qualifying there was still a bit too much understeer, but it wasn’t a big problem.

“Slowly but surely we were looking for the limit. And Max drove another great lap. He managed the tyres in such a way that everything was right in the last run. We didn’t expect that, but we are happy!”

Whilst it was ultimately normality for Verstappen in Q3, the big question is how Verstappen and Red Bull will fare in the race. Verstappen was unable to complete a good long-run due to the damage he sustained in free practice on Friday.

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