Verstappen strikes hammer blow to Ferrari as Mercedes falter

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Max Verstappen clinched this third pole position from three this season with a stunning performance in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.

The Red Bull driver delivered a hammer blow to his rivals, setting a benchmark of a 1:15.915 which couldn’t be beaten – Carlos Sainz finishing 0.270secs down for Ferrari.

Sergio Perez was third quickest for Red Bull with Lando Norris fourth in the McLaren, four-tenths down on the pole time.

Charles Leclerc looked like Verstappen’s closest challenger through FP3 but an error at Turn 12 saw the Monégasque pit, telling his team that “the car was really difficult to drive”.

Home hero Oscar Piastri finished a fine sixth fastest though will be concerned over potential floor damage after running wide at Turn 10.

George Russell was only seventh for Mercedes whilst Yuki Tsunoda impressed in the RB to make the top 10.

Lance Stroll won the intra-team battle at Aston Martin to finish faster than teammate Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton shock elimination

Lewis Hamilton endured a miserable Friday at Albert Park but fortunes looked brighter after a positive FP3 earlier on Saturday.

But with Stroll and Tsunoda improving on their final laps, the seven-time world champion found himself a tenth adrift of safety, meaning he will start Sunday’s race from 11th.

Alex Albon put himself in the hunt for points by clinching 12th for Williams, the start of vindication for the team having given him teammate Logan Sargeant’s car for the remainder of the weekend after an FP1 crash rendered his own machinery unraceable.

Stake F1 driver Valtteri Bottas took a step forward from his performances in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to finish 13th fastest, ahead of Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.

Esteban Ocon brushed the tyre barrier on the exit of the final corner on his first run in Q1 and picked up a puncture. Having recovered to the pits, the Frenchman was able to sneak through to Q2, but could not advance from 15th on the grid for Alpine.

Ricciardo track limit pain

Nico Hulkenberg has been the unsung hero of qualifying since returning to F1 but was unable to escape elimination in Q1 for Haas.

Pierre Gasly couldn’t join his Alpine teammate in the second stage of qualifying but his story was not as bitter as home hero Daniel Ricciardo, who had set a time easily good enough for a spot in Q2.

But having run wide at Turn four, the RB driver had his time deleted after the chequered flag, leaving him ahead of only Zhou Guanyu.

The Stake F1 driver was up on his best effort after two sectors but lost a heap of time in the final part of the lap having mysteriously picked up damage to his front wing.

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