Leclerc blitzes Verstappen with last-gasp Australian GP pole lap

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Leclerc blitzes Verstappen with last-gasp Australian GP pole lap

Formula 1

Leclerc blitzes Verstappen with last-gasp Australian GP pole lap

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Charles Leclerc will start the Australian Grand Prix from pole position after beating Max Verstappen to top spot in an unpredictable qualifying session.

Verstappen had seized the momentum in the disrupted final segment, which had been red flagged halfway through for a Fernando Alonso smash, and held provisional pole when the checkered flag fell. But Leclerc was last on the road and purple first and last sectors blew away Verstappen’s best time to take pole by a comfortable 0.286s.

“It felt good,” he said. “This weekend we really worked hard.

“In Q3 I managed to put everything together, so it feels great. Very happy to be starting on pole tomorrow.

While Leclerc was pleased with his one-lap pace, he was more cautious about his car’s race prospects.

“The Red Bulls were very quick in FP2 during the long fuel runs,” he said. “But to be honest we were again quite surprised by our pace in qualifying; so everything is possible tomorrow. We just need to do a good start and hopefully we can keep that first position.”

Verstappen was disappointed to start alongside the Ferrari driver in second after losing touch with his car since Friday practice, and though he was more optimistic about Sunday, he admitted he’s yet to get a handle on the RB18 around Albert Park.

“I didn’t really feel good in the car the whole weekend so far,” he said. “I think there’s not been one lap where I actually felt confident, so a bit of a struggle

“Second is still a good result, but I’m not feeling that great going to the limit. Probably in the race pace everything stabilizes a bit, but for me this weekend so far is all over the place.”

Sergio Perez qualified third and less than a tenth behind his Red Bull teammate, but the Mexican will see the stewards later today for allegedly ignoring yellow flags in Q2 for George Russell’s spun-around Mercedes.

Lando Norris was a shock fourth in an unexpectedly strong weekend for McLaren after an opening two rounds of struggle. He was 0.835s off pole, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo was seventh after a mistake on his final lap left him unable to improve on what had been fourth after the first runs.

Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and George Russell split the papaya pair in fifth and sixth at around a second off pole after recovering from a poor Friday practice.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was eighth after struggling to find time with his second run, and Carlos Sainz in ninth – the Spaniard having been just short of completing his first flying lap when the red flag flew and struggled to pick up the qualifying thread afterwards.

Alonso will start 10th after crashing before setting a lap time in the top-10 shootout. The Spaniard understeered into the gravel at the exit of Turn 11 and got sucked into the barrier, crunching his left-front corner.

“I lost the hydraulics, I could not change gear,” he said in frustration as the red flag was flown. He had been on a personal best lap with a purple middle sector and likely would’ve been in the top two had he completed the time, and he afterwards suggested he felt he had the pace for pole this weekend.

AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo will share the sixth and seventh rows of the grid. Pierre Gasly qualified 11th ahead of Valtteri Bottas, whose 103-race run of Q3 appearances, running all the way through his Mercedes career, comes to an end in Australia.

Yuki Tsunoda will start 13th ahead of Zhou Guanyu in 14th, while Mick Schumacher outqualified Kevin Magnussen for the first time this year to take 15th.

Alex Albon was knocked out in Q1 and will start 16th, just 0.026s shy of making the second part of qualifying, but will drop three places on the grid with a penalty for carrying over from Saudi Arabia. He pipped Magnussen, who was 17th.

Sebastian Vettel qualified 18th for Aston Martin after his mechanics faced a race against the clock to repair his car after an FP3 crash.

Ironically his side of the garage was helped by teammate Lance Stroll, who triggered a 15-minutes red flag after a crash with Nicholas Latifi in Q1.

The two Canadian drivers were on slow preparation laps as they rounded Turn 4 when Latifi sped up and attempted to overtake along Stroll’s right-hand side approaching the right-hand Turn 6. Stroll, however, meandered over towards the apex as his compatriot powered past, clipping the Williams car’s rear-right tire with his left front.

Latifi was tipped into a spin, wiping all four corners off his car, while Stroll was forced to stop on track with damage, each blaming the other for a crash that will be investigated by the stewards after the session.

“I don’t understand what he was doing,” Latifi said. “He wasn’t looking in his mirrors. The f***ing car’s destroyed.”

He qualified 19th, while Stroll failed to set a time, having just joined the session after mechanics finished rebuilding his car after a late FP3 crash.

1 Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 1:17.868
2 Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:18.154
3 Sergio Perez, Red Bull, 1:18.240
4 Lando Norris, McLaren Mercedes, 1:18.703
5 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:18.825
6 George Russell, Mercedes, 1:18.933,
7 Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren Mercedes, 1:19.032
8 Esteban Ocon, Alpine Renault, 1:19.061
9 Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, 1:19.408
10 Fernando Alonso, Alpine Renault – 2
11 Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri Red Bull, 1:19.226
12 Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo Ferrari, 1:19.410
13 Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri Red Bull, 1:19.424
14 Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo Ferrari, 1:20.155
15 Mick Schumacher, Haas Ferrari, 1:20.465
16 Alex Albon, Williams Mercedes, 1:20.135
17 Kevin Magnussen, Haas Ferrari, 1:20.254
18 Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin Mercedes, 1:21.149
19 Nicholas Latifi, Williams Mercedes, 1:21.372
Lance Stroll, Aston Martin Mercedes, – 2

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