Max Verstappen will start the Australian Grand Prix on pole after a last-gasp flying lap from the Red Bull driver rescued top spot from Mercedes.
Verstappen was sixth after making a mistake at the penultimate corner on his first lap, and though a second push lap on the same set of tires put him on provisional pole, it was with a tenuous margin of only 0.009s over the field.
And with the soft compound struggling to come up to temperature on a cool, overcast day in Melbourne, the Dutchman was on the back foot without the time to complete the two preparation laps the tire needed to be in its optimum window.
But if the reigning champion felt the pressure, he didn’t show it. A perfect lap on his first attempt was all he needed to secure pole with a best time of 1m16.732s.
“I think the last run was very good,” he said. “The whole weekend it’s been very tough to get the tires in the right window to push straight away, but it all came together in Q3.”
His closest challengers turned out to be the Mercedes drivers, whose speed through the flat-out second sector brought them into contention for pole.
George Russell led the way, with his fastest lap getting the team to within 0.236s of top spot and securing him a front-row start.
“We weren’t expecting that, that’s for sure,” he said. “A lot of hard work is going on back at the factory and here in Melbourne.
“The car felt awesome. It definitely goes to show we’ve still got potential to come.”
Hamilton backed him up in third despite his final flying lap behind hampered by traffic, and he was upbeat that it could be a victory contender on Sunday.
“To be this close to Red Bull is honestly incredible,” he said. “I hope tomorrow we can give them a bit of a run for their money.”
But the result was bittersweet for Red Bull, with Sergio Perez set to line up last after crashing out of Q1 with an apparent car problem.
Perez has been struggling with an apparent car issue affecting the balance of his RB19 all weekend. He had several offs earlier in the day during practice, particularly at Turn 3.
It was the same turn that undid him in Q1 after a lock-up sent him directly into the gravel, where his car became beached as he attempted to three-point-turn himself away from the barrier.
“We need to sort that issue, man,” he said before he extricated himself from the cockpit. “It was the same f****ing issue again.”
Without the Mexican in top-10 contention, Fernando Alonso was able to complete the second row of the grid just behind the Mercedes duo, his Aston Martin 0.407s off the pace.
Carlos Sainz was the quickest Ferrari, but he was more than half a second adrift, the Spaniard only just able to fend off Lance Stroll for the place.
Charles Leclerc will start seventh ahead of a superb Alex Albon, whose Williams car’s prodigious straight-line speed secured him the fastest time in the middle sector.
Pierre Gasly qualified ninth for Alpine ahead of Nico Hulkeneberg for Haas. Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine was pipped to Q3 by just 0.007s after traffic on his final lap, leaving him 11th.
Yuki Tsunoda will start 12th after beating McLaren’s Lando Norris by just 0.02, with the Briton lining up behind him in 13th.
Kevin Magnussen lacked his teammate’s affinity for the circuit on his way to 14th, while Nyck de Vries will line up 15th in the second AlphaTauri after running his final flying lap at Turn 1.
Oscar Piastri will start his first home grand prix from 16th, missing out on Q2 by just 0.046s.
Alfa Romeo’s struggles from Saudi Arabia continued, with neither driver ever looking like for a top-15 berth. Zhou Guanyu was the better of the pair, in 17th, while Valtteri Bottas was 0.174s further back in 19th.
Logan Sargeant slotted between hem in 18th, the American rookie unable to replicate teammate Albon’s sizzling pace.
Perez will start last, without a time, having triggered red flags with his off that suspended the session for around six minutes.
Q1 107% time – 1:22.800
Note – Perez failed to set a time in Q1. He will race at the stewards’ discretion.