Of happiness and disappointment: Team Principals talk Albert Park quali

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Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

First pole position at Albert Park – 22nd of his career – for Max Verstappen in a tricky qualifying session repeatedly threatened by rain that sets the stage for tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix.

With George Russell following close behind the poleman and a rather tight midfield that sees eleven drivers – from Lewis Hamilton to Lando Norris – all within a second, let’s hear what the Team Principals behind the top teams had to say at the end of the session.

Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing

Bittersweet Saturday for Red Bull, as the team will take off from both the very top and the very bottom in tomorrow’s starting grid.

While Max Verstappen shined ahead of everyone in Q3, his teammate Sergio Perez slid off the track in his first Q1 lap. Behind it a suspected technical issue Perez has been struggling with all weekend, that the team is hopeful to resolve before lights out, as Horner told Sky Sports F1 at Red Bull they are “looking at what has contributed to that and if there is something, it will not be there tomorrow.

“Max did an outstanding job in qualifying, particularly in these conditions and on this track. Our strategy was slightly different today, we weren’t doing the build and push laps, so it was all about getting the optimum out lap, getting the temperature he needed into the tyres then nailing the lap which he managed perfectly.

“It’s hugely disappointing for Checo that he’s not up there with Max. We suspect an engine setting issue contributed to a lockup that he had on his first lap in qualifying but obviously we need all the data back to analyse and ensure that if there is an issue, it’s resolved for tomorrow. It’s incredibly frustrating for him and the team, but he’s proven himself to be a great racer and we’ll be looking to make as much progress in the race as we can.”

Toto Wolff, Mercedes

Best qualifying of the season so far for the silver arrows, who have been struggling quite a lot, as George Russell finished Q3 0.236s behind the RB19 of pole sitter Max Verstappen and teammate Lewis Hamilton taking P3 ahead of Fernando Alonso. An evolving strategy is what allowed Mercedes to make the most of the everchanging track conditions, as Wolff explained.

“We’re happy with how today went. We needed a little bit of happiness and at least for Saturday, we’ve got some of that. We have been grinding away with extracting performance from the car by getting the right mechanical setup. We brought it all together in Qualifying.

“We learned through the session, and we were open-minded. We changed the plan from doing a third or fourth push lap, to only doing two and then down to one in Q3. Starting second and third is a good place to be. It’s been a while since we’ve had no-one really in front of us by starting P2. We’ll try to make the best out of it tomorrow. Verstappen is clearly in a league of his own but hopefully we can slot in behind.”

Mike Krack, Aston Martin

A P4 start for Fernando Alonso that puts him in position to fight for what would be his third podium in a row this season. The Spaniard will take off ahead of Carlos Sainz, while the AMR23 of Lance Stroll will split the Ferraris starting from P6.

“It was a tricky session with the threat of rain present throughout the whole of qualifying and especially during the final moments of Q3. We also saw an incredibly close field with every tenth of a second making a difference in Q1, Q2 and Q3. That was why we had to try and find the balance between saving tyres and making sure we did not miss the cut with quite significant track evolution.”

“We were sensible and played it safe to ensure we progressed with both cars, but it meant Lance had just one set of new Softs for Q3. He made the best of them with two timed laps and starting from sixth gives him a great opportunity to score well tomorrow. Fernando’s session was strong, too, with clean and tidy laps putting him on the second row. We head into tomorrow’s race feeling confident with our race pace and ready to fight once again.”

Fred Vasseur, Ferrari

Diversified strategy for the Ferrari drivers, as engineers were expecting the fall of a rain in the final minutes of Q3 that never came. No preparation lap for Charles Leclerc who this time couldn’t manage to make up for the struggles of the SF23 and ended up behind in P7, not much better for his teammate Carlos Sainz who closed quali in P5 just ahead of Lance Stroll.

“Today’s qualifying was very close and unfortunately, things did not go to plan for us. In Q3, we were on the limit in terms of time at the end of the session so we didn’t do a preparation lap with Charles. Carlos didn’t manage to put a lap together, losing a few tenths in the first corner on what would have been his best lap, otherwise he could have been second or third.

“However, the points are given out tomorrow and, since Jeddah, we have worked on getting consistent and strong performance from the SF-23 in race trim. Now we will prepare for the race as well as possible with the intention of moving up the order. Overtaking is not easy here, but it can be an unpredictable race.”