Verstappen grabs a highly contested pole in final moments of Australian Grand Prix qualifying

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Verstappen grabs pole on a difficult Albert Park circuit threatened by rain as Mercedes show promising pace with Russell and Hamilton lining up behind the champion. A very competitve midfield promises an exciting Grand Prix tomorrow.

Max Verstappen on track in Albert Park 2023
Photo: @redbullracing on twitter

Kevin Magnusson set the pace early with a 1:19.392 before being pipped by almost half a second by Alex Albon in the Williams. Albon’s rookie teammate Logan Sargeant was the first driver to find the grass having dropped the rear in the final chicane.

With 11:44 on the clock Sergio Perez, fresh from a poor FP3 performance, brought out the flag finding himself beached in the gravel after a lockup into turn 3. Poor timing from the Red Bull driver as his defending champion teammate Verstappen is forced to abandon is first push lap.

As the pit exit light returned to green Haas occupied the top spot with Nico Hülkenberg’s 1:18.373. The other Red Bull of Verstappen was first back on circuit, eager to get a time on the board.

Once everyone had set a competitive time it was Verstappen who held the top spot, with a 1:17.469, ahead of both Aston Martins. An impressive showing from Alex Albon in the Williams saw him sit in P3 soon after, just marginally slower than Alonso.

After a flurry of competitive times from the midfield in the closing moments, it was Piastri, Zhou, Sargeant, Bottas and Perez who found themselves in the bottom 5 and eliminated from qualifying.

Australian Grand Prix qualifying Q1 classification
@f1 on twitter

De Vries in the AlphaTauri was the first to hit the track as the majority of the field rushed to get an opening lap on the board. A 1:17.681 from Alonso set the opening pace before teammate Lance Stroll managed to pil the veteran by 0.065s.

Once all the opening laps were set it was Verstappen once again setting the pace with a 1:17.219, in good company marginally ahead of Alonso with Leclerc slightly further back in P3.

A small moment from Lando Norris in the McLaren saw him almost reenact Perez’ Q1 exit at turn 3. Despite his best efforts he found himself in the bottom 5 in the closing moments of the session.

As with Q1, the times came thick and fast as the session drew to a close. A very tight battle to get to the top ten eventually saw Ocon, just 0.007s off a Q3 appearance, alongside Tsunoda, Norris, Magnussen and De Vries exit qualifying.

Verstappen couldn’t be beaten, leading the session by 0.227s with a 1:17.056 as the chequered flag fell.

Australian Grand Prix qualifying Q2 classification
Photo: @f1 on twitter

Verstappen was quick to hit the track as Leclerc’s engineer informed him the team expect rain in the last 3-4 minutes of the final session. Despite an apparent abundance of understeer from the Red Bull, the champ was still able to put in a competitive opening time.

As the times flooded in however, the champion dropped down the order quickly as Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes in the top spot with a 1:17.271 just 0.032s. Verstappen improved shortly afterwards however, pipping the 7 time champion by just 0.009s.

With 5 minutes remaining in the final qualifying session there was a rush in the pitlane to get the cars back on track on fresh tyres, as the team looked to best the incoming weather.

As the cars got back on track for their final push laps, Verstappen could be heard over team radio suggesting he was suffering from a battery issue.

With 3 minutes remaining the top 9 drivers were covered by under half a second. An impressive 1:16.732 from Verstappen saw him throw down the gauntlet just before the chequered flag was flown. Verstappen was once again untouchable with a new track record 0.236s ahead of Russell in P2 as the Mercedes showed signs of the W14’s potential taking P2 and P3.

Australian Grand Prix starting grid
Photo: @f1 on twitter