Verstappen claims first ever Melbourne pole as Russell bags front row start
Max Verstappen drew level with Fernando Alonso by taking his 22nd career pole position in qualifying for the 2023 Australian Grand Prix – while Mercedes’ George Russell qualified second and Sergio Perez ended up 20th after a Q1 crash.
Verstappen set a time of 1m 16.732s to take his first Australian Grand Prix pole position ahead of Russell, who was 0.236s off in Q3. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton ended up third on the grid, 0.372s off the pace, while Fernando Alonso was 0.407s off the pace in P4.
Carlos Sainz qualified fifth for Ferrari in front of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, while Charles Leclerc struggled on the way to P7.
Alex Albon managed a stellar P8 for Williams to leave Alpine’s Pierre Gasly ninth and Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Haas.
Yellow flags flew in Q1 – where the official risk of rain was 90% – as Logan Sargeant went off track, just before Perez brought out red flags by locking up and beaching his Red Bull in the Turn 3 gravel having struggled throughout FP3. Conditions stayed dry and Verstappen set the fastest time in Q1 ahead of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
FORMULA 1 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX 2023
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:16.732|
|2 George Russell RUS Mercedes||1:16.968|
|3 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||1:17.104|
|4 Fernando Alonso ALO Aston Martin||1:17.139|
|5 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:17.270|
In Q2, Verstappen continued his run to top the session ahead of Alonso, which set up a nail-biting Q3 where Verstappen took provisional pole in Q3 but reported gearshift issues. Despite that, he improved to cement pole with a blistering effort.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was caught in traffic and eliminated from Q2 in P11, 0.08s off safety, while Yuki Tsunoda was visibly annoyed at being held up in the pit lane weighbridge before he was eliminated in P12 for AlphaTauri.
McLaren’s Lando Norris made a brace of mistakes in Q2 and finished P13 ahead of Haas’s Kevin Magnuseen, while Nyck de Vries finished P15 in qualifying for AlphaTauri.
Home hero Oscar Piastri was 0.047s off safety in Q1 as the McLaren driver qualified 16th ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Williams’ Sargeant in P18. Valtteri Bottas hit traffic in Q1 and qualified 19th, leaving Perez 20th after his Q1 excursion.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Perez locks up and bows out while Verstappen goes fastest
Fans donned ponchos as the green light turned on for qualifying with the official risk of rain at 90%, but drivers emerged on slick tyres to make use of dry conditions at the start of Q1. Just six minutes into the session, Williams’ Logan Sargeant brought out a yellow flag by going off track out of Turn 13, and one minute later Red Bull’s Sergio Perez locked up at Turn 3 and beached his car in the awaiting gravel.
“We need to sort out the issue,” said Perez, who struggled with his car in FP3. “It was the same ******* issue again.”
The clock paused with 11 minutes and 44 seconds remaining of Q1, with Nico Hulkenberg top of the timesheets and 10 drivers yet to set a flying lap. When the session resumed, laps came thick and fast with drivers fuelled up for multiple laps as their soft tyres held up in the cool conditions.
Eventually, Max Verstappen held top spot with an effort of 1m 17.384s as George Russell was 0.270s off in P2 and Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton third by 0.305s. Esteban Ocon made a late jump to fourth for Alpine, 0.386s off, to leave the Aston Martins fifth and sixth with Fernando Alonso ahead of Lance Stroll.
Carlos Sainz took P7 in front of Alex Albon, who was on the pace throughout in his Williams, while Hulkenberg improved and took P9 ahead of Haas team mate Kevin Magnussen.
Charles Leclerc made a late mistake and the Ferrari driver ended up 11th, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly. Both AlphaTauris made it to Q2 with Nyck de Vries ahead of Yuki Tsunoda in a top 15 split by 1.087s.
Home hero Oscar Piastri was first in the drop zone, 0.047s off safety in P16, while Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu was narrowly off in P17 and Williams’ Sargeant not far back in P18. Valtteri Bottas struggled with traffic and ended up 19th to leave Perez 20th.
Knocked out: Piastri, Zhou, Sargeant, Bottas, Perez
Q2 – Verstappen leads Alonso in close-cut Q2
Opening salvos saw Verstappen lead Alonso by 0.064s and Leclerc go third by 0.341s as drivers continued their constant lapping on soft tyres to take advantage of the rapidly evolving conditions. Meanwhile, Magnussen, De Vries, Norris – who went into the gravel at Turn 3 – Ocon and Gasly were in danger of being eliminated from Q2.
A dilemma began to emerge as drivers had to decide whether to continue on their used softs, which seemed to be serving them well, or take the gamble to pit and invest the time into scrubbing a set of new softs to put them into the right window for a qualifying run.
Verstappen donned a new set of softs and improved by a tenth with a lap of 1m 17.056s, dodging a bird in the process, but Alonso declined to do the same and retained P2. Sainz took P3, 0.293s off the pace, ahead of team mate Leclerc – while Hulkenberg impressed again for P5.
Albon was the last driver in safety, setting the fastest sector and taking P10 at the expense of Ocon – who was 0.08s off safety in P11. Furious at being held up in the weighing station during Q2, Tsunoda was 12th, while Norris collected a tiny strip of gravel at Turn 11 and ended up 13th in Q2. Magnussen took 14th and De Vries rounded out the Q2 standings in P15.
Knocked out: Ocon, Tsunoda, Norris, Magnussen, De Vries
Q3 – Verstappen puts on a show while Russell blazes to front row
Verstappen needed two laps to put in a representative lap in Q3 and with five minutes remaining, he did so, taking provisional pole with a time of 1m 17.262s – leaving Hamilton 0.009s off and Alonso 0.041s behind in P3. Rain was on the cards, with drivers expecting it to hit at the very end of qualifying.
Verstappen may have been top but he reported gearshift and battery issues after his flying effort. Would we have a non-Red Bull on pole position for the first time since Sao Paulo 2022, or would the Dutchman be able to match Alonso and take his 22nd career pole?
The Red Bull driver duly turned on the afterburners, setting the fastest times in Sectors 1 and 3 to improve to 1m 16.732s and take his first pole position in Australia, also drawing level with Alonso with his 22nd F1 career pole position.
Russell meanwhile ended up just 0.236s off the pace in P2 ahead of Hamilton in P3, while Alonso had to settle for fourth ahead of compatriot Sainz.
Stroll split the Ferraris in sixth ahead of Leclerc, while Albon took P8 for Williams, Gasly ninth for Alpine, and Hulkenberg 10th for Haas – 1.003s off the pace.
“I think the last run was very good,” said pole-sitter Verstappen. “The whole weekend it has been very tough to get the tyres in the right window, to push straight away. But it all worked out in Q3. Very happy with the lap and of course very happy to be on pole position. Already looking forward to tomorrow.
“I’ve been on the podium once, but I want to be on a different step this time.”
The 2023 Australian Grand Prix is set to begin at 1500 local time on Sunday with Max Verstappen seeking his first victory Down Under and Mercedes hoping to upset the Red Bulls for the first time this season. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can catch the action from the Albert Park Circuit.