Verstappen on pole for Australian Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes duo Russell and Hamilton

Red Bull's world champion claims first pole in Melbourne but teammate Perez will start from back of grid

Max Verstappen took pole position for the Australian Grand Prix after recording a fastest lap of 1m 16.732s during qualifying. AFP
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Formula One world champion Max Verstappen continued his fast start to the season by claiming pole for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver, who won the season opener in Bahrain and claimed second in Saudi Arabia, claimed his first pole in Melbourne on Saturday with a fastest lap of 1m 16.732s.

Verstappen will be joined on the front row of the grid by Mercedes driver George Russell, who was 0.236s off in Q3. Russell's teammate Lewis Hamilton took third after the seven-time world champion finished 0.372s off the pace, while Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso took P4.

"I think the last run was very good, the whole weekend has been tough to get the tyres in the right window," said Verstappen, who has never won in Australia.

"Very happy to be on pole, already looking forward to tomorrow. I think we have a good race car but it is tricky on the tyres, so going to be an interesting race for sure."

However, Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, winner in Jeddah last time out, will start from the back of the grid after skidding off track and beaching himself in gravel in the first session of qualifying.

The Mexican left the track four times during the third practice and it didn't get any better in qualifying when he locked up and careened into the gravel at Turn 3 on his first lap. His car beached and had to be removed by a crane, with the session red flagged.

"It was the same issue again," the dejected Perez said on the team radio.

Russell, who came fourth in Saudi Arabia, was stunned with Mercedes' performance, saying "we weren't expecting that, that's for sure".

"What a session for us. The car felt alive, and to be honest I'm disappointed I didn't get pole as the car felt awesome," he added.

"We are learning more and more about the car, it's still not where we want it to be, but it's evolved from Bahrain to Jeddah to here."

Seven-time world champion Hamilton, who has been the pole-sitter eight times in Melbourne, was briefly at the top of the timesheets and was ecstatic to be starting on the second row.

"I'm so happy with this. This is totally unexpected, just really proud of the team," said the Briton. "It's a dream for us, to be this close to the Red Bull is incredible. We hope to give them a run for their money.

"Everything came together today. We'll give it our best shot tomorrow."

Last year's winner Charles Leclerc came seventh in the Ferrari, with his teammate Carlos Sainz fifth.

Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin will start sixth ahead of Leclerc with Williams' Alexander Albon a shock eighth. Alpine's Pierre Gasly was ninth with Nico Hulkenberg in a Haas rounding out the top 10.

Updated: April 01, 2023, 7:38 AM