Max Verstappen takes Australian GP pole as Carlos Sainz promises to go 'flat out'

Lewis Hamilton fails to make it into final round of qualifying at Albert Park

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Three-time F1 world champion Max Verstappen continued his dominant start to the season as he clinched pole position for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz qualifying alongside on the front row.

While Verstappen taking pole was on expected lines, the more surprising result was record eight-time Australian pole winner Lewis Hamilton not making it into the final round of qualifying.

Verstappen has won both races so far this season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. His Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez was second both times and Red Bull will be looking continue their excellent start at the Albert Park street circuit. Perez qualified third for Sunday's race but will start from sixth after being slapped with a three-place grid penalty for impeding Nico Hulkenberg, bumping up McLaren's Lando Norris.

Verstappen lapped in one minute, 15.915 seconds, 0.27 seconds ahead of Sainz, to claim his third pole for the season and fourth in succession.

"It was a bit unexpected today in qualifying, but very happy with Q3," said the triple world champion.

"It was a bit of a tricky weekend so far but we managed to be there at the end, so very happy with that.

"(Ferrari) seem very quick, also in the long runs. So a bit of a question mark tomorrow but that makes it exciting."

After winning the last nine rounds, stretching back to his win at September's race in Japan, Verstappen heads into Sunday's 58-lap race as the favourite to take another victory and equal his record.

Sainz was returning from appendix surgery ahead of the last race in Saudi Arabia, and was quickly back in the mix.

Sainz said he was happy to be challenging the Red Bulls soon upon his return. The Spaniard, who had emergency surgery in Jeddah to remove his appendix only a fortnight ago, said: "It has been a tough couple of weeks, a lot of days in bed, waiting to see if I would be here today, and to make it to this weekend and then to put it on the front row, I almost didn't believe it.

"I was rusty yesterday but I got up to speed and found the pace and I feel good with the car.

"I am not going to lie, I am not in my most comfortable state when I am driving out there but I can get it done. I have a lot of wired feelings, but no pain, so I will go flat out."

It was a difficult day for Mercedes, with Hamilton suffering his worst qualifying at Albert Park in a decade.

Hamilton failed to make the third session of qualifying and will start 11th on the grid, his worst result in Australia since qualifying 11th in the 2010 race.

The Briton's time was nearly a second slower than Sainz (1:16.189) in Q2, and he has been outqualified in every race this season by team mate George Russell, who qualified seventh.

Local star Daniel Ricciardo of RB was eliminated in Q1 in a massive blow and will start 18th after his fastest lap was deleted for going off-track at turn five.

"It’s very difficult to swallow but that’s the way it is," said RB team boss Laurent Mekies.

"Daniel was doing a very good job, it was probably his best lap so far of the weekend."

Updated: March 23, 2024, 9:30 AM