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Verstappen beats returning Sainz to Melbourne pole, Hamilton in shock exit

Max Verstappen fended off a fierce challenge from the returning Carlos Sainz to maintain his perfect start to the 2024 season in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.

​​​​But there was fresh 2024 disappointment for Lewis Hamilton, who failed to make Q3 in his Mercedes and will start 11th for Sunday’s race – his worst grid position in Melbourne for 14 years.

Verstappen made it three poles from three at the start of the new season but the world champion had to overcome Ferrari’s impressive Sainz, who has returned to action just two weeks after the appendix surgery which kept him out of the Saudi Arabian GP.

Sainz had topped qualifying’s first two knockout sessions, with Ferrari also second-quickest in Q2 with Charles Leclerc, but Verstappen still had unlocked speed up his sleeve to find in his superb RB20 and delivered two laps that would have been good enough for pole in the decisive Q3 segment.

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Ride onboard with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen as the three-time world champion secures his third pole position in a row at the Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s pole-winning lap of 1:15.915 was 0.270s quicker than Sainz could manage in the end.

Just under a tenth further back was Sergio Perez who took third in the second Red Bull, with McLaren’s Lando Norris taking his best result of the season so far with fourth ahead of Leclerc. Australian team-mate Oscar Piastri took sixth.

Third-placed Perez is though under a post-session investigation for allegedly impeding Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg in Q1.

Qualifying off the front row for the first time since October’s Qatar GP, Leclerc ended up only fifth after abandoning his final lap after running slightly wide under braking. He admitted the SF-24 had been difficult to drive, with a “very aggressive” front-wing change for his final Q3 attempt ultimately not helping matters.

That description of the car from his team-mate made Sainz’s performance all the more impressive.

“I’m not in the most comfortable state when I’m riving out there but I can get it done,” said the Spaniard, who was replaced by reserve driver Oliver Bearman at the last round in Saudi Arabia.

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Karun Chandhok takes a look at Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying lap after his shock Q2 exit in Melbourne.

Mercedes had appeared to show promise a step forward in the earlier final practice session but qualifying again told a different story, with Hamilton knocked out at the end of Q2 and George Russell only going on to claim seventh just ahead of RB’s Yuki Tsunoda.

Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo’s disappointing start to the season suffered a fresh setback at his home race as the Australian had his best lap time deleted and dropped out in Q1 in 18th place.

The RB driver had looked to have secured a place in Q2 by setting the 12th-fastest lap with his final attempt but Race Control ruled he had exceeded track limits in doing to, taking away the time and dropping Ricciardo to 18th place with only Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu to start behind him on Sunday’s 19-car grid.

Australian GP Qualifying: Top 10

1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:15.915

2. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, +0.270

3. Sergio Perez, Red Bull, +0.359

4. Lando Norris, McLaren, +0.400

5. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, +0.520

6. Oscar Piastri, McLaren, +0.657

7. George Russell, Mercedes, +0.809

8. Yuki Tsunoda, RB, +0.873

9. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, +1.157

10. Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, +1.637

More to follow…

Sky Sports F1’s live Australian GP schedule

The third round of the 2024 F1 season takes place on Sunday, with lights out at 4am on Sky Sports F1
Image: The third round of the 2024 F1 season takes place on Sunday, with lights out at 4am on Sky Sports F1

Sunday March 24

  • 0.30am: F2 Feature Race
  • 3am: Australian GP build-up: Grand Prix Sunday
  • 4am: THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
  • 6am: Australian GP reaction: Chequered Flag
  • 7am: Ted’s Notebook
  • 7.30am: Australian GP highlights
  • 8.30am: Australian GP build-up: Grand Prix Sunday replay
  • 9.30am: Australian GP race replay
  • 10am: Australian GP highlights (Sky Showcase)
  • 11.30am: Australian GP reaction: Chequered Flag replay

Formula 1’s biggest ever season continues with the Australian Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 at 4am on Sunday, live on Sky Sports F1. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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