Perez victorious at Baku

Sergio Perez wins another street race following a strong drive at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, assuming the lead from Formula 1 team-mate Max Verstappen after the safety car pitstops.

The Red Bull driver took advantage of a pitstop under the safety car to emerge in the lead after Verstappen had led the early phases of the race from polesitter Charles Leclerc.

Leclerc led away at the start line from Verstappen and, without DRS being made available in the opening series of laps, was able to hold a scant lead over the two-time champion.

But at the end of the third lap, Verstappen breezed past the Ferrari driver thanks to the great speed advantage of his Red Bull with DRS active, and led into the first corner of the fourth lap.

Leclerc quickly fell out of range and was soon easy pickings for Perez, who then immediately began to chase after Verstappen in his efforts to secure a second career victory at the Baku circuit.

Perez had homed to within DRS range of Verstappen, but the race was interrupted to pause the sprint race winner’s progress when Nyck de Vries crunched his front-left wheel against the inside wall at Turn 6, and stopped on track.

Verstappen pitted in response, but the emergence of a lap 11 safety car as the marshals tried to clear de Vries’ stranded AlphaTauri ensured that his side of the garage had somewhat mistimed the call – the safety car emerging when Verstappen was exiting the pitlane.

This gave Perez and Leclerc the chance to take cheaper pitstops under the safety car, allowing them to emerge from the pitlane in front of Verstappen once they’d collected their fresh hard tyres.

Although Leclerc tried to take a look at Perez on the restart, sticking with the leader, he could not keep Verstappen from blasting past at Turn 3 to assume second place.

But Perez had broken clear of DRS range, crucially ensuring that Verstappen could not employ the powerful rear wing against his own team-mate.

Perez and Verstappen then began to trade blows, and a tug of war over the fastest lap ensued – but the gap began to slowly open in Perez’s favour, particularly when Verstappen started to complain of a lack of balance between his differential and engine braking.

By the end of lap 36, Perez was clocking in with laps in the one minute, 44 seconds, with Verstappen still mired in the one minute, 45 seconds to help the driver’s lead grow to 2.5 seconds – which broke the three-second mark two laps later as Perez continued his impressive pace.

Continuing to set the pace, Perez got the gap up to 3.6 seconds but lost 0.6 seconds to Verstappen in trying to lap the twice-stopped Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, forcing him to bolster his defences in the following lap with another series of quick laps.

The difference between the two was at its zenith at 3.7 seconds, which Perez felt was enough to secure the victory – and began to back off, crossing the line with 2.1 seconds for his second win of 2023.

Verstappen went in search of the fastest lap point, although the reigning champion duly delivered the quickest lap, Fernando Alonso swiped the point away provisionally until Verstappen set a one minute, 44.474 seconds.

But Alonso, undeterred, went two tenths quicker than his fellow two-time champion to add to his points tally while trying to hunt down Leclerc.

Alonso was 0.8 seconds off Leclerc by the end, missing out on a fourth consecutive third place, as the Monegasque managed to shake off the Ferrari’s greater tyre degradation to ensure he could convert pole into a podium.

Alonso had earlier made up ground at the restart with an audacious move down the inside of Carlos Sainz at Turn 4, and Sainz finished 23.4 seconds behind his countryman after multiple discussions over strategy were aired on the television feed.

Lewis Hamilton dispatched Lance Stroll to take sixth, while George Russell – after a good start to the race – fell behind his team-mate and the Aston Martin driver at the restart and struggled to keep tabs with the pair ahead.

The Briton instead elected to call in and bolt on the soft tyres, swiping the fastest lap point away from Alonso.

Lando Norris had spent most of the race sat behind Nico Hulkenberg, who did a long stint on the hard tyre, but eventually broke past the Haas driver to move up into the points – which became ninth when the similarly late-stopping Esteban Ocon called in on the penultimate lap.

This elevated Yuki Tsunoda into the points to ensure AlphaTauri could double his season’s points tally – 2.6 seconds clear of Oscar Piastri.

It wasn’t the most thrilling race at Baku but this was a commanding victory for Sergio Perez. He won the sprint race the previous day and now, Checo is a winner again in the main Grand Prix. Solid result for the driver and Red Bull Racing with this 1-2 finish.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, race results:
1 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:32:42.436
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull +2.137s
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +21.217
4 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +22.024s
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +45.491s
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +46.145s
7 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +51.617s
8 George Russell Mercedes +74.240s
9 Lando Norris McLaren +80.376s
10 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +83.862s
11 Oscar Piastri McLaren +86.501s
12 Alex Albon Williams +88.623s
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas +89.729s
14 Pierre Gasly Alpine +91.332s
15 Esteban Ocon Alpine +97.794s
16 Logan Sargeant Williams +100.943s
17 Nico Hulkenberg Haas +1 lap
18 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +1 lap
Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo DNF
Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri DNF

Perez wins the Baku sprint race

Sergio Perez overtook Charles Leclerc to take victory in Formula 1’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix sprint race, taking the chequered flag for Red Bull Racing with a 4.4 seconds advantage.

Starting second, Perez slotted in behind Leclerc at the start and stuck with him through the opening lap, before the race was paused for a safety car period produced after Yuki Tsunoda hit the wall at Turn 14 on the opening lap.

The AlphaTauri driver tore the right-rear tyre off the rim, appearing to have had contact with team-mate Nyck de Vries to damage his front wing.

A virtual safety car emerged for the debris, as Tsunoda crawled back to the pitlane. Although AlphaTauri put a new set of tyres on to try and salvage something from the sprint, the car was noticeably crabbing on the straights and the team was investigated for releasing the car in an unsafe condition.

This evolved into a full-blown safety car by the third lap, with proceedings restarting on the sixth lap once the debris was cleared from the track.

Leclerc let fly on the restart to stay ahead of Perez, leading the next two laps with Checo keeping tabs on him.

But once DRS was available, Perez became a greater force in Leclerc’s mirrors and, at the end of lap seven, reeled the Ferrari in on the 2.2-kilometre main straight and swept past to pick up the lead of the 17-lap race.

The Ferrari driver stuck with him and had a brief look down the inside into Turn 3, but ultimately was not presented with an opportunity to return the favour.

With greater straightline speed, Perez could slowly start to edge away from Leclerc and eventually broke free of DRS range as Leclerc was more concerned with trying to manage his tyres to keep ahead of Max Verstappen.

The Ferrari driver briefly closed in once again and got back within DRS range of Perez, but the Red Bull driver turned up the wick and broke free of Leclerc at almost a second a lap’s advantage, growing to 4.4 seconds by the flag.

Leclerc managed to hang on in second from a late Verstappen charge, as the reigning champion was hampered by damage in a first-lap skirmish with George Russell.

The Mercedes driver had a better getaway and was side-by-side with Verstappen through the opening array of corners, eventually breaking past at Turn 3 – with Verstappen complaining that Russell had touched him through the first lap. His Red Bull sustained a small gash in its left sidepod, as he momentarily dropped to fourth.

But after the restart following the safety car, Verstappen caught a tremendous run on Russell and seared past to reclaim third place.

However, Verstappen was unable to make inroads into Leclerc and dropped outside of DRS activation for most of the sprint, only getting to within a second in the final couple of laps.

Russell claimed fourth ahead of Carlos Sainz, who had battled earlier on with Lewis Hamilton, and broke past the Briton after falling behind before the restart.

Fernando Alonso followed through in the same move to get ahead of Hamilton, as Lance Stroll claimed the final point after winning out in a battle with Alex Albon.

Stroll made a move past the Williams at Turn 1 from a long way behind, and held off Albon into Turn 3.

Oscar Piastri completed the top ten after passing team-mate Lando Norris, who struggled for pace and ultimately pitted to turn his race into a glorified test session.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, sprint race:
1 Sergio Perez Red Bull 33:17.667
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +4.463s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull +5.065s
4 George Russell Mercedes +8.532s
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +10.388s
6 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +11.613s
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +16.503s
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +18.417s
9 Alexander Albon Williams +21.757s
10 Oscar Piastri McLaren +22.851s
11 Kevin Magnussen Haas +27.990s
12 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +34.602s
13 Pierre Gasly Alpine +36.918s
14 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri +41.626s
15 Nico Hulkenberg Haas +48.587s
16 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +49.917s
17 Lando Norris McLaren +51.104s
18 Esteban Ocon Alpine +60.621s
Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri DNF
Logan Sargeant Williams DNF

Leclerc takes sprint qualifying pole

Charles Leclerc claimed the Formula 1 sprint pole position at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, overcoming a late drama with the wall to beat Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.

A time of one minute, 41.697 seconds from Leclerc amid the first runs in the eight-minute SQ3 session proved unassailable, and a second set of laps from both Perez and Verstappen could not topple the Ferrari’s driver searing pace around the Baku circuit.

The Red Bull duo was especially keen to be first out in the final part of qualifying, sitting at the pitlane exit for a few minutes between sessions, and immediately began proceedings with the initial headline efforts.

Perez posted a one minute, 41.876 seconds to go top, and Verstappen was unable to beat his team-mate’s effort having complained that he “lost all the rear in the middle sector”.

Leclerc reprised his form from Friday and fired his Ferrari across the line with a one minute, 41.697 seconds to sit on top of the order, once again throwing down the gauntlet to the Red Bull duo.

Although Perez began to hit back, setting the best middle sector time of the session and threatening to usurp Leclerc, he was unable to make the difference in the final sector and crossed the line 0.15 seconds shy of Leclerc’s benchmark.

Attempting to better his own time, Leclerc then gave the Ferrari garage a scare by putting his Ferrari into the barrier at Turn 5, but only damaged his front wing and was able to back it out of the wall – compromising team-mate Carlos Sainz’s lap in the process.

Verstappen improved his time but was unable to claim any ground on Leclerc and Perez, and will thus start the sprint race from third on the grid.

With Sainz unable to make any gains, George Russell moved past the Spanish driver to claim fourth on the grid for the shortened Saturday race. His team-mate Lewis Hamilton starts from sixth, alongside Sainz on the third row.

Having carried his Williams all the way to SQ3, Alex Albon will start the sprint from seventh ahead of Fernando Alonso, who was suffering amid continued DRS issues at Aston Martin. Lance Stroll was ninth quickest, while Lando Norris could not run in SQ3 having no sets of soft tyres left.

The rules dictate that a fresh set of softs must be used, but McLaren decided to sacrifice a potential SQ3 outing on Friday and employed that set during his Q3 lap, giving him seventh on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Oscar Piastri was unable to progress to the final part of qualifying, despite getting into the top 10 late on in SQ2 with a lap 0.03 seconds shy of team-mate Norris.

But Stroll received a tow from Alonso in a showing of great teamwork among the Aston Martins, slingshotting the Canadian into the top ten at Piastri’s expense.

Nico Hulkenberg overcame a near-miss with the wall at Turn 7, where he sustained a lock-up at the front, to shuffle up to P12 as Haas did not have the pace to provide a concerted challenge for SQ3.

Esteban Ocon could only go P13 in a difficult session for the Alpine squad, albeit three tenths clear of Kevin Magnussen.

With 30 seconds left on the clock of SQ1, Logan Sargeant hit the wall at Turn 15 to effectively freeze the order for the opening 12 minutes of running, breaking the right rear corner of his Williams in the process.

Sargeant had been P11, but could take no further part in the session given the extent of the damage – the American citing that the “Ferraris were in the middle of the road” on the exit of the Old City section.

This denied the Alfa Romeos of Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas a chance to break out of the bottom five. But the timing of the red flag was more cruel for Yuki Tsunoda, who had qualified in the top ten for Sunday’s Grand Prix, and was on course to better his lap before the session was stopped as he was on the final straight.

Pierre Gasly entered the pits after his initial runs, and thus could do no better than 19th on the grid – and was only spared from the bottom of the pile by Nyck de Vries. The Dutchman endured a troubled run, once more going deep at Turn 3 – but this time, avoided the wall and managed to reverse out.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, sprint qualifying:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.697
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:41.844
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:41.987
4 George Russell Mercedes 1:42.252
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:42.287
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:42.502
7 Alex Albon Williams 1:42.846
8 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:43.010
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:43.064
10 Lando Norris McLaren No time
11 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:43.427
12 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:43.806
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:44.088
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1;44.332
15 Logan Sargeant Williams No time
16 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:45.177
17 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1;45.352
18 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:45.436
19 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1;46.951
20 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:48.180

Leclerc takes Baku pole position

Charles Leclerc earned his third successive Baku pole position by beating Max Verstappen. The Ferrari driver will start in P1 following Friday’s qualifying session based on the new sprint weekend format.

This is the first weekend run to the latest sprint format, with another qualifying session on Saturday for the shorten, racing event.

Leclerc secured his first Formula 1 pole of the season on his final effort of the session, with a time of one minute, 40.203 seconds, having ratcheted up his pace from a strong opening run in the last part of qualifying to prove unassailable for the two Red Bull drivers.

On their first flying runs of Q3, Verstappen and Leclerc set identical times – both crossing the timing line with a one minute, 40.445 seconds apiece, with Perez a tenth behind. Leclerc had the whip hand over Verstappen in the opening sector, but the defending champion had the monopoly over the remaining sectors.

Leclerc was the first of the trio to begin his final hot lap, crucially flipping the Red Bull’s advantage in the second sector to go over two tenths faster than his first run.

Perez went quicker than Leclerc in the first sector but was comparatively slower in the second sector and could only match the Ferrari driver in the final part of the lap.

Verstappen’s final sector was quickest, but the second sector once again proved to be the difference – the reigning champion could not find enough time over the remaining parts of the lap to overturn that disadvantage.

An one minute, 40.391 seconds was enough for Verstappen to beat Perez to the front row, however, and the latter will start Sunday’s race next to Carlos Sainz.

Sainz had been unable to improve on his first lap, one minute 41.016 seconds, but it was enough to keep a second-row slot away from Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver had improved in Q3 having come perilously close to being knocked out in Q2, with the W14 matching the leaders’ pace in the final sector.

He starts alongside Fernando Alonso on the grid for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Aston Martin driver losing time in the middle sector relative to his former McLaren team-mate.

Lando Norris led the line for McLaren, which had got two cars into the final part of qualifying having been bolstered by new updates, Norris qualifying seventh ahead of an impressive Yuki Tsunoda.

Lance Stroll struggled with an unresponsive DRS and could only manage ninth on the grid, ahead of Oscar Piastri, who completed the top half of the field.

George Russell was the biggest casualty of Q2, having been disposed of through late laps from Piastri and Tsunoda, and the Mercedes driver was not able to improve on his own fastest lap to break back into the top ten.

He crucially remained clear of Esteban Ocon, who reported a brush with the wall in a messy session for the Alpine team, while Alex Albon could not break out of the drop zone despite impressive straightline pace in his Williams. Valtteri Bottas and Logan Sargeant were the other casualties from Q2.

Nyck de Vries buried his AlphaTauri in the Turn 3 exit wall halfway through Q1 to bring out a red flag, without a representative lap on the board. De Vries had to be pushed back into the garage while preparing to get out on track, citing a brake-by-wire issue.

After the session resumed, Pierre Gasly – having barely factored in practice after suffering a hydraulic leak – was next to produce a stoppage hitting the wall at Turn 3, tearing off his right-hand sidepod and part of his rear wing.

Sainz had his own near-miss in the meantime, enduring a slide on the exit of Turn 1 but managed to keep his car out of the wall.

Both Haas cars were from the first part of qualifying, Kevin Magnussen having suffered from an engine issue earlier in the session. Although K-Mag reported that the car felt fine, his team told him not to risk it and pulled him into the garage, leaving him unable to better his time from the opening phase of the session.

Nico Hulkenberg was on the brink of the drop as Alfa Romeo pair Zhou Guanyu and Bottas occupied the elimination zone, and Hulk’s poor first sector effectively ended his chances of evading an early bath.

The Alfa pair initially escaped the bottom five, but Piastri’s final effort was enough to push Zhou back into P16, two hundredths of a second off Ocon.

So congratulations to Charles Leclerc with this pole position. Another qualifying session takes place on Saturday which sets the grid for the sprint race but this result determined the starting order for the main Grand Prix event.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:40.203
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:40.391
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:40.495
4 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:41.016
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.177
6 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:41.253
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1:41.281
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:41.581
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:41.611
10 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:41.611
11 George Russell Mercedes 1:41.654
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:41.798
13 Alexander Albon Williams 1:41.818
14 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:42.259
15 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:42.395
16 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:42.642
17 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:42.755
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:43.417
19 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:44.853
20 Nyck De Vries AlphaTauri 1:55.282

Verstappen wins chaotic Australian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen held off his old championship rival Lewis Hamilton to win Formula 1’s 2023 Australian Grand Prix, which ended in surreal scenes following a late second red flag of three and a chaotic subsequent restart.

Verstappen had dominated most of the proceedings despite losing the initial lead from pole to George Russell and Hamilton, before a first red flag caused by Alex Albon crashing out solo and putting debris and gravel across the road.

At the second standing start Hamilton maintained his lead, but as soon as the DRS overtaking aid was reactivated, Verstappen blasted by into a lead he would ultimately not lose but with plenty of drama and confusing scenes to come.

The first red flag meant none of the leaders completed any in-race pitstops as they were able to change their starting tyres under the stoppage, which was what cemented Russell’s place in the pack from which he charged before his engine expired in flames at the end of the event’s first third.

For most of the race, there was little action at the front as Verstappen dropped Hamilton and worked his way to a ten-second advantage that was only cut when the Red Bull driver briefly ran off the road at the penultimate corner and complaining about front locking.

At this point, Hamilton was holding Fernando Alonso at arm’s length while the teams worked out if their charges could get to the finish without requiring new tyres.

They were upping their pace – exchanging fastest laps with Verstappen ahead – when the concluding farce kicked off, starting with Kevin Magnussen bizarrely running off the track by himself exiting the second corner and striking the nearby wall with his right rear.

This fell off as he headed towards Turn 3 and that, plus Magnussen stopping inside Turn 4, led to the race being stopped again, with a two-lap sprint set to conclude the action.

When this started, Verstappen swept across Hamilton’s bows and covered the inside line to Turn 1, from where Alonso exited ahead of Carlos Sainz and was then tagged by the Ferrari and spun towards the wall Magnussen had tagged.

Behind, chaos reigned as Pierre Gasly locked hard behind Sainz and went off at Turn 2 along with several other cars and as Gasly rejoined he swung right and took out team-mate Esteban Ocon, ruining what had looked to be a very strong result for Alpine and Pierre in particular as he had been fighting Sainz for most of the race.

Before the red flags came out for a third time, Lance Stroll slid into the gravel at Turn 3 while fighting Sainz, appearing to also destroy Aston Martin’s previously excellent positions.

But after the race was suspended, crucially before Verstappen had passed the first sector timing line, a 30-minute delay followed with one lap remaining from the 58 total as the FIA worked out how the event would conclude.

It eventually decided, much like at Silverstone in 2022, that the previous grid restart order would be used minus the cars that could not take a fourth and final restart.

This was a safety car rolling start that meant no overtaking and so Verstappen blasted to the win under no threat from Hamilton and the restored Alonso fourth.

They were followed home by Sainz but he had already been handed a five-second time addition penalty for hitting Alonso at the third standing restart – this event matching Mugello 2020 and Jeddah 2021 for such scenes.

Sainz, who raged about not being able to explain his case to the stewards, therefore fell to P12 in the results, making it a point-less weekend down under for Ferrari as Charles Leclerc had retired in the Turn 3 gravel way back on the first lap after turning in and finding Lance Stroll on his inside and getting turned around in what was swiftly declared a racing incident.

Sergio Perez’s charge from a pitlane start had provided most of the action during the main part of the race, as he put in pass after pass on slower rivals into the fast Turn 9/10 left-right swoops.

He had reached seventh by the second red flag but was very lucky to end up fifth as he had been attacking Gasly in the third restart chaos and went deep into the gravel and fell to the rear of the pack before being boosted back up by the FIA’s ruling.

Lando Norris and Nico Hulkenberg put in a thrilling battle during the pre-Magnussen red flag events and they ended up sixth and seventh ahead of home hero Oscar Piastri.

Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda completed the top ten ahead of Valtteri Bottas and the penalised Sainz.

So an entertaining and chaotic race in Albert Park. So much action, overtaking and restarts. Plus a surreal ending with a parade to the flag. Congratulations to Max Verstappen in winning the Australian Grand Prix and great to have Lewis Hamilton scoring a podium for Mercedes while Fernando Alonso continues to score a top three result for Aston Martin.

Australian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 2:32:38.371
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.179
3 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.769
4 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +3.082
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull +3.320
6 Lando Norris McLaren +3.701
7 Nico Hulkenberg Haas +4.939
8 Oscar Piastri McLaren +5.382
9 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +5.713
10 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +6.052
11 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +6.513
12 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +6.594*
13 Pierre Gasly Alpine +2 laps
14 Esteban Ocon Alpine +2 laps
15 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri +2 laps
16 Logan Sargeant Williams +2 laps
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas +6 laps
– George Russell Mercedes DNF
– Alex Albon Williams DNF
– Charles Leclerc Ferrari DNF
*Five-second time penalty for causing a collision with Fernando Alonso

Verstappen takes pole ahead of the Mercedes pair

Max Verstappen achieves his first Australian Grand Prix pole position in Albert Park while the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will line up second and third on the grid.

After a light rain shower had hit the Melbourne circuit just ahead of the one-hour session getting underway and with the C4 Pirelli softs holding on for multiple laps but requiring multiple warm-ups to be at their best, the Australian crowd was treated to an action-packed qualifying.

After being fuelled to run for huge chunks of laps at a time in Q1 and Q3, most of the Q3 runners opted for two new tyre runs of five laps, with two fliers.

Verstappen had led the way throughout but was reporting possible issues with his RB19’s battery and transmission when he blasted in a one minute, 16.732 seconds to secure pole with a few seconds left on the clock.

That knocked back Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, who was shuffled back to fourth position by the last-gasp efforts of Russell and Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver slotted in with one minute, 17.968 seconds as the only other driver to join Verstappen under the one minute, 17 seconds bracket, with his teammate slightly adrift having had to jockey for position with Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg through the final corners on their last warm-up tours.

Behind Alonso came his Spanish compatriot Carlos Sainz for Ferrari, with Lance Stroll sixth for Aston Martin and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari next up.

Leclerc put in his best time well ahead of the chequered flag and with enough time to complete a final run in Q3 and although he set a personal best one minute, 17.369 seconds he could not climb further ahead.

Alex Albon gave Williams its best qualifying of 2023 so far in eighth position – pitting ahead of his Q3 rivals completing the last laps in the final minutes – with Pierre Gasly and Hulkenberg completing the top ten.

Esteban Ocon missed a personal best on his final Q2 flier after encountering traffic late on in the final sector and was knocked out behind Albon by just 0.007 seconds, the Williams driver abandoning his final lap in the middle segment after clipping the Turn 11 apex kerb and nearly losing the rear of his car.

Also knocked out in Q2 were Yuki Tsunoda, Lando Norris and Kevin Magnussen, who all set their best laps at the end.

Nyck de Vries did not do likewise as he was eliminated in P15 for AlphaTauri, after he had escaped Q1 for the first time in his debut season with the Red Bull sister squad.

In Q1, Sergio Perez locked up heading into the tight, Turn 3 right-hander on his first flying lap and slid straight off the road and into the gravel trap he had also visited in FP1 and FP3.

The Jeddah Grand Prix winner skated across the gravel but as he turned right and tried to manoeuvre his way out he became stuck at the edge next to a muddy access road close to the barrier, where Checo fumed he had suffered the “same issue” as earlier in the weekend.

This is possibly referring to the braking problem Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said both of his charges were grappling with earlier in the Australian Grand Prix weekend.

After an eight-minute delay, the opening segment resumed, with the pack fuelled to run throughout.

Eliminated alongside Perez were home hero Oscar Piastri, who set a personal best on his final flier but it was not good enough to dislodge Tsunoda ahead, Zhou Guanyu, Logan Sargeant and Valtteri Bottas.

Sargeant had a spin at the start of Q1 when he put his right-side wheels on the still slippery exiting the final corner and he pirouetted around diving back into the pits.

So an exciting race in Albert Park in store with the four champions in the first two rows on the grid. Bring on the race!

Australian Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:16.732
2 George Russell Mercedes 1:16.968
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:17.104
4 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:17.139
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:17.270
6 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:17.308
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:17.369
8 Alex Albon Williams 1:17.609
9 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:17.675
10 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:17.735
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:17.768
12 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:18.099
13 Lando Norris McLaren 1:18.119
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:18.129
15 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:18.335
16 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:18.517
17 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:18.540
18 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:18.557
19 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:18.714
20 Sergio Perez Red Bull No time