Championship leader Charles Leclerc scored pole position at Albert Park by beating Max Verstappen in a qualifying session that was interrupted twice due to red flags and big crashes.
Leclerc led after the first runs in Q3, setting a time with one minute, 18.239 seconds just before Fernando Alonso crashed at Turn 11 – the right hander at the end of the back straight and the second DRS zone.
Alonso had just set a then best time in the middle sector when he lost the rear of his Alpine going through Turn 11, the two-time champion saying after he crashed having been sent into the gravel and then into the wall on the outside, that he had “lost the hydraulics” and “could not change gear”.
When the session resumed for the final Q3 runs – with all the qualifying running taking part on the soft tyres – Perez led the pack around, opting to leave earlier to take two flying laps while the rest built to a single final effort with two warm-up laps.
Perez’s second Q3 attempt ended up just 0.001 seconds shy of Leclerc’s earlier effort, before Verstappen forged ahead of both on with one minute, 18.154 seconds.
But Leclerc responded with purple sectors in the first and final thirds – Alonso retaining the best time in the middle sector – to post a time of one minute, 17.868 seconds and secure his second pole of the season by 0.286 seconds.
Perez’s third Q3 run ended up being no better than his second and he finished third, ahead of Lando Norris, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in a run of three British drivers.
Hamilton had been trailing Russell with just the final Q3 laps to go – the Mercedes cars employing similar run length tactics to Perez after the Alonso red flag, which lasted nearly 15 minutes.
Home crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo ended up in seventh position ahead of Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz.
Sainz was unfortunate to not complete his first Q3 flying lap just as the red flags were brought out for Alonso’s crash and he could not match his teammate’s pace in the final minutes.
Alonso took P10 as he did not set a time in Q3 as a result of his accident.
In Q2, which Perez topped, Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas paid for not bettering their personal bests on their final laps as they exited in P11 and P12 – the latter losing his long Q3 appearance streak as a result.
Yuki Tsunoda and Zhou Guanyu did produce their best laps on their final fliers, which yielded P13 and P14 for the AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo drivers respectively.
Mick Schumacher, who completed his last Q2 lap, a personal best, before most of the rest of the pack, took P15.
After the middle segment had concluded, several Q3 runners – including Leclerc, Hamilton and Verstappen – complained about the setting sun compromising their vision as they lapped the Albert Park circuit.
The visibility problem, which prompted Leclerc and Hamilton to request darker visors for Q3, was because the session was running long due to the delay following Alonso’s crash and Q1 being suspended with two minutes remaining following a massive crash between Canadians Nicholas Latifi and Lance Stroll.
Stroll had only just entered the fray once Aston Martin’s repairs on his car after his late FP3 crash, when the pair came together in an apparent misunderstanding regarding letting cars pass when on a slow lap as they exited Turn 5.
Latifi had just let Stroll by as they ran at slow speed towards Turn 5 – the tight, fast right hander than ends the track’s first sector – when the Williams accelerated and passed the Aston on its right hand side, with Zhou approaching both from behind at higher speed.
As Latifi was passing by, Stroll turned right – possibly to get out of Zhou’s way as is the requirement for drivers not on a flying lap – and the pair made contact, breaking the Aston’s right-front suspension and sending Latifi spearing into the wall and smashing all the corners on his Williams.
When the session resumed after a 15-minute delay, which Aston used to finish the repairs it had also been completing on Sebastian Vettel’s car that looked set to be incomplete before the red flag, a series of drivers queued at the end of the pitlane and then raced to gain a track position advantage and find the required tyre temperature for one final lap.
On that, only Gasly and Vettel were able to set personal bests, which meant Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen – one of the most active on the final warm-up lap as he passed the Williams and Ricciardo to head the pack – missing the cut in P16 and P17 behind Schumacher, who out-qualified Magnussen for the first occasion in their time as Haas teammates.
Vettel’s effort was enough to get him ahead of Latifi’s time from before his crash with Stroll, who brought up the rear of the field with no time set.
As he returned to the pits at the end of Q1, Albon, who will drop three places on the Melbourne grid as a result of his crash with Stroll in the Jeddah race, was ordered to pull over and stop his car ahead of the penultimate corner when Williams detected a problem.
The crash between Latifi and Stroll will be investigated now qualifying has concluded, while Vettel was fined €600 for speeding in the pitlane during his brief appearance in Q1, which Verstappen led.
So congratulations to Charles Leclerc in scoring his second pole position of the season. The Ferrari F1–75 looks beautiful and fast and with Saudi Arabian Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen on the front row, we are ready for another battle for supremacy on race day. Bring it on!
Australian Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:17.868
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:18.154
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:18.240
4 Lando Norris McLaren 1:18.703
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:18.825
6 George Russell Mercedes 1:18.933
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:19.032
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:19.061
9 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:19.408
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine –
11 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:19.226
12 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:19.410
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:19.424
14 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:20.155
15 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:20.465
16 Alex Albon Williams 1:20.135
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:20.254
18 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:21.149
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:21.372
20 Lance Stroll Aston Martin –