Charles Leclerc advantage: for his announced duel with reigning world champion Max Verstappen, the Ferrari driver took the lead on Saturday, snatching the Dutchman the lead position in the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Despite the blinding sun that many drivers complained about on the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, the Monegasque managed to tame, in addition to the Red Bull of Verstappen, that of the Mexican Sergio Pérez, third in these qualifications.
“I felt good! Especially since it’s a circuit where I’ve always had trouble in the past (…) The car is fun to drive, everything is possible tomorrow. We need a good start,” commented Leclerc after his second pole of the season.
During the inaugural GP in Bahrain in mid-March, it was already Leclerc who had taken pole, before winning the race the next day against Verstappen, forced to retire due to a breakdown a few laps from the end.
But the Dutchman responded two weeks later in Saudi Arabia, picking up his first victory of the season despite a modest 4th place in qualifying.
Leclerc (45 pts) is currently twelve points ahead of his teammate Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr (33) – who will start 9th on Sunday – and 20 over Verstappen (25).
The Scuderia signs its first pole position on Australian soil since 2007, at the time of Kimi Räikönen, the now retired Finn who offered that year the last world title of a Ferrari F1 driver.
“Horrible weekend” for Verstappen
In the competition, the sensations were not there for the Red Bull drivers: faced with problems with the general balance of his single-seater, Verstappen admits to living a “terrible weekend” so far.
“It’s clear that we haven’t really solved the problem, even in qualifying. We struggled a lot with the balance of the car and it didn’t give us confidence going forward,” explained the driver.
For his teammate, it was the tires that were the problem: “I never really felt like I knew which strategy was the best in terms of the tires, I think (they) are very sensitive”, commented Perez.
As for Charles Leclerc, despite the problems at Red Bull, he expects “a very close race tomorrow (Sunday)”.
After a difficult start to the season for McLaren, the British team seems to be getting back on its feet: Briton Lando Norris will start from fourth position on the grid, next to Pérez, and stage regional Daniel Ricciardo will be a little further on, in 7th place.
On the side of Mercedes, defending champion of the constructors but in difficulty since the beginning of the season, for several reasons (aerodynamics, engine), Lewis Hamilton will start in third row (5th), just next to his teammate George Russell ( 6th).
If Hamilton does better than at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the end of March (16th in qualifying), “we have not made any progress”, he assured at the end of this session. “Nothing that we change on the car makes a difference for the moment”, had already regretted the seven-time world champion after free practice on Friday.
Behind Mercedes, the French Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) will start from 8th and 11th place respectively.
In the other Alpine, Fernando Alonso, very fast during free practice and a possible candidate for pole position, lost control of his single-seater in Q3, due to a sudden loss of his hydraulic systems. He will start Sunday from 10th place.
Qualifying was also marked by the collision between the Canadian single-seaters Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi during the first part of qualifying (Q1).
Stroll’s Aston Martin and Latifi’s Williams collided when they were not on a flying lap, and the two drivers had to stop their session there, causing a neutralization of a few minutes.
Stroll, deemed responsible for the collision, received a penalty of three places on the grid. It will have no impact since the Canadian was already last, without a time because of this collision.
Stroll will start 19th, just ahead of Alex Albon.
Moreover, the Thai Albon (Williams) was disqualified from the qualifying sessions and will start last Sunday on the Melbourne circuit, the marshals having been unable to take a sufficient sample of fuel from his single-seater, the organizers announced on Saturday. .
“Williams was unable to provide the regulatory one-litre fuel sample to the FIA, as required by Article 6.5.2 of the Formula 1 technical regulations,” the FIA said in a statement. .
“The stewards have therefore disqualified the Thai driver from the qualifying results, but he will be allowed to start the race on Sunday at Albert Park. »
At the wheel of his Williams FW44, Albon had taken 16th place in qualifying, but had already been demoted three spots on the grid following a penalty imposed for causing a collision during the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix there. at two weeks.
He will start on Sunday behind the 19 other single-seaters entered.
Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari)
Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda)
Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull-Honda)
Lando Norris (GBR / McLaren-Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)
George Russell (GBR/Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (Australia/McLaren Mercedes)
Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault)
Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Ferrari)
Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault)
Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Honda)
Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari)
Yuki Tsotaka (JPN / AlphaTauri-Honda)
Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari)
Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas Ferrari)
Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari)
Sebastian Vettel (GER / Aston Martin-Mercedes)
Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes)
Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes)
Alexander Albon* (THA/Williams-Mercedes)