Australian Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc puts Ferrari on pole position

Charles Leclerc took pole position for Ferrari in crash-laden qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, pipping Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen on the upgraded Albert Park circuit. 

Leclerc saved his best for last, posting a flying lap of one minute 17.868 seconds, to be nearly three-tenths of a second quicker than Dutchman Verstappen. It was the Monagesque’s 11th career pole and second of the season.

“This weekend we really worked hard… It was a bit messy for the three practice sessions,” he said.

“Q3 (third qualifying phase) I managed to (put) everything together so it feels great and I’m very happy to be in pole position tomorrow.

“The car is nice to drive. … We were again quite surprised by our pace in qualifying.”

Verstappen finished ahead of third-placed teammate Sergio Perez, with McLaren’s Lando Norris starting fourth on the grid.

Verstappen said he was having a “terrible” weekend, struggling with handling issues. “Not good, I didn’t really feel good in the car the whole weekend so far… Of course, second is still a good result.

“As a team, we want more.” Lewis Hamilton, whose run of six consecutive poles at Albert Park was broken, will start fifth ahead of sixth-placed teammate George Russell.

Daniel Ricciardo will start seventh after an encouraging session for McLaren. Twice world champion Fernando Alonso crashed out at the start of the final phase of qualifying, thudding his Alpine car into the wall at turn 11.

“I lost the hydraulics and couldn’t change gear,” he lamented on the team radio before his car was hauled off track by a crane. After both Aston Martin cars crashed out in the final practice earlier on Saturday, the team’s travails continued as Lance Stroll collided with Williams’s Nicholas Latifi at turn five in the opening qualifying phase, putting both the Canadians out of action.

Latifi, who has now crashed in three of the last four race weekends, tried to overtake Stroll after letting him pass but ended up plowing into him as Stroll veered to the right. Stroll raged in an expletive-laden rant on the team radio, but Latifi blamed him for the mishap.

“He just turned into me once I was alongside him,” he told Sky.

Both were summoned to a hearing with race stewards.

Ironically, the red flag gave Aston Martin extra time to prepare Vettel’s car and the four-times world champion emerged with two minutes left to post the second-slowest lap. The German will start 17th on the grid, knocked out of the first phase of qualifying along with teammate Stroll, Williams’ Alex Albon and Latifi, and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen.

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Sagar Biswas

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