MELBOURNE, Australia – A Ferrari vs. Red Bull battle is taking shape as a possible scenario at the first Australian Grand Prix on Sunday since the start of the 2020 epidemic.
Charles Leclerc claimed Ferrari’s first pole position on the modified Albert Park Circuit since 2007 with a decisive final lap of one minute, 17.868 seconds in Melbourne on Saturday.
But world champion Max Verstappen’s Red Bulls, who was .286 seconds behind, and Sergio Perez, who posted the third fastest time.
Leclerc and Verstappen have shared the first two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and will now start next to each other in the front row.
Leclerc, whose teammate Carlos Senz is ninth qualified, said he did not feel completely comfortable on the circuit during the previous tour.
It was continued through practice sessions on Friday and Saturday. But in front of a record Saturday crowd of 123,247, he gambled by asking his Ferrari something more that he took second pole position of the season and 11th place of his career.
“It was a good call. This time I took a big risk, especially in the turn of the six, which was quite complicated,” Leclerc said. “I’m very happy with the lap, especially on a track where I’ve always struggled in the past, and also through practice, even though we were competitive.”
However, neither Leclerc nor Verstappen showed much confidence after qualifying, with the Ferrari driver predicting a tough race.
“I think we are very close to the Red Bull. It’s going to be closed tomorrow, ”Leclerc said.
Verstappen sets the challenge for Leclerc towards the end of Q3. But he wasn’t too happy with the way his Red Bull performed, saying it was a struggle.
“It simply came to our notice then. It’s not a good balance, “he said.” I’ve spent the whole weekend chasing something and without the long run I’ve never felt comfortable in one lap. “
McLaren and Red Bull’s closest rivals were McLaren’s Lando Norris, .835 seconds slower than Leclerc.
Qualifying fifth, .957 seconds behind Leclerc, ends Lewis Hamilton’s six pole position streak at the Australian Grand Prix.
The seven-time world champion described the first two days as challenging but believed Mercedes was one step ahead.
“I think we got the most out of the car today. That’s a positive. I was naturally disappointed that I couldn’t get out any more, “said Hamilton.
Mercedes teammate George Russell finished sixth behind Hamilton. Australian hopeful Daniel Ricciardo has qualified seventh in his McLaren over Alpine’s Esteban Oakon.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso looks set to compete for a pole position in his alpine. But the 40-year-old Spanish driver lost control and crashed in turn 11, drawing a red flag with only seven minutes left in Q3.
“I’ve probably been doing my best weekend for years, probably fighting for pole position,” Alonso said.
Earlier Saturday, Aston Martin endured a tough session when 18th-seeded Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll crashed into a wall.
Stroll was involved in a collision in Q1 and will start from behind the grid after failing to post a time.
In a major renovation of the track, five corners were re-profiled and two were completely removed.
After two races, Leclerc advanced to the championship with 45 points, followed by Sign 33 and Verstappen 25 points.