Max Verstappen secures pole position in Melbourne

Max Verstappen is on course to take a record-equalling 10 consecutive victories after putting his Red Bull on pole position for the Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s third pole in as many races appeared under threat with Ferrari threatening to knock the all-conquering Dutchman off his perch.

But Verstappen upped the ante in front of a record Saturday crowd at Melbourne’s Albert Park of just shy of 131,000, to see off Carlos Sainz, who missed the last round in Saudi Arabia with appendicitis, by 0.270 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton holds a record eight pole positions here, but the British driver was eliminated in Q2, leaving him a disappointing 11th on the grid – his lowest starting position in Melbourne for 14 years.

Hamilton failed to progress to Q3 after he finished 0.059 seconds behind George Russell in the other Mercedes.

Russell, who will start seventh, holds a 3-0 qualifying lead over Hamilton who will leave the Silver Arrows at the end of the season to join Ferrari.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez qualified third, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who aborted his last lap after he made a mistake.

After winning the last nine rounds, stretching back to his win at September’s race in Japan, Verstappen heads into Sunday’s 58-lap favourite as the overwhelming favourite to take another triumph and equal his record.

“It was a bit unexpected today, but I am very happy with Q3,” said Verstappen. “Both of my laps felt nice and enjoyable. It was a tricky weekend so far but we managed to be there at the end.

“They (Ferrari) seem very quick in the long runs so there is a question mark over tomorrow.”

Sainz, who had emergency surgery in Jeddah to remove his appendix only a fortnight ago, added: “It has been a tough couple of weeks, a lot of days in bed, waiting to see if I would be here today, and to make it to this weekend and then to put it on the front row, I almost didn’t believe it.

“I was rusty yesterday but I got up to speed and found the pace and I feel good with the car.

“I am not going to lie, I am not in my most comfortable state when I am driving out there but I can get it done. I have a lot of wired feelings, but no pain, so I will go flatout.”

Daniel Ricciardo will start his home race from last but one on the grid after his best lap in Q1 was deleted.

The eight-time grand prix winner looked to have hauled his RB into the second phase of qualifying with his final lap, only for the stewards to take action after he ran off the track at Turn 5.

Ricciardo will have just one other driver behind him – Stake’s Zhou Guanyu – after the field was reduced from 20 to 19 drivers after Alex Albon’s Williams was deemed irreparable following his practice shunt on Friday.

Albon has stepped into team-mate Logan Sargeant’s car, meaning the American will watch Sunday’s race from the Williams garage. Albon qualified 12th.

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