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Verstappen scored in Australia

With his 22nd pole position at the Australian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen produced an impressive starting position to win for the first time. The Formula 1 world champion was 0.236 seconds faster than Brit George Russell in the Mercedes in Saturday’s qualifying session in Melbourne. His friend and teammate Lewis Hamilton finished third. Verstappen’s Red Bull constant rival Sergio Perez had already been eliminated in the first qualifying session.

The Mexican crashed into a gravel bed after a technical fault where he was unable to get the car moving again. The 33-year-old’s vehicle was recovered by a crane and qualifying was interrupted for several minutes.

Verstappen leads the overall standings by one point ahead of Perez ahead of the third world championship race of the year at Albert Park on Sunday (7:00am CEST/live ServusTV and Sky). Both have won Grand Prix so far. “Until then it was difficult to put the tires in the right window and find grip,” said Verstappen, who never won in Melbourne and only made the podium once, finishing third. “I only had a chance on the last lap and it worked well there,” said the Dutchman.

“It’s definitely going to be an interesting race tomorrow,” he said after his first Melbourne pole. In 2015, aged just 17, he became the youngest Formula 1 driver in history to debut on the circuit. The only other Red Bull to win in Australia was Sebastian Vettel in 2011.

At Mercedes, they don’t expect the front row of the grid until after the season. “The round was really good,” Russell said. “It must have had something to do with our jet lag schedule,” joked the 25-year-old. “Completely unexpected,” commented seven-time world champion Hamilton. “Being so close to Red Bull, it’s really incredible.”

Even team boss Toto Wolff was satisfied with the paddock. “We needed a bit of luck and at least we got some of it on Saturday. We tried to find the right engine set-up and maximize the performance of the car,” Viennas said. “Verstappen is clearly in a league of his own, but hopefully we can line up behind him.”

Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko praised the “incredibly good lap Max” on ServisTV. The Mercedes pair’s places also surprised the former racing driver. “With the tire warm-up they did well, I believe they will have a disadvantage in the race in terms of tire wear.” Marco rated Fernando Alonso (fourth on the grid) in the Aston Martin as the most dangerous. Red Bull is a whole lot more than the “Silver Arrows”.

Defeat for the reigning world champions will have to start from Perez’s end of the field. Marco explained that in the third practice session his car had an engine control problem. Braking is not a proper system. Working your way up the field in the race can be very difficult. “Despite the TRS, overtaking is incredibly difficult. We still don’t know how to get ahead of him.”

Ferrari had to settle for fifth and seventh with Carlos Sainz and last year’s winner Charles Leclerc. Second was Lance Stroll, sixth in an Aston Martin. Alexander Alban in the Williams, Alpine pilot Pierre Gasly and Nico Hulkenberg in the Haas also entered the top ten, while Melbourne-bred Oscar Piastre finished 16th in second qualifying in the McLaren.