Wednesday, February 28

Leclerc beats Verstappen and Perez to pole

Leclerc led after the first runs in Q3, popping in his 1m18.239s seconds before Fernando Alonso crashed at Turn 11, the right hander at the end of the back straight and the second DRS zone.

Alonso had just set a then best time in the middle sector when he lost the rear of his Alpine going through Turn 11, the Spaniard saying after he crashed having been sent into the gravel and then into the wall on the outside, that he had ” lost the hydraulics” and “could not change gear”.

When the session resumed for the final Q3 runs – with all the qualifying running taking part on the soft tires – Perez led the pack around, opting to leave earlier to take two flying laps while the rest built to a single final effort with two warm- up tours.

Perez’s second Q3 attempt ended up just 0.001s shy of Leclerc’s earlier effort, before Verstappen forged ahead of both on a 1m18.154s.

But Leclerc responded with purple sectors in the first and final thirds – Alonso retaining the best time in the middle sector – to post a 1m17.868s and secure his second pole of 2022 by 0.286s.

Perez’s third Q3 run ended up being no better than his second and he finished third, ahead of Lando Norris, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in a run of three British drivers.

Hamilton had been trailing Russell with just the final Q3 laps to go – the Mercedes cars employing similar run length tactics to Perez after the Alonso red flag, which lasted nearly 15 minutes.

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Home hero Daniel Ricciardo ended up seventh ahead of Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari.

Sainz was unfortunate to not complete his first Q3 flying lap just as the red flags were brought out for Alonso’s crash and he could not match his teammate’s pace in the final minutes.

Alonso took 10th as he did not set a time in Q3 as a result of his accident.

In Q2, which Perez topped, Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas paid for not bettering their personal bests on their final laps as they exited in 11th and 12th – the latter losing his long Q3 appearance streak as a result.

Yuki Tsunoda and Zhou Guanyu did produce their best laps on their final fliers, which yielded 13th and 14th for the AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo drivers respectively.

Mick Schumacher, who completed his last Q2 lap, a personal best, before most of the rest of the pack, took 15th.

After the middle segment had concluded, several Q3 runners – including Leclerc, Hamilton and Verstappen – complained about the setting sun compromising their vision as they lapped the Albert Park circuit.

The visibility problem, which prompted Leclerc and Hamilton to request darker visors for Q3, was because the session was running long due to the delay following Alonso’s crash and Q1 being suspended with two minutes remaining following a massive crash between Canadians Nicholas Latifi and Lance Stroll.

Stroll had only just entered the fray once Aston Martin’s repairs on his car after his late FP3 crash, when the pair came together in an apparent misunderstanding regarding letting cars pass when on a slow lap as they exited Turn 5.

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Latifi had just let Stroll by as they ran at slow speed towards Turn 5 – the tight, fast right hander than ends the track’s first sector – when the Williams accelerated and passed the Aston on its right hand side, with Zhou approaching both from behind at higher speed.

As Latifi was passing by, Stroll turned right – possibly to get out of Zhou’s way as is the requirement for drivers not on a flying lap – and the pair made contact, breaking the Aston’s right-front suspension and sending Latifi spearing into the wall and smashing all the corners on his Williams.

When the session resumed after a 15-minute delay, which Aston used to finish the repairs it had also been completing on Sebastian Vettel’s car that looked set to be incomplete before the red flag, a gaggle of drivers queued at the end of the pitlane and then raced to gain a track position advantage and find the required tire temperature for one final flier.

On that, only Gasly and Vettel were able to set personal bests, which meant Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen – one of the most active on the final warm-up lap as he passed the Williams and Ricciardo to head the pack – missing the cut in 16th and 17th behind Schumacher, who out-qualified Magnussen for the first occasion in their time as Haas teammates.

Vettel’s effort was enough to get him ahead of Latifi’s time from before his crash with Stroll, who brought up the rear of the field with no time set.

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As he returned to the pits at the end of Q1, Albon, who will drop three places on the Melbourne grid as a result of his crash with Stroll in the Jeddah race, was ordered to pull over and stop his car ahead of the penultimate corner when Williams detected a problem.

The crash between Latifi and Stroll will be investigated now qualifying has concluded, while Vettel was fined €600 for speeding in the pitlane during his brief appearance in Q1, which Verstappen led.

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