Christopher Fillocque and AFP 08:25, 02 April 2023

Red Bull's two-time reigning world champion, Max Verstappen, took his second pole position of the season at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, the 22nd of his career. His teammate Sergio Perez will start in last place for this third round of the Formula 1 championship.

Max Verstappen has wings: Red Bull's two-time reigning world champion took his second pole position of the season at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, while teammate Sergio Perez will start in last place.

For this third round of the Formula 1 World Championship, the Dutchman will start ahead of the two Mercedes of Britons George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, delighted after a successful third part of qualifying.

The other Red Bull driver in last position

Verstappen only edged Russell by 236/1000, a smaller gap than expected, perhaps due to the fairly cool conditions in qualifying. No smile on the other hand for the other Red Bull driver Sergio Perez, relegated to last position.

The Mexican went off the track in the first part of qualifying, symbolic of a catastrophic start to the weekend for the one who had won pole and the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix two weeks earlier.

Already during free practice on Saturday, he had experienced several outings due to braking problems, which were once again fatal on Saturday. "It's always the same problem," he said shortly after his mistake.

22nd pole

Verstappen, who is ahead of him by a small point, could therefore take advantage of it to fly in the drivers' standings on Sunday on the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne (5.278 km). The Dutchman has never won there and has only won one podium in 2019 (3rd). Last year he had to give up after the engine of his car caught fire.

"I've been on the podium once here, hopefully I'll be on another step tomorrow," the 25-year-old said. In Melbourne, he has already clinched the 22nd pole position of his career, equalling the Spaniard Fernando Alonso, 16 years his senior. He is now close to Brazilian Nelson Piquet and Austrian Niki Lauda who have 24.

The two-time world champion, winner of the first GP of the season in Bahrain, did not yet say he was at the top of his form. In Jeddah, he had suffered from stomach pain before and during the race, which did not prevent him from finishing 2nd after a fantastic comeback when he started 15th.

If Pérez does not imitate him on Sunday, this third GP of the season can allow another team to finally break the total domination of Red Bull since the beginning of the season.

"So happy"

And so it could well be Mercedes. Russell and Hamilton confirmed the hopes left by the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where they finished 4th and 5th respectively. "We did not expect this!", said Russell (front row), almost "disappointed not to have pole position".

"We really showed potential and there is still some to come," warned the Briton while his teammate Hamilton, "so happy", said he was aiming for "first place" with a smile. On Sunday, Spaniard Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) will start from the second row, while the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc will start in 5th and 7th position respectively.

Disappointment on the other hand for Esteban Ocon (Alpine). After a good final practice session on Saturday, the Frenchman will start in 11th position after failing in Q2 by only seven thousandths of a second, while his compatriot and teammate Pierre Gasly will be in 9th place on the grid, as in Jeddah. The local of the stage, the Australian Oscar Piastri, will start 16th.

Melbourne will then give way to a four-week break after the cancellation of the Chinese GP. On Sunday, Verstappen has the opportunity to send a message to the competition from the start of a marathon season.