Mercedes find their mojo in Australian GP qualifying, but can they last the pace?

British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-AMG Petronas (L) pats teammate George Russell of after the qualifying session at the Formula One Grand Prix of Australia at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia, 01 April 2023 - Simon Baker/Shutterstock
British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-AMG Petronas (L) pats teammate George Russell of after the qualifying session at the Formula One Grand Prix of Australia at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia, 01 April 2023 - Simon Baker/Shutterstock

By Tom Cary, Senior Sports Correspondent, in Melbourne

Maybe it was the presence of their old nemesis Michael Masi in the Melbourne paddock.

Formula One’s former race director, who famously cost Lewis Hamilton an eighth world title in the cruellest of fashions in Abu Dhabi two years ago, has been floating about all weekend, never quite managing to give F1’s snappers their dream shot of a heated exchange with Hamilton or his team principal Toto Wolff.

Perhaps his mere presence was enough. Whatever it was, a fired-up Mercedes suddenly found their mojo ahead of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton qualified second and third fastest respectively for the race, with Russell just 0.236sec behind the pre-race favourite Max Verstappen.

Yes, Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez crashed out in Q1, ending any chance of Red Bull locking out the front row. Yes, Verstappen did not have the cleanest of laps himself.

But still, it was a lot closer than anyone expected, including Mercedes. "Not too shabby," a shocked Russell remarked on his cool-down lap. "I thought this car was a second off the pace!"

The Briton later admitted the session as a whole had come as a pleasant surprise. "The car felt alive today and we weren't expecting that result at all," he said. "The lap at the end was right on the limit; I'm a little bit disappointed that we didn't get pole position. But that's one of those things in this sport. Your expectations change so quickly; we probably would have been happy with a top five result yesterday but today the car felt awesome. It goes to show we've got potential still to come."

Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit on April 01, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia - Peter Fox/Getty Images
Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit on April 01, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia - Peter Fox/Getty Images

How much potential is the question. Have Mercedes reignited hopes they could still be a factor this season? Probably not. It was unseasonably cold in Melbourne on Saturday and Red Bull clearly struggled to get their tyres into the right operating window. At another track, on another day, Mercedes could well drop back again.

But still, this was an encouraging session for their fans, and for fans of closer racing in general.

Two races ago Russell was talking about Red Bull winning all 23 races this year. Now, without having made the big radical change to their car concept which they are working on in the background, they are only two tenths back. Might they now abort the redesign and work with what they have got?

Again, probably not. Wolff cautioned against getting too carried away with this result, saying it could be very track- and weather-specific and making the point that Verstappen did not have his best lap either.

But both Mercedes drivers added that they would be going for the race win on Sunday, speculating that they might be able to gang up on Verstappen with their strategies given he will be without a team-mate at the front.

Asked whether Perez might still be a factor from the back of the field – Verstappen after all came through from 15th to second in Saudi Arabia two weekends ago – no one gave that idea much credibility. “Normally not for me,” Verstappen said. “Maybe top 10,” Russell speculated.

Perez, who won in Saudi Arabia to move to within one point of Verstappen in the standings and has been talking up his chances of being able to battle his team-mate for the title, certainly cut a disconsolate figure as his qualifying session lasted just three corners.

The Mexican completely missed the apex and skidded off into the gravel. "We need to sort that issue, man," Perez shouted angrily over the radio. "It was the same f------ issue again." He later hinted at brake issues.

Hamilton will line up in third position, one place ahead of Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso whose 11-year wait to start a race from the front of the field goes on. Carlos Sainz starts fifth for Ferrari with Alonso's team-mate Lance Stroll sixth.

McLaren’s miserable season continued with Lando Norris only 13th on the grid and rookie team-mate Oscar Piastri – the first man from Melbourne to race at Albert Park – failing to make it out of Q1. The Australian lines up in 16th.

The last word went to Hamilton, and it was an upbeat one: “We're all working as hard as we can to get right back up the front, so to be this close to the Red Bull is incredible. Hopefully tomorrow we can give them a bit of a run for their money.” There will be a lot of neutrals hoping likewise.

Australian Grand Prix, qualifying classification

  1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Netherlands, 1 minute, 16.732 seconds

  2. George Russell, Mercedes, Great Britain, 1:16.968

  3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Great Britain, 1:17.104

  4. Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Spain, 1:17.139

  5. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, Spain, 1:17.270

  6. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, Canada, 1:17.308

  7. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 1:17.369

  8. Alexander Albon, Williams, Thailand, 1:17.609

  9. Pierre Gasly, Alpine, France, 1:17.675.

  10. Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Germany, 1:17.735

  11. Esteban Ocon, Alpine, France, 1:17.768

  12. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Japan, 1:18.099

  13. Lando Norris, McLaren, Great Britain, 1:18.119

  14. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Denmark, 1:18.129

  15. Nyck De Vries, AlphaTauri, Netherlands, 1:18.335

  16. Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Australia, 1:18.517

  17. Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo, China, 1:18.540

  18. Logan Sargeant, Williams, USA, 1:18.557

  19. Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, Finland, 1:18.714

  20. Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Mexico (no time set)

Australian Grand Prix qualifying, as it happened

07:46 AM

Another difficult day for McLaren

Their race pace has been better than their one-lap pace but reliability has been an issue.

07:30 AM

What about Mercedes?

Is that a genuine step forward? No real upgrades for the car here. I would probably put it as likely to be down to the slightly unusual conditions in Australia but that doesn't mean they should not be happy. As George Russell said, though, they need to understand what made them competitive.

Toto Wolff is speaking to Sky Sports:

"She was nice. We got it together now over the weekend, we grinded away with putting performance on the car in terms of the right mechanical set-up. I think we learned through the session and we have been open minded, we changed the plan from the third or fourth push lap to the second...

"Good starting second and third, it's been a while since we've had nobody in front of our line in P2. We need a little bit of happiness and at least for the Saturday we got some of that," he says about his team's hopes for Sunday.

Three times Russell has out-qualified Hamilton in three races this year.

07:26 AM

A word for Alexander Albon in that session

He showed pace throughout, made it into Q3 and put in a very decent lap to finish ahead of Gasly and Hulkenberg and within 0.250s of Charles Leclerc. I am so glad he is making a decent fist of his F1 comeback after his Red Bull troubles a few years ago.

Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW45 Mercedes on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit on April 01, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia - Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW45 Mercedes on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit on April 01, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia - Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

07:24 AM

That was an unexpectedly fun session

Yes, Verstappen took pole in the end but there was some doubt until the final laps and, really, to have the top-10 pretty much within a second is encouraging. Red Bull's advantage ultimately a little diminished in cooler and slippery conditions, but, yeah, that was good.

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen reacts after taking pole position following the the qualifying session of the 2023 Formula One Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on April 1, 2023 - Getty Images/William West
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen reacts after taking pole position following the the qualifying session of the 2023 Formula One Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on April 1, 2023 - Getty Images/William West

07:18 AM

Hamilton happy after his qualifying

"I am so happy with this. Totally unexpected, really really proud of the team. For us to be up on the two front rows is honestly a dream for us. To be this close to Red Bull is incredible. Hopefully tomorrow we can give them a run for their money. The second [qualifying] lap wasn't as good as the first one. I lost out a little bit at the beginning, but I am not disappointed."

07:17 AM

Russell speaks after his first front row start of the year

"We wasn't expecting that. What a session for us. I am a little bit disappointed that we didn't get pole position. The car felt awesome, it goes to show that we've definitely got potential for the weekend. We have go to understand when you have good days and bad days, but definitely happy to be in P2"

07:15 AM

Verstappen reacts to pole

"I think the last run was very good. All weekend it's been very tough to get the tyres in the window straight away but it all worked out in Q3. Very happy with the lap... looking forward to tomorrow."

He says reliability is not a worry for tomorrow after talking about downshifts and battery issues in the session.

"We have a good race car but it's quite tricky on the tyres to keep them alive."

07:12 AM

Q3 - Classification

  1. VER 1:16.732

  2. RUS +0.236

  3. HAM +0.372

  4. ALO +0.407

  5. SAI +0.538

  6. STR +0.576

  7. LEC +0.637

  8. ALB +0.877

  9. GAS +0.943

  10. HUL +1.003

07:11 AM


"I needed to get the tyres in the window," he says. Not the most straight-forward session for him but he gets the job done. Mercedes with an encouraging session there. Second and third.

"Not too shabby," Russell says on the radio. "I thought this car was a second off the pace," he adds.

07:10 AM

Q3 - Russell now into second!

0.236s off Verstappen's time! Hamilton also on a decent lap, but it's not enough to beat Russell but is enough to beat Alonso... the Briton is third!

07:09 AM

Q3 - Verstappen improves by half a second!

That is going to be hard to beat... can Alonso do it? Nope. He improves to second but it's four tenths back...

07:08 AM

Q3 - Gasly stays ninth

Verstappen has just set the fastest first sector as Hamilton gets blocked by Hulkenberg as the pair line up their hot laps...

07:07 AM

Q3 - Leclerc not improving

He will probably stay sixth... does that mean track conditions have worsened? We will see...

Leclerc does improve with the fastest final sector so moves fifth...

07:06 AM

Q3 - Rain possibly incoming

Verstappen is a little out of sync with his rivals for pole, having stayed out longer to set his fastest lap.

Everyone else is out on track and starting their final runs with just over three minutes left. He might struggle to optimise his run.

Stroll goes seventh, but only 0.301s off Verstappen's fastest time.

Verstappen seems to have an issue with downshifts again, and possibly his battery...

Maybe a Verstappen pole is not guaranteed...

07:04 AM

Q3 - How it stands so far

  1. VER 1:17.262

  2. HAM +0.009

  3. ALO +0.041

  4. RUS +0.086

  5. SAI +0.146

  6. LEC +0.273

  7. ALB +0.461

  8. GAS +0.561

  9. HUL +0.784

  10. STR (NO TIME)

07:03 AM

Q3 - Verstappen is struggling a bit here

Will this lap trouble the front row? Yes! He goes fastest by just 0.009s with a good final sector. Still a bit of time to be found out there for him, looked a little scrappy still.

07:02 AM

Q3 - Alonso with a fast first sector

Fastest of anyone... second sector is decent... he crosses the line to go first, 0.275s faster than Verstappen! Okay... was not quite expecting that but you expect that Verstappen has a lot more.

Russell just misses out to Alonso but Hamilton doesn't! He's 0.032s faster than Alonso and the fastest of anyone so far!

Verstappen does another hot lap...

07:01 AM

Q3 - A 1:17.578 for Verstappen, in first

Alonso's lap is not a representative one so we have to wait for some context... that comes with Hulkenberg who goes second, 0.468s slower than Verstappen. I think that's a pretty handy lap from the German.

07:00 AM

Q3 - Verstappen fastest of anyone so far in S1

Naturally... he's out quite early but he was about a tenth and a half up on Alonso... although Alonso appears to have aborted that lap and turned it into a second warm-up lap.

06:58 AM

Q3 - Leclerc told that the rain will come in the final few minutes of the session

That explains why everyone, bar Stroll, is out on track at the moment.

06:57 AM

Q3 begins!

12 minutes and only one pole sitter: Max Verstappen. 

Well, it could be someone else.

06:53 AM

Q2 - Classification

  1. VER 1:17.056

  2. ALO +0.227

  3. SAI +0.293

  4. LEC +0.334

  5. HUL +0.356

  6. RUS +0.457

  7. HAM +0.495

  8. GAS +0.518

  9. STR +0.560

  10. ALB +0.705

  11. OCO

  12. TSU

  13. NOR

  14. MAG

  15. DEV

Ocon misses out to Albon by just 0.008s!

06:51 AM

Q2 ends - Verstappen fastest

Then Alonso, Sainz, Leclerc and Hulkenberg...

06:51 AM

Q2 - Verstappen improves and stays fastest

Magnussen can only improve to 12th but Hulkenberg in the other Haas goes third!

The two AlphaTauris now trying to make it into Q3 but struggling it seems.  De Vries stays 14th... Tsunoda moves up to 12th...

Sainz up into third, Hamilton into sixth, Leclerc into fourth, bumping Hamilton down.

Norris can't improve enough to get through which means Albon makes it into Q3!

06:48 AM

Q2 - Magnussen currently 15th

A long way off his team-mate Hulkenberg who is sixth. The Dane does not seem to be improving enough to trouble the top 10...

06:47 AM

Q2 - Albon with another decent lap

The fastest middle sector and good enough for ninth as it stands. Norris now down to 12th with others improving. He is within a second of Verstappen which is not too bad absolutely, but relatively it isn't quite good enough.

Alonso is in the pit lane and is the only driver not to be on track.

Two minutes remain. 

06:45 AM

Q2 - Interesting from Stroll

He said he wanted to stay out on his soft tyres rather than pitting for new ones like a fair few others, including his team-mate Alonso. That said, Stroll has now come into the pits and goes out on a used set of soft tyres.

Norris with a scrappy lap and struggling to get out of the bottom five... can he? Yes, into 10th.

06:43 AM

Q2 - Good lap from Alonso

He goes second, and within a tenth of Verstappen. Replays show Norris running wide and through the gravel at turn three. The McLaren looking a right handful.

06:42 AM

Q2 - Order with seven mins left

  1. VER

  2. ALO

  3. LEC

  4. STR

  5. HUL

  6. SAI

  7. HAM

  8. RUS

  9. ALB

  10. MAG

  11. TSU

  12. DEC

  13. NOR

  14. OCO

  15. GAS

06:41 AM

Q2 - A lot of traffic for Russell

But they all duck out of the way towards the end of the lap.

Russell goes seventh briefly before being dislodged by his team-mate Hamilton from that position. A long way from Verstappen, though, Russell nearly a second off and Hamilton 0.537s...

06:40 AM

Q2 - Verstappen crosses the line...

...and goes first by 0.341s. Albon struggling a bit but he's on a used set of tyres and in seventh of 10 runners to have done a "proper" lap.

06:39 AM

Q2 - Leclerc on a good lap

He moves fastest by 0.056s ahead of Stroll. What can Sainz do? Just fourth, 0.183s slower than his team-mate, but fairly close I guess if it's within two tenths.

Magnussen then into fifth, but a second off Leclerc as Hulkenberg into third, just over a tenth off Leclerc...

06:38 AM

Q2 - Stroll goes fastest

0.065s faster than his team-mate Alonso. Nice lap but only a handful of runners with a representative lap so far. Verstappen runs a bit wide at turn one as he starts his hot lap.

06:35 AM

Q2 begins!

15 minutes, 15 drivers and again five are eliminated.

Two AlphaTauris into Q2 which is some progress for them.

06:33 AM

Karun Chandhok on Sky with his usual good analysis

He suspects that it could be an issue with engine braking on the Red Bull. It did look a bit strange as he just struggled to slow the car down enough as it went into the gravel. It doesn't usually happen like that unless a driver really overcooks it. Anyway, we await a response from Red Bull.

No sign of much rain yet.

06:29 AM

Q1 ends, Verstappen fastest - Classification

  1. VER 1:17.384

  2. RUS +0.270

  3. HAM +0.305

  4. OCO +0.386

  5. ALO +0.448

  6. STR +0.489

  7. SAI +0.544

  8. ALB +0.578

  9. HUL +0.645

  10. MAG +0.775

  11. LEC +0.834

  12. NOR +0.859

  13. GAS +0.928

  14. DEV +1.066

  15. TSU +1.087


06:27 AM

Q1 - Ocon moves third at the death

Bottas has not done another hot lap so is out as well...

06:27 AM

Q1 - A bad lap from Bottas

He stays 19th and will struggle to get out, but he has potentially another fast lap.

Gasly trying to get himself out of danger and he doesn't really do a great job, only 13th.

Zhoy stays 16th, he's out. Piastri doesn't improve either, so is out, as is Sargeant. Who else will it be?

06:26 AM

Q1 - Norris does a better lap to move 12th

Piastri crawls in the final sector to try and optimise his final lap. Every single car but Perez on track and, yeah, it's pretty frantic out there. Only 1.4sec between first and 19th.

06:25 AM

Q1 - McLaren struggling

Both cars in the bottom five now, 17th and 18th. A miserable season so far...

Russell goes third 0.487s off Verstappen before Hamilton does his best lap to jump him and move into second, 0.3s off Verstappen.

06:24 AM

Q1 - How they stand into the final few minutes

  1. VER

  2. ALO

  3. ALB

  4. SAI

  5. HUL

  6. STR

  7. RUS

  8. HAM

  9. LEC

  10. MAG

  11. GAS

  12. ZHO

  13. SAR

  14. NOR

  15. OCO

  16. PIA

  17. DEV

  18. TSU

  19. BOT

  20. PER

Lap times tumbling, though, and fast.

06:23 AM

Q1 - Albon is flying

The running programs seem to be to stay out there and mix up the warm-up laps, cool laps and hot laps. Albon is currently on his 11th lap on his set of tyres... and he's third!

06:22 AM

Q1 - What can the Mercedes cars do now?

RUS, BOT, PIA, MAG, PER the cars in the drop zone. 

Russell goes fourth, though, to get himself out and then Hamilton goes seventh... behind Albon by a few hundredths.

06:21 AM

Q1 - Alonso on a better lap

Fastest of anyone in the first sector, a tenth faster than Verstappen's best and latest attempt.

Sargeant gets a lap time on the board to go 10th.

Alonso goes fastest of anyone by 0.231s. 

06:20 AM

Q1 - What can Albon do on this lap?

He goes second, just 0.080s slower than Verstappen... faster than Sainz, who crosses the line behind him two tenths down. Nice lap, that.

06:19 AM

Q1 - Verstappen goes fastest

0.310s ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, so not a stellar lap exactly. Fernando Alonso's first hot lap is not quite so hot... more than a second off Verstappen. Alonso is then jumped by Albon, Hamilton, Stroll and George Russell.

I think the lap times will tumble on the second hot laps.

Good second sector by Alex Albon... fastest of anyone.

06:16 AM

Q1 - 11 mins remain

I think that probably makes the session less interesting, but still some unpredictability out there with top drivers needing to set a lap time under pressure. Not sure Perez was going to challenge for pole position, anyway. So, we will see a Red Bull and another car on the front row. Alonso?

Verstappen begins his hot lap...

06:15 AM

Q1 resumes!

11mins 44sec on the clock. Verstappen leads the queue of cars at the end of the pit lane.

06:13 AM

Q1 - Session to restart at 6.14am BST

That is imminently.

06:12 AM

Q1 - Order and times under the red flag

  1. HUL 1:18.373

  2. ALB +0.571

  3. MAG +1.019

  4. PIA +1.183

  5. NOR +1.193

  6. ZHO +1.585

  7. DEV +1.621

  8. BOT +2.204

  9. TSU +3.392

  10. SAR +8.793

06:10 AM

Perez on the radio

"We need to sort the issue, man, it's the same f------ issue again," he says. Not sure how much of that was on the car...

06:08 AM


Perez is in the gravel and I don't think he will be able to carry on. He looks beached. I think it's at turn three.

Oof, he locked up at turn three, the tight right-hander, and continued straight on into the gravel trap and that will be the end of his session.

06:06 AM

Q1 - Albon's second lap is decent

He is nearly half a second faster than Magnussen and leads the way. His team-mate Logan Sargeant, though, spins in the final sector and ducks into the pit lane.

Hulkenberg then knocks Albon off top spot by 0.571s. Track evolution is enormous, it seems, as expected.

06:05 AM

Q1 - Albon the first man to set a lap

He posts a 1:26.458, which is sort of irrelevant as it looks very much like a secondary warm-up lap. Bottas then beats that by a big chunk before Zhou, Norris and then Magnussen do the same.

Magnussen leads the running with a 1:19.392. 

06:02 AM

Q1 - 17 mins remain

No surprise that every driver is out on track given the cold-ish and slippery-ish conditions.

06:01 AM


As ever, 18 minutes, 20 cars involved and only 15 go through to the next part of qualifying.

05:56 AM

Well, I am quite looking forward to this session now

Predictions? Beyond the obvious, I am not sure. Would be good to see a McLaren up there... Alpine look strong, so I'll say one of their drivers on the second row.

05:53 AM

The rain isn't exactly pelting down

But it's a bit chilly and it just makes things that little bit trickier, even if it's fine for dry tyres.

05:49 AM

That 'official' risk of rain for qualifying has gone up to 90 per cent

Just about 10 minutes until Q1 begins... hopefully an interesting session. That said, wet weather still favours Verstappen and Red Bull as he is the best driver in the best car...

05:43 AM

Raw pace ranking after two rounds

This, in effect, measures the performance of each team in qualifying.

No surprise who is top but it is tight in the midfield. Ferrari still look to have decent one-lap pace relative to their rivals, as was the case last year. The problem last year, and this year, seems to be trying to keep that up in the race.

05:40 AM

Well, I was a little bit pessimistic about rain for qualifying

But it sounds like there are at least a few spots about...

05:36 AM

Current constructor standings

Red Bull's advantage is bad enough already were it not the case that the three teams behind them will be likely taking points off each other all season...

Just AlphaTauri and McLaren left to score points.

05:32 AM

Current driver standings - top 10

Not sure anyone thought Alonso would be in third with 30 points and two podiums after two rounds but there we go and here we are. The last time Alonso started the season with two podiums was... in 2007.

05:28 AM

There has been some talk about whether Red Bull can win all 23 rounds this season...

That has never been done before and is clearly a huge ask. It's not impossible, but it's rare that a team goes through a season without any significant trouble for both cars, but such has been Red Bull's advantage in the first two rounds of the season that if feels like a possibility.

Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit on April 01, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia - Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit on April 01, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia - Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

It's never good for F1 to start a season like this, though, so hopefully the disrupted running throughout this weekend leads to something a bit more... competitive than we had. That said, it's not all about Saturday – Sunday is the day when points are won...

05:19 AM

Sainz also had an off in FP3

There were also a few other bumps and mistakes.

Fair to say that it has been a fairly scrappy couple of days of running so far.

05:16 AM

Far from the best practice session for Sergio Perez

05:05 AM

Third and final practice times

  1. Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1min 17.565secs

  2. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Aston Martin 1:17.727

  3. Esteban Ocon (Fra) Alpine 1:17.938

  4. George Russell (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:17.955

  5. Pierre Gasly (Fra) Alpine 1:18.094

  6. Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 1:18.123

  7. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spa) Ferrari 1:18.127

  8. Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:18.138

  9. Lance Stroll (Can) Aston Martin 1:18.198

  10. Guanyu Zhou (Chn) Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake 1:18.330

  11. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) MoneyGram Haas F1 1:18.410

  12. Alexander Albon (Tha) Williams 1:18.553

  13. Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:18.691

  14. Oscar Piastri (Aus) McLaren 1:18.713

  15. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake 1:18.809

  16. Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:18.901

  17. Logan Sargeant (USA) Williams 1:18.947

  18. Kevin Magnussen (Den) MoneyGram Haas F1 1:19.056

  19. Nyck de Vries (Ned) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:19.092

  20. Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:19.146

05:02 AM

What happened in final practice earlier today?

Formula One champion Max Verstappen topped the timesheet for Red Bull in the third and final practice at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday but his team mate Sergio Perez struggled through a mishap-strewn session.

Dutchman Verstappen lapped Albert Park in one minute and 17.565 seconds, 0.162 seconds clear of Fernando Alonso, as Astor Martin continued to show encouraging pace.

Perez posted the sixth fastest lap but skidded off track several times after being confined to the garage for the first 20 minutes as a raft of engineers worked on the back of his car.

When he joined the session late, he very nearly ploughed into the back of Haas's Nico Hulkenberg who was trundling along on a high fuel load.

"Man, why did you put me on this gap?" Perez snapped on the team radio.


03:19 PM

Good morning F1 fans

Welcome to our live coverage for qualifying for the 2023 Australian Grand Prix from Albert Park in Melbourne. Formula One has been visiting this track for 27 years now though, to me, it doesn't seem all that long ago that Damon Hill took the victory for Williams here in his championship-winning season in 1996.

It is fair to say that the races held here in that time have been mixed. It is not exactly a classic track – though it has been improved in recent years – as overtaking is difficult if not actually unusual. Quite often early-season reliability woes have been the cause of a lot of the drama in Melbourne.

That said, there have been a few decent rounds, with Safety Cars and the odd bit of wet weather throwing some spiciness and unpredictability into the equation. There was a bit of rain around for yesterday's second practice session, but sadly the chances of any significant downpours is a little less on Saturday and Sunday. That said, there was a shower during final practice earlier today, so you never know.

Anyway, heading into this weekend the story is the same as it was two weeks ago before Saudi Arabia. The big question to which we probably all know the answer is "can anyone stop Red Bull"? The answer is probably not. Not without some kind of intervention from above.

Max Verstappen comes into this race with a one-point lead over team-mate Sergio Perez, with the pair level on one win each this year. Verstappen had a more difficult weekend in Jeddah a fortnight ago, having to fight through the field. His second place was a little surprising given he got to within five or so seconds of leader Perez with 20-odd laps still to go. Yet it did not work out for him for one reason or another and he made no bones about being disappointed with finishing second. That is the kind of driver he is.

When it comes to challenging Verstappen, it seems Perez is our only hope. The problem is that he had a fairly poor final practice session in a couple of days of disrupted running for most teams. Overall, Ferrari and Mercedes are further than they were at any point last season and with Aston Martin in the equation at the front now – they are second in the standings – the chances of competition for either championship seems slim.

Still, we are only two races into the season and it probably is not healthy to get too pessimistic just yet. Though I would advise you to cross all your fingers and toes...