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Sainz heads Ferrari 1-2 in Australia


Pirelli's Mario Isola best summed it up when he said after qualifying: "It looked for a while as though everything was in place to produce a surprise, at least in qualifying, but in the end, Max Verstappen laid down the law once again."

Indeed, it's that man again.

Only 0.270s off the pace was Carlos Sainz, who two weeks ago was recovering from an appendectomy, and while Sergio Perez was third the Mexican was subsequently handed a 3-place grid drop for impeding Nico Hulkenberg in Q1.

A mistake means that Charles Leclerc is sandwiched between the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, while Yuki Tsunoda put more pressure on his RB teammate by qualifying eighth.

The Aston Martin pair are ninth (Stroll) and tenth, while Mercedes main/only hopes appears to rest with George Russell who qualified seventh.

As ever, especially considering the history of this particular track, much will depend on who gets the best start and leads the field not only into Turn 1 but the infamous Turn 3, for as we have seen once Max gets ahead that is the last you see of him.

That said, with his teammate's penalty, this means the world champion will be under attack from two Ferraris, not to mention the eager beavers in the McLarens.

Ferrari has been giving Red Bull a hard time all weekend, and let's not forget Sainz' amazing pace on the mediums yesterday. However, as we said, much will depend on the start.

The midfield is going to be as tight as ever, and while this has provided much of the entertainment thus far this season, the inclusion of Hamilton should only add to the fun, especially with Fernando Alonso starting ahead and Alex Albon just behind, the Thai driver determined to make a point today.

A number of teams have experienced what Ferrari last year referred to as "erratic" behaviour, and an added element this weekend is the tyres.

FP3 confirmed the indications seen yesterday in terms of tyre usage for the race. In fact, the hard was barely used, with only the Aston Martin, McLaren and Stake drivers scrubbing in the C3s (two sets for Aston Martin and McLaren and one for Stake). This means it will be the most used compound, irrespective of which sets the teams decided to return tonight.

Of the front runners, the Bulls, Ferrari and Mercedes drivers each have two sets of new hards.

However, of interest in qualifying was the various approaches from the teams when it came to preparing for the timed lap, with the aim of getting the most out of the softest compound. Apart from the classic out-push-in, some drivers went for two preparation laps while others did two cool-down laps after a timed one, before then going for another attempt.

However, no one has run the hardest compound so far, so that's another unknown, while managing graining will be a key factor given that, at this track, the phenomenon does not improve much as the track gradually rubbers-in, as is the case at most other circuits.

There are plenty of unknowns, especially in terms of strategy, however based on the data from the previous two days, it is highly likely to be a two-stopper, with the medium-hard-hard combination being the quickest.

Also one has to take into account the high probability of seeing the Safety Car - last year it was required no less than three times - or even a red flag, especially at the start, while the changeable winds have also been causing problems.

Other than the obvious pressure on Albon to deliver, Daniel Ricciardo is another who needs a good result. Out-qualified for the third time by his teammate, the popular Australian is already on notice as far as the unforgiving Helmut Marko is concerned.

Aside from Perez' grid penalty, Zhou will start from the pitlane as his car was modified under parc ferme conditions, the Stake driver's car requiring a new front wing after the original was damaged on his final run in Q1.

The pitlane opens and Verstappen leads the way, followed by Perez, Russell, Magnussen, Gasly and Zhou.

Air temperature is 20 degrees C, while the track temperature is 39 degrees.

All are starting on mediums bar Alonso and Hulkenberg who are on hards and Hamilton, Ricciardo and Zhou who are on hards. Stroll, Alonso and Bottas on used/scrubbed rubber.

Surprised to see the softs being used, but then both Hamilton and Ricciardo need to be aggressive. That said, Hamilton appears unsure of the choice of tyre.

They head off on the formation lap, Verstappen leading the field away quite slowly.

The grid forms.

They're away! They're through Turn 1 without any issues and again through Turn 3. Verstappen leading Sainz, Norris, Leclerc and Piastri.

Russell goes around the outside of Perez in Turn 3, while Hamilton has passed Alonso.

At the end of Lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Sainz, Norris, Leclerc, Piastri, Russell, Perez, Stroll, Tsunoda and Hamilton.

On Lap 2 Sainz passes Verstappen under DRS on the run to Turn 9. The crowd cheers.

"I just lost the car, really weird," reports Verstappen. "****, the car is loose," he adds.

There is smoke coming from the rear of the Red Bull and suddenly Verstappen slows. "Fire, fire, my brake, brake," he reports as he heads back to the pits.

After 4 laps, Sainz leads by 1.8s as the Red Bull mechanics deal with a fire at the rear of the car, however it is unclear if it is an engine issue or brakes.

Replay shows bits falling from the ailing Red Bull, which suggests a brake issue.

Down in sixth, Perez goes quickest in S2 as he seeks to close the 0.5sa gap to Russell who has slipped 2.7s behind Piastri.

Ricciardo pits and switches to hards as Leclerc closes on Norris.

Albon pits at the end of Lap 6, as does Zhou, both switching to hards.

Hamilton and Magnussen both pit at the end of Lap 7, the seven-time world champion rejoining in 14th on hards.

Out front, Sainz posts successive fast laps (22.303) as Russell, Stroll and Bottas all pit as the mediums, like the softs, prove to be ineffective here.

"Let's go long," urges Sainz as Leclerc, Piastri, Tsunoda and Ocon all stop.

On his fresh rubber, Hamilton runs wide in Turn 1 as Sainz posts another fastest lap (21.715).

"You're doing a mega job out there," the Spaniard is told.

It is currently: Sainz, Norris, Perez, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Gasly, Leclerc, Piastri, Russell and Stroll.

Leclerc and Piastri pass Hulkenberg to claim fifth and sixth.

Verstappen is on the pit-wall talking to Christian Horner, no doubt advising him of his decision to join Mercedes.

In eighth, Gasly is putting Hulkenberg under intense pressure as Russell and Stroll close in.

Norris and Perez both pit at the end of Lap 14, rejoining in 5th and 10th respectively. Norris is behind his McLaren teammate, while Perez is under attack from Hamilton.

Sainz leads on his mediums ahead of the hard-shod Alonso, Hulkenberg (sixth) and Gasly (seventh) are the only driver yet to pit.

"That car's really fast," says Hamilton of Perez.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Melbourne here.


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