Charles Leclerc will start at the head of the field in the Australian Grand Prix that starts at 15 local (7 CET) tomorrow at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit. This is the Monegasque driver's eleventh pole, which puts him sixth equal on the list of Prancing Horse drivers, with Jacky Ickx and Rubens Barrichello. For Scuderia Ferrari it is pole number 232, its seventh in Australia, the sixth in Albert Park. In contrast to Charles' brilliant performance, Carlos was out of luck today and will start from ninth spot after red flags wiped out what looked like being one of the fastest laps of the day on his first run in Q3, and then he was not able to prepare for his only valid flying lap properly.
Both drivers comfortably got their F1-75s through to the final phase with two sets of new Soft tyres available. The ideal strategy was to run two tyre warm up laps: Leclerc managed to complete the procedure, crossing the line in 1'18"239, but Sainz was unable to match it as he was just a few metres from the finish line when the red flags came out following Alonso's accident. The rules state that the moment the session is stopped, the timing stops too, even for drivers completing a lap. At the restart, Charles went straight out on track, but it took considerably longer than usual to fire up Carlos' F1-75 and that meant he only managed an out-lap before his flying lap, making a mistake in the final sector at the White esses and he could therefore do no better than a 1'19"408, good enough for ninth place. Leclerc meanwhile, on his one timed lap made no mistakes in being the only driver to get under the 1'18 barrier with a lap in 1'17"868.
Close race in prospect. Putting aside Carlos' problems, today's qualifying confirmed that the F1-75 is competitive and will be in the fight with its main rival, which has got both its cars in the top two rows of the grid. Sainz will be on the attack from the start, knowing that he can still come home with a good points haul.
Charles Leclerc: I'm happy with my result today. This circuit is really tricky and I've always struggled here in the past. It may not have seemed like it this weekend because we've been quite fast, but I've done a lot of work to optimise my performance.
The team did a great job. We stayed calm at all times, despite red flags, yellow flags and traffic. The biggest limitation for me was the sun. It was low and at an inconvenient angle and it was almost impossible to see where I was in Q2 and most of Q3. I took a lot of risks and I'm glad that I managed to put together such a good lap in the end.
It doesn't look too bad in terms of race pace. It's very close with our competitors so it will be a difficult but exciting race tomorrow.
Carlos Sainz: We had good pace today but my Q3 went completely wrong. We got the red flag right before the finish line of the first flying lap and on my second one, I was about to go out but there was a delay in firing up my car. We finally got going but I didn't have time to do the preparation lap, which meant the tyres were far from ready for the push lap, sliding everywhere.
Tomorrow I'll obviously try to recover as much as possible, but without the fourth DRS zone the circuit hasn't changed that much from the old one and it will be tricky to overtake. Anyway, tomorrow is another day and we'll try to come back.
Laurent Mekies: It's been a busy weekend so far and we have been ahead of our rivals in some sessions and behind them in others. We knew there would be a lot of work to do in qualifying and that tyre management would be tough on this track which, thanks to the modifications to the layout, is effectively a new track, throwing up very different challenges to those in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The F1-75 has shown itself to be competitive here too and that's down to all the hard work back in Maranello. Today in qualifying, we had to look at the smallest detail to find ways to continuously improve. In the end, Charles put together an amazing lap to take a great pole - not the first time we've seen him do that.
It was a shame for Carlos, who is also very quick this weekend. First of all, he missed out on setting a time by just a few seconds because of the red flags and then on his final run, his performance was compromised when it unexpectedly took longer than usual to fire up the engine, which meant he left the garage a little bit late.
There was no time for a preparation lap and inevitably, this had a not inconsiderable impact on his lap time. Tomorrow, every single lap of the Grand Prix will be very closely contested, so we still have a lot of work to do tonight to ensure we get the very best result we can.
Check out our Saturday gallery from Melbourne, here.