George Russell and Lewis Hamilton smashed the top three after a stellar qualifying session… but Red Bull defending champion Max Verstappen secures his first Australian Grand Prix lead
- Team boss Toto Wolff said “slowly but surely” Mercedes was improving
- Verstappen’s team mate Perez will start 20th after getting into the gravel
- Lewis Hamilton described the session as a “dream” for both drivers
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix second and third on the grid in a dramatic turnaround for Mercedes’ checkered fortunes.
Russell, who overtook his teammate to qualify for the third race of the season, made it onto the front row after finishing second in the standings just two and a half laps behind Max Verstappen.
The world champion was the fastest in the third quarter to secure the first pole in Melbourne of his career, but the Red Bulls would book the net after teammate Sergio Perez crashed out in the first quarter in dramatic fashion.
Pérez closed in turn three, before running his RB19 onto the gravel and the cold and windy session came to an unexpected halt as the red flags came out.
The Mexican driver, winner of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah last weekend, will start the 20th race at Albert Park.
Mercedes had a muted start to the season but the qualifying session paid off
George Russell overtook teammate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying and would start second on the grid
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton described the session as a “dream” for both drivers
Both Mercedes drivers were delighted to see the progress made with the car between the previous and current weekends.
On the radio after his second position was confirmed, Russell exclaimed, “Not so shabby!”
He later confirmed that he was “disappointed” that he did not finish in first place, a statement that might seem unfathomable even two weeks later.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Russell said: “We weren’t expecting that – that’s for sure.
“Lots of hard work going on at the factory, here in Melbourne and wow, what a session for us.
“The car felt alive, the course at the end was at its limit and to be honest I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get pole position.
“It’s one of those things where your expectations change so quickly in this sport.”
Russell joked: “We would have been happy with a four-place, five-place finish yesterday.
“The car felt great and we definitely have potential coming.”
And his fellow seven-time world champion was also impressed by the threat posed by Mercedes in qualifying. Over the radio, team boss Toto Wolff assured his star driver: “We’re slowly but surely making our way back.”
After the session, Hamilton also mused on the “unexpected” outcome, saying: “George did a great job out there today, so we’ve got to be front two rows dreaming of us honestly.
“We are all working as hard as possible to get back to the front straight, so to be close to Red Bull is incredible.
Max Verstappen continues to be a force on the track, winning his first ever pole position in Melbourne
But Sergio Perez will start at the other end of the pack after a disastrous start to the first quarter
“Hopefully tomorrow we can give them a run for their money and hopefully the weather will be good.”
Hamilton looked back on his 2007 race in Melbourne, where the then-McLaren driver took a chance at Turn 1 to go from fourth to third and climbed onto the podium on his debut.
“I don’t know if anyone remembers but I hope we can do it,” Hamilton finished.
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, who had a strong start to the season with third place in Bahrain and Jeddah, was knocked out by Hamilton to finish fourth tomorrow, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz will start from fifth.
(tags to translation) Daily Mail