MELBOURNE, Australia—Max Verstappen had never won pole position at the Albert Park circuit, despite his two world championship seasons. However, on Saturday afternoon, with a threat of rain that never came, the Dutchman recorded a 1:16:752 fastest lap to accomplish that feat, beating Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton who took second and third on the grid.

“The last lap was pretty good," Verstappen said. "Until then the whole weekend it has been difficult to get the tyres in the right window and it was pretty tricky to find the grip and nail it on one lap.

Only with a few minutes in qualifying was no trouble for Verstappen as many cars were on the circuit at the same time, allowing some drivers to slow and have their laps lost. But Verstappen was not one of those who managed to get out ahead of the tightly packed grid and get the fastest time of the day. Although the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc could do no better than fifth and seventh, the Mercedes duo fared much better and had a clean track to take their best grid qualifying positions following a rough start to the season.

For George Russell, it was an excellant second in his Mercedes. Photo by Getty Images

Despite Verstappen having his first pole at Albert Park, it was his teammate Sergio Perez, who received much attention for locking his right front tyre and headed into the barriers at turn three. The Mexican avoided the barriers by many meters, but was caught in the gravel trap, and was unable to move. Along with Perez, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guangyu and Valtteri Bottas, Williams Logan Sargeant and home hero McLaren’s Oscar Piastri all exited the opening session, along with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, the second McLaren of Lando Norris, the Alpha Tauri pair of Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck De Vries and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen left the second.

Fernando Alonso might have done well in the first two races, but had to settle this time for fourth, while his Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll was sixth. Williams Alex Albon had a fine qualifying session and took eighth ahead of the Alpine of Pierre Gasly and Haas F1’s Nico Hulkenberg.

Despite the threat from a few drivers, the Dutchman was pleased.

"But it all came right in qualifying. I'm pretty happy with that."

By Mark Gero

Sergio Perez had an awful day, beaching his Red Bull in the gravel in the opening session. Photo by Getty Images