Improved Hamilton to start in fifth as Leclerc claims Australian GP pole

Verstappen takes second in dramatic session that sees plenty of stoppages and collisions

Lewis Hamilton will start the Australian Grand Prix from fifth as Charles Leclerc secured pole position for Sunday's race.

Following an entertaining qualifying session in Melbourne - red-flagged on two occasions - Ferrari's Leclerc took the spoils with Max Verstappen joining him on the front row.

Sergio Perez finished third in the other Red Bull, one place ahead of British driver Lando Norris in the McLaren. George Russell took sixth.

Hamilton’s bid for a record eighth crown has been derailed by his uncompetitive Mercedes machinery. The British driver is already 29 points behind championship leader Leclerc.

But after he qualified only 16th at the last round in Saudi Arabia before taking a sole point for finishing 10th, Hamilton will take some comfort from his improved grid slot here.

However, the Silver Arrows remain some way off rivals Red Bull and Ferrari, who have established themselves at the top of the class for 2022. Indeed Hamilton languished almost a second behind Leclerc.

The top 10 drivers were forced to change their visors for Q3 with the sun setting at Albert Park.

“Mate, I can’t see s*** with the sun,” said world champion Verstappen. “I am completely blinded.”

The final action was then delayed with just six minutes and 58 seconds remaining after Fernando Alonso crashed out.

The double world champion lost control of his Alpine through turn 11, running into the gravel and then the tyre wall.

“I lost the hydraulics and could not change gear,” he said over the radio.

Alonso had just set the fastest middle sector of all, but will start no higher than 10th. A delay of 13 minutes followed as Alonso’s wounded machine was cleared from danger.

Earlier, the opening period was stopped for a quarter of an hour following a clumsy collision between Nicholas Latifi and Lance Stroll.

With both men gearing up for a speedy lap, Stroll was caught unawares as Latifi made a move on his inside on the approach to turn six.

Contact was made, with Latifi sent spiralling into the wall. Aston Martin driver Stroll screamed: “**** Latifi, man. He’s just ****** hit me, man.”

Fellow Canadian Latifi said: “I don’t understand what he was doing. He wasn’t looking in his mirrors. The f****** car is destroyed.”

The suspension did allow the Aston Martin mechanics to complete their repair job on Sebastian Vettel’s machine - damaged in final practice.

Vettel completed one flying lap and qualified 18th, bumped up one spot on the grid following Alexander Albon’s three-place penalty for his collision with Stroll at the last round in Saudi Arabia.

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