Charles Leclerc ensured pole position for this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix, while Max Verstappen could only manage sixth place after crashing into a wall during qualifying.

Leclerc beat Oscar Piastri by 0.154 seconds for his third pole in the last four races in Monaco, where Ferrari have excelled on the narrow track layout, high kerbs and slow-speed corners.

Verstappen was seeking history by surpassing Ayrton Senna for an eighth successive pole in Qualifying, while maintaining his perfect record at the start of the season.

However, the runaway Drivers' Championship leader hit the wall at Sainte Devote on his final lap, and had to settle for sixth on a track where overtaking is regarded as the most difficult on the calendar.

Leclerc now hopes he and Ferrari can now convert their position at the head of the grid into victory, having failed to do so in each of the last two years.

"It was nice. The feeling after a qualifying lap is always very special here," he said. "[I am] really, really happy about the lap, the excitement is so high, but it feels really good.

"But now, I know more often than not, qualifying is not everything. As much as it counts, we need to put everything together on the Sunday. In past years, we did not manage to do it, but we are a stronger team now, and I am sure we can achieve the target."

His Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz was third, though he faces an investigation for impeding Williams' Alex Albon in the first session, ahead of Lando Norris and George Russell.

Oscar Piastri insists he is still targeting a podium finish, despite receiving a grid penalty ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The McLaren driver had initially qualified in second place behind Drivers' Championship leader Max Verstappen, with the Australian's teammate Lando Norris in third.

However, Piastri has since been handed a three-place grid drop after he impeded Kevin Magnussen while exiting the pits during Q1.

The 23-year-old admitted he could not see Magnusson at the chicane at Turns 2 and 3, and tried to get clear of the Dane as quickly as possible, though the steward's review highlighted McLaren's failure to give him sufficient warning that a faster car was approaching.

Nevertheless, Piastri did not let the penalty detract from a generally positive display during qualifying, which subsequently sees Norris take second place on the grid, with the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz leapfrogging him to third and fourth respectively.

"I'm really happy with the performance today," he said. "We were so close to pole on track.

"I've been really comfortable with the car from the moment we put it on track yesterday, and I am enjoying my first GP weekend here. We've definitely been on the pace all weekend and confidence is high.

"It is a shame to lose the front row and having to start from P5 as it’s not the easiest track to overtake on. However, we will try our best to recover some positions and fight to finish on the podium."

Max Verstappen takes pole position at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, equalling Ayrton Senna’s record in the process.

It is Verstappen’s eighth consecutive pole in Formula One after he recorded a best time of 1:14.746 around the track in the final qualification session for Sunday’s race.

The Dutchman will share the front row with Oscar Piastri, though he may receive a penalty for impeding Kevin Magnussen in Q1.

Piastri’s McLaren team-mate Lando Norris finished just behind him in third, while the two Ferraris, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, rounded out the top five after failing to build on their strong starts.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez failed to make it past Q2 after dropping to 11th, while Fernando Alonso was forced to pit before the end of Q3, finishing last. 

Max Verstappen continued to be critical of his own performance despite taking pole position for the Miami Grand Prix.

Verstappen, who won the sprint earlier on Saturday and had on Friday claimed pole in qualifying for that event, recorded a best time of 1:27.241 round the track in the final qualification session for Sunday's race.

The reigning Formula One world champion will share the front row with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who like in the sprint, came second.

Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz pipped Red Bull's Sergio Perez to third, while Lando Norris rounded out the top five.

Verstappen, though, was not particularly thrilled with his drive, continuing the trend after both qualifying on Friday and the sprint race.

He said: "We definitely improved the car a bit but I don’t know what it is but every single year we come here I find it extremely difficult to be very consistent with the car and tyre feeling over one lap. It’s super hard to make sure that Sector One feels good and Sector Three at the end of the lap to make that happen together is incredibly tough.

"Again today it was really about finding that balance, I think we did ok, it wasn't the most enjoyable lap out of my career especially with how slippery it is and you aren't very confident on the lap but we are on pole."

Leclerc said: "I felt so much on the limit. It was very close until Q3, where we started to push for the last one or two tenths. We started to lose the tyres in sector two and three, overheating them quite a bit. That's where we lost a little bit of time.

"However, the race is long and this morning we showed a good pace, so I hope tomorrow we can put Max under a bit more pressure."

Lewis Hamilton recovered from a 20-second penalty in the sprint race to qualify in seventh, one place behind Mercedes team-mate George Russell.

Formula One world champion Max Verstappen was surprised to claim pole position for Saturday's sprint race at the Miami Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.108 seconds faster than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in Friday's qualifying session.

That is despite the Dutchman believing his drive had not gone well at all.

"To be honest, it felt really terrible," said Verstappen, who holds a 25-point lead at the top of the F1 drivers' championship.

"Maybe that last session was just incredibly difficult to get the tyres to work. I didn't really improve a lot on the soft but somehow we were first.

"Practice felt really nice, it felt like the car was in a really good window but in qualifying it didn’t feel like that anymore. I was really not happy.

"In Q3 I saw I was only going 0.2secs faster and I was sliding around, no grip and they told me it was P1 and I thought it must be a joke but we'll take it."

Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez qualified third for the sprint, which will take place ahead of the main qualifying session for Sunday's race.

Lando Norris fears Max Verstappen’s “boring” dominance of Formula One is forcing fans away.

Verstappen became the first driver this century to start the season with five consecutive pole positions after a crushing performance in qualifying for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

The Dutchman, 26, saw off Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez by 0.322 seconds at the Shanghai International Circuit to take top spot, after he earlier raced from fourth to first in the 19-lap sprint race.

Remarkably, since Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2021 world championship in Abu Dhabi, the Red Bull driver has won 37 of the 48 races staged, and he is firmly on course to wrap up his fourth title in as many seasons.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has already said that Verstappen will not be caught – despite there being 20 races of this record-breaking 24-race season left.

And speaking ahead of the fifth round of the campaign in China, Norris, considered to be Verstappen’s best friend on the grid, said: “It is frustrating for people watching but it has always been like this.

“Now, we are seeing more dominance than ever, so it is never going to be the best to watch and the only exciting races have been the ones that Max is not in.”

Asked if he was concerned Verstappen’s stranglehold on the sport could be a turn-off for fans, Norris replied: “Of course it is going to be. Of course it is going be. There is no way you can say it won’t be.

“If you see the same driver winning every single time without a fight then of course it does start to become boring and that is obvious.

“You have got one of the best drivers ever in Formula One, in one of the most dominant cars and it is a combination that is deadly. If Max wasn’t there and you had two (Sergio) Perezs it wouldn’t be the case.”

Verstappen struggled for speed in the early stages of Saturday’s sprint race but he caught, and overtook, Lewis Hamilton on the ninth lap and then pulled out an eye-watering two seconds on the Mercedes driver in just one lap. He took the chequered flag 13 sec clear.

Fernando Alonso was the closest non-Red Bull finisher to Verstappen in qualifying but the Spaniard was almost half-a-second back.

Norris, 24, continued: “Am I surprised how far Red Bull is ahead? No. When you know how tricky it is to get it right, then it makes sense. They are just smart people.

“You hope teams plateau and we are starting to get there but at the same time to suddenly jump and catch them (Red Bull), it just doesn’t work like that.”

Mercedes, behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Norris’ McLaren in the constructors’ standings, are a team far removed from the one which dominated the sport.

Hamilton will start 18th in China on Sunday, with team-mate George Russell only eighth on the grid.

Norris, who qualified fourth, added: “If you look at how dominant Mercedes have been in the past, you would have expected more from them. I did, especially how much over the last few years they have said: ‘ah, now we have got it’, and they never seem to.

“We have had that, where we have hit another roadblock, so it is tricky. But they were almost more competitive last year than they are now and you just wouldn’t expect that from them. But it shows how complicated this sport can be.”

Lewis Hamilton’s troubled start to the new season took another desperate twist on Saturday after he qualified a lowly 18th for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Hamilton earlier in the day had led the sprint race in Shanghai for eight laps before he had to settle for runner-up after he was overtaken by eventual winner Max Verstappen.

But less than four hours after Hamilton’s drive to second place – a result he described as his “best in a long time” – the 39-year-old was brought crashing back down to earth when he was eliminated in the opening phase of qualifying for Sunday’s main event.

The seven-time world champion locked up at the penultimate corner on his speediest lap, and he finished in the Q1 knockout zone, leaving only RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and Williams’ Logan Sargeant behind him on the grid.

An exasperated Mercedes boss Toto Wolff looked to the heavens after Hamilton’s fate was confirmed.

“Sorry guys,” reported Hamilton, 39, over the radio. He finished eight tenths off the pace and half-a-second behind George Russell in the other Mercedes.

Aside from his strong showing in Saturday’s 19-lap dash to the chequered flag, this has been Hamilton’s worst-ever start to a season.

The British driver, who is leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari next year, failed to finish inside the top six at the opening four rounds of the campaign. And his bleak result in qualifying here leaves him staring at another underwhelming result.

Carlos Sainz, the man who is giving up his seat at Ferrari for Hamilton next year, brought out a red flag in Q2 after he lost control of his Ferrari.

The Spaniard dropped his rear wheels on to the gravel on the exit of the final corner, sending him backwards into the wall on the opposing side of the track.

Sainz broke his front wing but he was able to limp back to the pits.

Max Verstappen denied Lewis Hamilton the first sprint win of his career after passing his rival to win in China on Saturday.

Hamilton started second, and rolled back the years at the Shanghai International Circuit by beating pole-sitter Lando Norris off the line, and taking control of the 19-lap charge to the chequered flag.

But Verstappen, who started fourth, ended Hamilton’s dream of re-entering the winner’s enclosure for the first time in 867 days when he blasted past the Mercedes driver on the ninth lap.

Verstappen crossed the line 13 seconds clear of Hamilton with Sergio Perez taking third.

Hamilton joined Norris to form an all-British front-row in something of a topsy-turvy grid following yesterday’s rain-hit qualifying session.

The seven-time world champion was quicker away from his marks than Norris, and as they entered the first corner, he was fractionally ahead of his compatriot.

Hamilton hugged the inside line of the long, right-handed first bend, with Norris desperately trying to remain at least on level terms.

But off the racing line, Norris struggled for grip, and he slid off the track, dropping back down the field to seventh.

Hamilton, who has endured the worst-ever start to a season in his misfiring Mercedes machine, was back in the lead of an F1 race, with Fernando Alonso tucked in behind and Verstappen being forced to fend off Carlos Sainz.

“Why is my battery flat,” yelled Verstappen as he struggled to make any impression on Alonso ahead.

For a moment, it looked as though Hamilton could be in a position to take the victory – his first of any sort in F1 since the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on December 5, 2021, only for Verstappen to sensationally unlock the speed in his all-conquering Red Bull machine.

On the seventh lap, Verstappen passed Alonso at the penultimate corner and then set about closing the 1.8-second gap to Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver was immediately on the radio. “This thing won’t turn in the low-speed corners,” he bemoaned, with Verstappen taking a second out of his lead in just one lap.

At the start of lap nine, Verstappen was crawling all over the back of Hamilton’s mirrors in scenes reminiscent of their championship battle for the ages back in 2021.

Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington came on the intercom to tell Hamilton that Verstappen was behind.

“Leave me to it, man,” snapped Hamilton. “I can see him.”

Verstappen moved into Hamilton’s tow on the 210mph drag to the last-but one corner before jinking to the right of the Mercedes and launching his Red Bull up the inside.

Hamilton was unable to afford any sort of resistance and Verstappen made the move stick. He then demonstrated the speed of his Red Bull by establishing a two-second lead in just one lap.

Further back, and Alonso, 43 this summer, was commendably keeping a gaggle of faster cars behind.

But his resistance ended on a fascinating 16th lap which saw him go wheel-to-wheel with the Ferrari of Sainz.

Alonso and Sainz even banged wheels through the seventh corner with Perez able to sneak ahead of the duelling duo. Charles Leclerc followed through, too, as Alonso lost three places in one lap before diving into the pits with a front-right puncture. He later retired the car.

Sainz then appeared to force team-mate Leclerc off the road as they battled for fourth position in the closing stages.

“What the f***,” yelled Leclerc who managed to pass his team-mate a few corners later to finished fourth. Sainz crossed the line in fifth with Norris sixth.

Speaking after the race, Hamilton said he was pleased with the result.

“This is the best result I have had in a long time so I am super happy,” he said.

“This is a huge step and a huge improvement. The rain helped yesterday. The race was tough and if I started further back I would have struggled to make progress.”

Lewis Hamilton will make his Ferrari debut in Australia after Formula One’s bosses announced next season’s record-equalling 24-round calendar.

Hamilton, 39, is set to realise a childhood dream when he swaps Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025, with the seven-time world champion’s opening race to take place in Melbourne on March 16.

It will mark the first time since 2019 that the F1 season has kicked off at Albert Park after the following year’s scheduled opener was cancelled at the last minute amid the outbreak of coronavirus.

The 2025 campaign is due to end in Abu Dhabi on December 7, with the British Grand Prix – starting the first of its new 10-year contract extension at Silverstone – on July 6.

Triple world champion Max Verstappen has been vocal in his criticism at the ever-expanding length of the F1 schedule.

But for next season, at least, there will be no new additions to the calendar.

The campaign has started in Bahrain for the past four seasons, but with Ramadan staged throughout March in 2025, the rounds in the Gulf kingdom, and in Saudi Arabia, will be pushed back to April.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said: “2025 will be a special year as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Formula One World Championship, and it’s that legacy and experience that allows us to deliver such a strong calendar.

“Once again, we’ll visit 24 incredible venues around the world, delivering top-class racing, hospitality, and entertainment, which will be enjoyed by millions of fans worldwide.

“I would also like to pay tribute to our F1 teams and drivers, the heroes of our sport, and our fans around the world for continuing to follow Formula One with such incredible enthusiasm.”

After four rounds of the current season, Verstappen holds a 13-point championship lead in his bid to secure four consecutive world titles. The next race takes place in Shanghai a week on Sunday.

Full 2025 F1 calendar

March 16 – Australian Grand Prix (Melbourne)
March 23 – Chinese Grand Prix (Shanghai)
April 6 – Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka)
April 13 – Bahrain Grand Prix (Sakhir)
April 20 – Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (Jeddah)
May 4 – Miami Grand Prix (Miami)
May 18 – Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (Imola)
May 25 – Monaco Grand Prix (Monte Carlo)
June 1 – Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona)
June 15 – Canadian Grand Prix (Montreal)
June 29 – Austrian Grand Prix (Spielberg)
July 6 – British Grand Prix (Silverstone)
July 27 – Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps)
August 3 – Hungarian Grand Prix (Hungaroring)
August 31 – Dutch Grand Prix (Zandvoort)
September 7 – Italian Grand Prix (Monza)
September 21 – Azerbaijan Grand Prix (Baku)
October 5 – Singapore Grand Prix (Marina Bay)
October 19 – United States Grand Prix (Austin)
October 26 – Mexico City Grand Prix (Mexico City)
November 9 – Brazilian Grand Prix (Interlagos)
November 22 – Las Vegas Grand Prix (Las Vegas)
November 30 – Qatar Grand Prix (Lusail)
December 7 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Yas Marina)

Fernando Alonso will remain in Formula One beyond his 45th birthday after agreeing a new multi-season deal with Aston Martin.

Double world champion Alonso, who will be 43 in July, had been linked with Mercedes and Red Bull – as replacements for Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen respectively.

But Aston Martin announced on Thursday that Alonso, whose current deal had been due to expire at the end of the year, has agreed new terms to remain with them until at least the end of 2026.

Both Mercedes, searching for a replacement for the Ferrari-bound Hamilton, and Red Bull – with Verstappen said to be unsettled at the scandal-hit Red Bull team – had been tracking Alonso’s next move.

And Alonso admitted: “I did speak with other people. It is normal when you enter negotiations that you need to balance the market and listen to everybody else.

“I will not be specific as to which team I spoke with because this is not important. When teams are searching for a driver, they touch base with everyone just to know their position. They always want to know everything and for me it was the same.

“Maybe more time was needed (by them), while with Aston Martin there was a clear desire to work together so that is why it was very easy to stay. I felt the most wanted by them. All the other conversations were just light, and never came to any conclusions.

“I will not wait to see if there is something happening and I can jump in. I will dictate my destiny, whether that is for good or for bad.”

Alonso will this season become the first driver to take part in 400 grands prix, and his new deal is set to make him comfortably the oldest F1 driver of the modern era.

Michael Schumacher was 43 when he retired for a second time in 2012, while Kimi Raikkonen was a year younger when he walked away from the sport in 2021.

“I love driving too much that I cannot stop at the moment,” added Alonso. “I breathe Formula One, I live Formula One, and I train and eat to drive Formula One cars.

“The moment hasn’t arrived that I need to change my lifestyle. I will not be happy sitting at home and watching Formula One races because I still feel I should be there.

“If one day I feel I am not motivated, or I am not in good shape, or I am not fast and sharp, I will be the first one to raise my hand and we will find a solution with Aston Martin.

“But I don’t see that coming for the next few years. Japan (on Sunday) was one of my best races ever, and that happened five days ago. Lewis will also be 40 in January, so at least I will not be the only one next year who is over 40.”

Alonso took the last of his two world titles in 2006, and has not won a race in more than a decade.

But the former Ferrari and McLaren man is still considered as one of the brightest stars of the F1 field.

Last year, in his first season at Aston Martin, he helped to transform the British team from also-rans to frontrunners. He took eight podiums and finished fourth in the championship.

Although Aston Martin have not been able to maintain that form, there is hope that the next major regulation change in 2026, which will see them partner with Honda – the Japanese manufacturer that has powered Red Bull to its recent successes – will allow Alonso to compete at the sharp end of the grid once more.

Alonso continued: “We have achieved so many highs here in such a short space of time. It is probably unprecedented in Formula One.

“This is only the beginning of the journey, so it could not be the end for me and Aston Martin.”

Carlos Sainz is refusing to throw in the towel at such an early stage of the Formula One season – insisting he has “nothing to lose” in his last year at Ferrari.

After Max Verstappen led home a dominant Red Bull one-two in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said the Dutchman was uncatchable this year.

Having clinched the previous three drivers’ titles, Verstappen is once again the overwhelming favourite to claim the crown.

He has won three of the opening four races, with a brake failure causing him to retire early on at the Australian Grand Prix last month – where Sainz went on to take the chequered flag.

The Spaniard was back in action after missing the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix with appendicitis and, having finished third behind the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Sergio Perez at Suzuka, he was not ready to cede the fight.

In what will be the longest season in F1 history – there are still 20 races left with four having been run – Sainz is hopeful Ferrari can improve across the course of the year, although he also doubted if that would be enough to haul in Verstappen.

“I think they are definitely going to have an advantage in the first third of the season until we bring one or two upgrades that makes us fight them more consistently,” he said.

“By that time, maybe it’s a bit too late with the advantage that they might have on the championship. In the meantime, we need more Australias! Which I don’t see Red Bull, as a team, making these mistakes very often, no.

“It is a shame, because also I missed a race, which for both the team and me, it could be costly in the championship. We’re competing in one race less, but at the same time, we’re going to give it our best shot.

“It’s my last year in Ferrari also, so yeah, nothing to lose and we will try everything to make it back.”

Sainz has lost his seat to Lewis Hamilton from next year, the seven-time world champion moving across to partner Charles Leclerc from 2025 onwards.

Hamilton will be hoping to return to a competitive car, with Mercedes struggling for another season this time around.

The 39-year-old has amassed just 10 points so far – his worst-ever tally after the opening four races of a season.

Wolff labelled Hamilton’s first run on the hard tyres in Japan as “atrocious” and the Brit himself was bullish when asked if he could have improved on his ninth-placed finish.

“I don’t know what the different strategy would have been, whether if we stayed on the mediums to start with, but we still had two really terrible hard tyres to run through,” he said.

“It was a real challenge, I think I picked up a bit of damage at the beginning with Charles (Leclerc) when he came around the outside and I had huge understeer for the first stint.

“I couldn’t turn the car through any of the corners. That’s why I let (team-mate) George (Russell) through.

“The hard tyre was pretty bad, as I said, the medium tyre was much better. So for sure, in hindsight it looks like we should have had two (sets of) medium tyres but in general the car, it was just pretty bad.”

A return to China is next on the calendar, with the Shanghai International Circuit hosting its first grand prix since 2019 and with the first sprint race of the season also taking place.

Max Verstappen stormed to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix as his dominance in qualifying continued.

The world champion has locked out the first spot on the grid this season and there was no answer to his pace at Suzuka.

His time of one minute 28.197 beat Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez into second place by just 0.066 seconds, while McLaren’s Lando Norris was the best of the rest.

Verstappen’s run of pole positions now stretches back to the last race of last season and he is now toasting a third pole in Japan.

The Dutchman never looked like being beaten and was quickest across all three qualifying sessions – as well as Saturday morning’s final practice.

He is aiming to get back on track after retiring in Melbourne and the rest of the field will be concerned that he could drive off into the distance from the start.

“It was quite close at the end,” Verstappen said of his latest pole lap.

“Overall this track is sensitive with the tyres and when you want to go to the limit it doesn’t always work out but what is important is being on pole. Overall, a very good day, a good starting position tomorrow and of course tomorrow is what counts.

“It is great as a team to be P1 and P2, hopefully we can keep that going tomorrow.”

Carlos Sainz won in Australia last time out and will start Sunday’s race fourth for Ferrari, with the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso fifth.

Oscar Piastri was sixth-fastest in the second McLaren, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell down in seventh and ninth, respectively.

Charles Leclerc is sandwiched between the pair, with home favourite Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top 10.

Tsunoda scraped into the final session, eliminating RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the end of Q2 to the roar of the Suzuka crowd.

Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas, Alex Albon and Esteban Ocon also failed to make it through and will start 12-15th, respectively.

Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu were knocked out in Q1.

Max Verstappen set the pace in final practice ahead of qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The reigning world champion retired last time out in Australia but he was once again top of the timesheets at Suzuka.

His time of one minute 29.563 was unmatched, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez getting closest to the championship leader but still having to settle for a gap of 0.269 seconds.

Mercedes lost both cars at the previous race but looked in good shape here as George Russell went third fastest with Lewis Hamilton next in line.

There was plenty of running in the hour-long session after both of Friday’s practices were affected – one by a red flag and the other by rain.

Fernando Alonso was fifth fastest with Lando Norris’ McLaren sixth and Australia’s race winner Carlos Sainz seventh for Ferrari.

His team-mate Charles Leclerc was down in 10th and was left fuming with his garage after the mistimed his final run on the track, cutting short his chances of improving.

Both Williams drivers were able to run after Logan Sargeant’s car was fixed following a big shunt on Friday – although the American was down in 19th place.

Lewis Hamilton said the inconsistency of his Mercedes “messes with the mind” following his worst qualifying performance in Australia for 14 years.

Hamilton, who boasts a record eight pole positions at Melbourne’s Albert Park, will start Sunday’s 58-lap race from a disappointing 11th after he was eliminated in Q2.

Max Verstappen took pole – his third in as many races – as he bids to complete a record-equalling 10 victories, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz joining him on the front row.

Hamilton qualified eighth in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago, and ninth the week before in Bahrain.

He trails team-mate George Russell, who will line up in seventh on Sunday, 3-0 over one lap this season, and after finishing only seventh and ninth at the opening two rounds, he has scored just eight points to Russell’s 18 so far.

“The inconsistency in the car really messes with the mind,” said Hamilton, who had finished fourth in final practice, less than a tenth off the pace.

“There is a long list of things to fix. Our car is on a knife edge. In the afternoon the wind picks up and the car becomes unstable. But the others can pick their pace up in qualifying and I am not sure why.

“It didn’t feel the same in qualifying from practice even though we had lighter fuel. It is not a great feeling for everyone in the team but we will keep working away.”

Hamilton has not won a race since the penultimate fixture of the 2021 campaign in Saudi Arabia, 57 rounds ago.

Mercedes have adopted a different design philosophy this season, but Hamilton is low on confidence in the last Silver Arrows he will drive before he heads to Ferrari in 2025.

“It is three years in a row where I have had a similar feeling,” continued the seven-time world champion.

“There are spikes like this morning in practice where I think it can be good, and then it disappears.

“If we can make the car more consistent maybe we can be more competitive but there is a lot of work to do and everyone is pushing as hard as they can.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff pulled no punches with his assessment of his team’s performance.

“It’s especially underwhelming because we were within a tenth in final practice,” he said. “The conditions were a little bit different but there is no excuse.

“We have a car that is difficult, and as much as I am annoyed at myself for saying this for a long time, we just need to continue working on it and trying to get better.

“It is not because of a lack of trying that we are where we are, but it’s not good enough.”

At the sharp end of the grid, Verstappen’s third pole in as many races appeared under threat with Ferrari threatening to knock the all-conquering Dutchman off his perch.

But Verstappen upped the ante in front of a record Saturday crowd at a sun-cooked Albert Park of just shy of 131,000, to see off Sainz by 0.270 seconds.

After winning the last nine rounds, stretching back to his victory at September’s race in Japan, Verstappen heads into Sunday’s main event as the overwhelming favourite to take another triumph and match his own record.

“It was a bit unexpected today, but I am very happy with Q3,” said Verstappen. “Both of my laps felt nice and enjoyable. It has been a tricky weekend so far but we managed to be there at the end.”

Sainz, who had emergency surgery in Jeddah to remove his appendix just 15 days ago, added: “It has been a tough couple of weeks, a lot of days in bed, waiting to see if I would be here today, and to make it to this weekend and then to put it on the front row, I almost didn’t believe it.

“I was rusty yesterday but I got up to speed and found the pace and I feel good with the car. I am not going to lie, I am not in my most comfortable state when I am driving out there but I can get it done.”

Max Verstappen is on course to take a record-equalling 10 consecutive victories after putting his Red Bull on pole position for the Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s third pole in as many races appeared under threat with Ferrari threatening to knock the all-conquering Dutchman off his perch.

But Verstappen upped the ante in front of a record Saturday crowd at Melbourne’s Albert Park of just shy of 131,000, to see off Carlos Sainz, who missed the last round in Saudi Arabia with appendicitis, by 0.270 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton holds a record eight pole positions here, but the British driver was eliminated in Q2, leaving him a disappointing 11th on the grid – his lowest starting position in Melbourne for 14 years.

Hamilton failed to progress to Q3 after he finished 0.059 seconds behind George Russell in the other Mercedes.

Russell, who will start seventh, holds a 3-0 qualifying lead over Hamilton who will leave the Silver Arrows at the end of the season to join Ferrari.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez qualified third, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who aborted his last lap after he made a mistake.

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