George Russell secured Mercedes their first podium of the Formula One season at the Canadian Grand Prix, but felt his third-place finish was a missed opportunity.

The British driver was on pole for the first time since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2022 and led for the first 21 laps before being overtaken in quick succession by McLaren's Lando Norris and eventual winner, Max Verstappen. 

In a contest that saw the drivers endure difficult conditions and in which five cars failed to finish, Russell did manage to regain first place from his compatriot on lap 27 following the safety car being deployed, but again found himself chasing Norris after running wide. 

He dropped to fourth behind Oscar Piastri, but would reclaim a podium place with his fresh medium tyres for the closing laps, enough to get past the Australian and team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who were on the hard compounds.

Red Bull's Verstappen claimed his sixth victory of the season, extending his championship lead over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to 56 points after a weekend to forget for the Italian team. 

Speaking after the race, Russell believed he had the pace to catch the Dutchman before his coming together with Piastri, but enjoyed being back at the front of the pecking order despite admitting to a few mistakes. 

"It feels like a missed opportunity, to be honest," said Russell shortly after the conclusion of the race. "We were really quick at the beginning of the race on the inters, and then obviously Lando came through really fast.

"Then we got back on to the slicks, made a couple of mistakes out there just pushing the limits and paid the price for it.

"Nevertheless, first podium of the year and we truly had a really fast car this weekend and to be back in the mix fighting for victory was really fun.

"When we put the mediums on at the end we were really, really fast and I think that mistake with Oscar when I tried overtaking him and I lost the position to Lewis cost us at least P2 and maybe we could have fought with Max later in the race."

Max Verstappen beat Lando Norris to win a thrilling Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday, the lead changing hands on several occasions in wet conditions in Montreal.

Starting second on the grid behind George Russell, Verstappen was passed by Norris in the early stages but managed an expert restart after a safety-car period with 11 laps to go.

Norris took the lead on two separate occasions but was unable to hit back when Verstappen pulled two seconds clear late on, having to settle for his third second-place finish of the season.

An error-strewn performance saw Russell give up the lead and slip into a battle for third with Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton and Oscar Piastri.  

Contact between Russell and Piastri allowed Hamilton to surge into third place with five laps remaining, but Russell overtook his team-mate with a neat move at the final chicane on lap 68.

With Hamilton finishing fourth, both Mercedes drivers recorded their best finishes of the season thus far.

The Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso was sixth, while neither Ferrari managed to finish, Charles Leclerc retiring just past the halfway stage and Carlos Sainz following suit as he collided with Alex Albon's Williams.

Data Debrief: Sixty up for Verstappen

Verstappen's previous two victories in Montreal had come from pole position, but he had to fight his way past Russell and later Norris to make it three straight wins in Canada.

The victory was his 60th in Formula One overall, from 194 races. Among drivers who have achieved at least 25 wins, only Jim Clark (25 – 34.7 per cent) has a higher win ratio than the Dutchman's 30.9 per cent.

George Russell will not "sulk" after giving up sixth place to team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, where Mercedes failed to arrest their slide.

Hamilton and Russell finished sixth and seventh respectively as Max Verstappen held off a charging Lando Norris for his third successive victory at the Imola event.

Russell was ahead of Hamilton as his tyres began to wear late in the race, leading Mercedes to call him in for a pit stop and bring him out ahead of eighth-placed Sergio Perez.

That ensured Hamilton finished above his team-mate for a second straight race, having failed to top him in any of the first five races of 2024.

Russell refused to criticise the team's strategy after the race, though he lamented their continued struggles with their W15 car.

"You're never going to be happy with P6 and P7," Russell told Sky Sports.

"At the end of the day, as a team we scored an extra point. I lost my position to Lewis but I'm not going to sulk over losing a P6."

Asked to explain the decision, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: "[Russell's] lap times were getting slower and slower, and our forecast saw he was not going to make it to the end and we didn't want to lose the position to Perez.

"Lewis would have probably taken him anyway. The point being that we are racing for P6 and P7 and wanted to keep the Red Bull behind. It was a safety call."

Russell is currently seventh in the drivers' championship standings with Hamilton in eighth, with neither driver managing a podium finish so far this year.

McLaren have emerged as the foremost challengers to Red Bull and Ferrari in recent weeks, leaving Mercedes marooned in a disappointing fourth place in the team standings. 

"This is where we are right now, a little bit in no man's land behind the Ferraris and McLarens but ahead of the midfield," Russell said of their struggles.

"Everyone is still super motivated, the morale isn't dropping at all, which is quite inspiring to say. Everyone is trying to make this work and improve it."

Lewis Hamilton was delighted to see his former team McLaren back on top as Lando Norris claimed his first Formula One victory at the Miami Grand Prix on Sunday.

Norris raced from fifth on the grid to beat Max Verstappen by seven seconds at the Miami International Autodrome, becoming just the second driver – after Ferrari's Carlos Sainz – to overcome the three-time world champion this year.

Norris' victory made him the 21st British driver to win an F1 race but the first since George Russell took the honours at the 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix, while Russell's Mercedes team-mate Hamilton has not recorded a victory since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Hamilton won the first of his seven drivers' championships with McLaren in 2008, and he is pleased to see his former team challenging the dominance of Red Bull.

"I'm really happy for Lando," Hamilton told Sky Sports after the race. "I just told him he needs to stay tonight, he's got to change his flight home – he just won a race!

"It's a special moment to win your first Grand Prix. I started at McLaren and I'm really happy to see them back at the top. It's been a long time."

McLaren are third in the constructors' championship standings with 124 points through six races of the season, 63 behind Ferrari in second and 60 clear of fourth-placed Mercedes.

A gap of over 18 seconds separated the two Silver Arrows on Sunday as Russell finished eighth, two places behind Hamilton, and he was at a loss to explain his lack of pace.

"I don't think it caught us off guard. I just had no pace at all. It was just a lot worse than expected," Russell said.

"My race pace has been pretty strong this year but compared to Lewis I was nowhere. We need to check and see what happened and go from there.

"We lost even more points but as I said yesterday, we know where we are as a team. We're a long way from where we want to be."

Lewis Hamilton insisted he is “mentally very strong” after his worst qualifying in nearly seven years which was labelled a “disaster” and “unnecessary” by former rival Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton will line up in 18th position for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix after his troubled start to the new season took another desperate twist in Shanghai.

Earlier on Saturday, Hamilton rolled back the years to lead the sprint race for eight laps before he had to settle for second after he was overtaken by eventual winner Max Verstappen.

But four hours after a result Hamilton 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 over the radio. He finished eight tenths off the pace and half-a-second behind George Russell in the other Mercedes.

Hamilton last suffered such a lowly grid spot when he crashed out of qualifying in Brazil in 2017.

“That is seriously painful,” said Rosberg, who endured a fractious relationship with Hamilton as they duelled for the title.

The German, who eventually beat Hamilton to the championship in 2016 before retiring only days later, added in commentary for Sky Sports: “It was really unnecessary to push the limit and as a seven-time world champion that is a mistake which should be avoidable.

“He broke three metres too late, and he had the brake balance too far forward. He lost at least four tenths which easily would have put him in Q2. That’s a disaster.”

Aside from his strong showing in Saturday’s 19-lap dash to the chequered flag – assisted by his impressive display in Friday’s rain-hit qualifying session – 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 leaves him staring at another underwhelming race.

Addressing Rosberg’s remarks, Hamilton said: “It wasn’t one of my best qualifying laps. I don’t blame anything on the team.

“I’m very strong mentally. It’s not great, it’s not a mind-f*** at all. S*** happens, you know.

“Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong. This car is on a knife edge so it can easily do what we did.”

Mercedes are desperately out of sorts and far removed from the all-conquering team which carried Hamilton to six of his seven record-equalling titles.

Russell will be the lead car when the lights go out for Sunday’s 57-lap race. He qualified only eighth.

Over at Red Bull, it was business as usual as Verstappen followed up his convincing sprint win with a fifth straight pole.

The Dutchman, who is on course to take his fourth championship in as many seasons, saw off team-mate Sergio Perez as Red Bull secured a front-row lockout. It also marked the team’s 100th pole in F1.

Verstappen finished 0.322 seconds clear of Perez, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third, half-a-second back.

Lando Norris, who dropped from pole to finish a disappointing sixth in the sprint race, qualified fourth, one position ahead of Oscar Piastri in the other McLaren. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished sixth and seventh respectively for Ferrari.

Lando Norris has dismissed suggestions from dominant Red Bull duo Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez that they could struggle for pace in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen took pole position to continue his run of locking out the first spot on the grid so far this season, while Perez was just 0.066 seconds slower to secure his place on the front row.

Norris emerged from a pack of cars all running very similar times to take the place as best of the rest for McLaren on another Saturday where it was Red Bull who shone.

Despite a 27th qualifying one-two for the Red Bull team, both drivers were quick to point out they are not as happy with their longer race pace.

Having run with their race set-up in the final practice session ahead of qualifying, Verstappen complained: “So far, I haven’t been happy with my long runs. The pace wasn’t what I would have liked, so there’s a bit of a question mark going into tomorrow.

“Our race pace is still not too bad, but it’s not how I have been feeling in some of the races this year, last year, as comfortable, let’s say it like that.”

Perez, meanwhile, echoed the views of his team-mate: “Let’s see what we are able to do tomorrow,” he said.

“I don’t think we are looking great at the moment in our long run pace, but we’ve done some changes and hopefully that will translate into our race pace.”

However, Norris did not seem to buy the suggestions that Red Bull may have any sort of Sunday struggles.

“Obviously last year I was side by side with Max into turn one. So hopefully trying to redo that,” he said of his plans for the race.

“But it’s tricky. They’re quick. They complained about their race pace, but I don’t think they’ve had a bad race in the last four or five years, so I think they’re going to be good tomorrow.

“Of course we’ve got a lot of pressure from behind so we have to keep an eye on the mirrors. But at the same time I want to go forward and I think we have pace to stay where we are, so that’s my goal.

“That will be our target for tomorrow. But I think realistically, we’re still too far away to challenge them. They’re too quick for us. Yes, we are quicker in qualifying, but in the race, normally, they always pull away a bit more.

“So, I think we’ll be realistic. I’m always realistic when I say it. So I think our competition is with the guys behind and at the same time, I’ll do my best to push forward.”

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, while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are down in seventh and ninth respectively – with Mercedes later fined 5,000 euros for an unsafe pit-lane release of Russell.

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.

Lewis Hamilton may have only managed to qualify seventh for the Japanese Grand Prix but he insists his Mercedes has not felt better in three years.

The seven-time world champion will start from the fourth row at Suzuka, with team-mate George Russell in ninth.

While from the outside that would suggest Mercedes once again struggled with an underperforming car – like much of the past two years – Hamilton was in good spirits following Saturday’s qualifying.

Having lamented the gap to pole-sitter Max Verstappen over the team radio during the session, he had a more positive outlook in the aftermath.

“The car has been much nicer to drive this weekend… this is the nicest it has felt in three years,” he said.

“I think we did a really good job over the last week, just the analysis we’ve done at the factory to get the car into a sweet spot.

“This weekend it’s much more in the sweet spot and so I hope that continues in the following races. Then we’ve just got to add performance.

“I think we’ve got the car into a much nicer working window and so it’s been really enjoyable driving, it’s just the guys are just a little bit faster.”

Hamilton has amassed just eight points from the opening three races of the 2024 campaign and retired last time out in Australia.

The early signs are Mercedes face another year of chasing the fastest cars rather than challenging for victories – but the Briont, who will race for Ferrari from next year – feels things are starting to look up.

Asked if he believes Mercedes are now heading in the right direction, Hamilton replied: “I personally believe so.

“We were a second or just over a second off last year to the Red Bull and seven tenths is now better,” he added.

“I think what it’s giving us is I know exactly where the car is not strong enough, I can feel it in the car, and I know now to be tell them to ‘push in this particular area’. But I’m hoping the race will be stronger tomorrow.”

Mercedes were hit with a Euros5,000 (£4,290) fine for an unsafe pit lane release of Russell at the start of qualifying.

Russell will start the race from his lowest grid slot this season but he believes it will be a close battle with the cars in and around him.

“I think it’s just so tight out there between ourselves McLaren, Ferrari and Aston Martin,” he said.

“If you nail your lap you are up at the front of that pack, and if you don’t you will be at the back of that pack, we knew that this circuit was going to be a slight challenge for us. We know our limitation in the high-speed corners.”

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.

Toto Wolff made a U-turn on his decision not to attend the Japanese Grand Prix as it would have been the “wrong choice” given Mercedes recent troubles.

The Mercedes team boss was scheduled not to be at Suzuka this weekend and the PA news agency understands that was planned before the start of the new season and not as a result of the team’s poor performance at the Australian Grand Prix.

Neither Lewis Hamilton nor George Russell finished the race in Melbourne, with Russell’s fifth-placed finish in the season-opener in Bahrain the best result for the team so far this year.

Having dominated the sport between 2014 and 2021, Mercedes have struggled since new regulations arrived the following year and have won just one race in that time.

Wolff changed his mind on attending the race in Suzuka – where Russell and Hamilton finished fourth and fifth in first practice before a rain-affected second session – and explained the call on Friday afternoon.

“I had planned not to come to Japan, because there’s so much on back in Europe, things to do,” he said.

“But then I felt not coming to Japan was the wrong choice. I think it’s important to be with the race team…it does me good also, to be close to the action.

“We’re experimenting with a few things and then being part of the team really gives me energy and I hope the other way around, too. So that’s why I decided against staying in Europe.”

Speaking on Thursday, Hamilton was asked about the tough times of both drivers not crossing the finish line last time out.

“I think it’s all about perspective. I think for us of course we’ve not started the season where we wanted to be,” he said.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve seen in the past – last year for example – how things can switch with certain teams.

“I think we’ve just got to learn as much as we can, take as much as we can from the data, remain positive, continue to work hard and I always say it’s not how you fall, it’s how you get up.

“We will just continue to chase and fight and hope we can be fighting at the front at some stage.”

Wolff, too, was keen to be optimistic when asked about the struggles of the season so far.

“We are a sports team, we’ve won eight times in a row, and that hasn’t been done before. But you have periods where you struggle, like any other sports team, and you can’t win every time.

“That’s why this is a super challenge and it’s not a race, it’s not one single season, and then you come back out on top, but it’s the third one in a row.

“But I remain absolutely convinced that we will be looking back in a few years and saying that was so tough, but so important for the development of the team.”

Hamilton, who has won six of Mercedes’ seven consecutive drivers’ championships, is leaving to join Ferrari next season.

He has tipped Sebastian Vettel as an “amazing option” to take his seat at Mercedes after the four-time world champion revealed he has been considering returning to F1 after leaving in 2022.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Vettel admitted he has been talking to Wolff – who was full of praise for the former Red Bull and Ferrari man, before confirming he has whittled down the options for 2025 to two or three drivers.

“Sebastian is someone you can never discount,” he said.

“His track record is phenomenal, and sometimes maybe taking a break is also good to evaluate what’s important for you and re-find your motivation.

“We haven’t taken the decision yet and it is not something we plan to do in the next few weeks, the driver market is very dynamic and some of the really good guys are about so sign for the other teams.”

George Russell believes it would have “opened a can of worms” if Fernando Alonso had not been hit with a hefty penalty following the Mercedes driver’s dramatic late crash at the Australian Grand Prix.

Alonso was handed a 20-second time penalty after Russell’s car ended up on its side having rebounded off the wall in his pursuit of the double world champion in the closing stages in Melbourne two weeks ago.

Following a post-race investigation, Alonso was found to have breached Article 33.4 of the sport’s regulations – effectively finding the Aston Martin racer guilty of driving erratically and in a manner that could be deemed as dangerous.

Speaking ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, Russell revealed the pair had bumped into one another in a coffee shop recently but did not discuss the issue – Alonso jokingly said: “I didn’t get my coffee, that was the least that could have happened.”

Russell, though, did double down on his criticism of Alonso’s driving in Australia, and felt the Spaniard overstepped the mark of fair racing.

“I think it was a bit of a strange situation that happened – I said at the time, I was totally caught by surprise,” he said.

“If it were not to have been penalised it would have opened a can of worms for the rest of the season and in junior categories saying you are allowed to brake in a straight.

“Every driver is open to change a line, break earlier, power through the corner, do whatever. But when we start breaking in the middle of a straight, down-shift and accelerating, up-shifting again, then breaking again for a corner. I think that goes beyond the realms of adjusting your line.

“We’ve got so many duties to take care of when we’re driving… if you add into the mix that you’re allowed to break in the middle of a straight to get a tactical advantage. I think that is maybe one step too far.”

Alonso, meanwhile, continued to defend his actions and said there would have not even been a topic of debate on his driving style had Russell not ended up in the wall.

Asked if the incident would have been been forgotten had there not been an accident, he replied: “Oh 100 per cent.

“I was a bit surprised by the penalty in Melbourne but there’s nothing we can do, we have to accept it and move on and concentrate on here, but I think it will not change much on how we drive, how we approach racing.

“There is no obligation to drive 57 laps in the same way. Sometimes we go at a slower pace, to save fuel, to save tyres, to save battery.

“So all those things are completely normal and it was, it is and it will be forever in motorsport. So we had one penalty, probably a one-off that will never be applied ever again.”

Where the pair – as well as a host of other drivers – did agree was on the need to address what has become a dangerous corner on the Albert Park track.

“We lost two points or whatever it was for the team but I think the big thing is turn six in Australia is not the safest corner at the moment on that track. That’s probably for me a more important point to change for next year,” said Alonso.

Russell was in agreement, adding: “The corner is amazing, probably one of the best corners on that circuit. So I wouldn’t want to see that corner change. But it is true. If you hit that wall, you just bounce back into the track. I think everything is correct, just the position of that wall.”

Guenther Steiner has warned Red Bull their dominance of Formula One will end just as Mercedes’ did.

Red Bull have won the last three constructors’ championships with Max Verstappen completing a hat-trick of drivers’ titles, in the process breaking the strangleholds imposed by Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton in previous years.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton has endured a miserable start to the new season with his car lasting just 17 laps of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix as team-mate George Russell crashed out to leave the Brackley and Brixworth-based team 71 points adrift of Red Bull after just three races and pile the pressure on boss Toto Wolff.

But asked about their difficulties, former Haas team principal Steiner said: “Obviously they are struggling a little bit at the moment. For me, they are a good team, I think they’re a good team. It’s just like it’s competition.

“Mercedes was dominating for a long time and you cannot always be dominating, you shouldn’t expect that. Now we say Red Bull is dominating – it will come to an end, like Mercedes came to an end.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Mercedes is not doing well’ – Mercedes is still in the top four at the moment or top five, they just need to do a little bit better. But it’s how competitive this sport is and you cannot take anything for granted.

“Obviously Toto would love to dominate the sport forever, but nothing is forever. I think it’s good for the sport and shows also how quickly it goes up and down.

“Mercedes is still doing OK, they’re still scoring points. Sometimes you forget there are 10 teams and not only three which are allowed to win. I think all 10 should be allowed to win and those are the things you learn when you are outside of the sport like I am now.”

Hamilton, who is in the midst of his worst start to a campaign, will join Ferrari ahead of the 2025 campaign, leaving a huge gap to plug.

Steiner, speaking after being announced as an ambassador for May’s Miami Grand Prix, was asked if Carlos Sainz – winner in Australia just 16 days after undergoing surgery for appendicitis – would be at the top of his list if he was in charge at Red Bull or Mercedes.

He replied: “Toto has no urgency to sign anybody because everybody is waiting until that seat is filled, but I’m sure a lot of people are speaking to Carlos at the moment.”

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.

Teenager Ollie Bearman celebrated becoming the youngest British driver in Formula One history by qualifying 11th in his Ferrari for Saturday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Bearman, 18 years and 10 months to the day, was thrown into the deepest of ends as a last-minute stand-in for Carlos Sainz, who was hospitalised with appendicitis.

But the Essex teenager, with just one hour of practice under his belt, and having never driven an F1 machine at night, came within 0.036 seconds of toppling Lewis Hamilton and progressing to Q3.

Max Verstappen put Red Bull’s continued off-track woes to one side by taking pole position, with Charles Leclerc second, three tenths back, and Sergio Perez third.

Fernando Alonso took fourth, with George Russell and Hamilton seventh and eighth respectively for Mercedes. Hamilton was nearly one second slower than Verstappen.

Probably to Christian Horner’s relief, all eyes were off Red Bull and on Ferrari as Bearman followed in the footsteps of Britain’s first F1 champion Mike Hawthorn, and John Surtees – the only man to win a world title on two and four wheels.

He is the 12th British driver to race for Ferrari – and the first Englishman since Nigel Mansell in 1990. Lewis Hamilton will become the 13th next year.

Bearman was just 18 months old when Hamilton made his debut in 2007, and was not even born when Fernando Alonso entered his first F1 race.

But here in Jeddah on Friday, Bearman took to the same asphalt as the men who share nine world championships between them. And, remarkably, he came within a hair’s breadth of beating Hamilton.

Forced to abort his first run in Q2, Bearman returned to the track and hauled his Ferrari into 11th. He needed to be 10th to make it into Q3.

With the clock ticking down, Bearman geared up for his final run, and rode his Ferrari on rails in a valiant attempt to force his way through. His father David, the millionaire founder and CEO of the (re)insurance Aventum Group, was living every minute of his teenage son’s adventure at the back of the Ferrari garage.

Hamilton, failing to improve, afforded Bearman, 21 years the Mercedes’ man’ junior, a chance to beat him, only to come up agonisingly short. The Ferrari junior finished less than six tenths behind Leclerc – a commendable effort – in the other scarlet machine.

“That was a messy session,” said Bearman over the radio. “Sorry about that.”

Raised in Chelmsford, and schooled at King Edward VI Grammar, Bearman joined Ferrari’s driver academy, aged only 16, after he won both the German and Italian Formula Four championships.

He quit school – despite initial resistance from his mother, Terri – left the family home in Chelmsford and moved to Modena, a dozen miles north of Ferrari’s headquarters in northern Italy.

Following four victories in his rookie Formula Two season – the feeder series to F1 – Bearman was thrust into the spotlight in Mexico City last October, eclipsing Lando Norris as the sport’s youngest Brit to take part in a practice session.

And, on Saturday, he will surpass Norris, who was 19 years, four months and four days when he made his debut in Australia in 2019, as the youngest British driver to start a Grand Prix.

Norris will line up in sixth for Saturday’s 50-lap race, and although the unstoppable Verstappen took his second pole in as many races, the night belonged to Bearman.

Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team were fined nearly £13,000 – and the British driver was slapped with a warning – following a near “serious high-speed crash” in practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Williams driver Logan Sargeant was forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting the back of Hamilton’s slow-moving Mercedes.

Formula One’s stewards said Mercedes should have informed Hamilton that Sargeant was approaching him on a quick lap. The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is the fastest street track on the F1 calendar.

Carlos Sainz, who Hamilton will replace at Ferrari next year and who witnessed the incident, said over the radio: “What Hamilton did there is super dangerous.

“He was in the middle (of the track). He could have got out of the way. Sargeant nearly crashed because of him.”

Hamilton, who finished eighth in practice, six places behind team-mate George Russell – and 0.677 seconds adrift of fastest driver Fernando Alonso – was summoned to see the stewards.

A report from the governing FIA read: “The stewards heard from the driver of Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton), the driver of Car 2 (Logan Sargeant), team representatives and reviewed positioning/marshalling system data, video, team radio and in-car video evidence and determine that Car 44 impeded Car 2 at Turn 11.

“As a result, Car 2 had to take evasive action by going off the track to avoid a collision. Had that not been done, there would have been a serious, high-speed crash.

“Having listened to the team radio, it was clear to us that the team of Car 44 failed to warn their driver of the fact that Car 2 was arriving on a fast lap. That was a serious failure on the part of the team, particularly given the speeds on this circuit and the nature of Turn 11, which is at the end of a series of high speed corners where driver visibility is impaired.

“We therefore issue a warning to the driver and impose a fine of 15,000 euros (£12,818) to the team.”

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