Charles Leclerc acknowledged he was "too greedy and paid the price" as he span out from third and finished sixth at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

Despite qualifying second behind Max Verstappen following Saturday's sprint race, Leclerc slid down to fourth on the opening lap as Sergio Perez and Lando Norris found a way past him. 

Although he was able to overtake Norris, Perez's exemplary defence kept him at bay and he was unable to get close enough when the track was finally deemed dry enough for DRS to be enabled. 

With the front two out of reach, Leclerc opted to switch to soft tyres and chase the fastest lap to deny Verstappen the additional point. 

However, an error at the Variante Alta saw him hit the barriers and forced him to pit again. 

Leclerc was ninth when he returned to the track but managed to climb back up to sixth, meaning his championship lead was cut from 45 points to 27. 

"It's a big shame. Whatever happened before the spin, these are details and it's part of racing. The spin shouldn't have happened today," Leclerc said on Sky Sports. 

"P3 was the best I could do. We didn't have the pace for much more and I was too greedy and paid the price for it and lost potential seven potential points compared to the third place I was in. It is a shame, it's seven points that will for sure be valuable at the end of the campaign, but this shouldn't happen again. 

"For sure, Red Bull seem to be more competitive than the first three races. We had the upper hand in Bahrain and Australia, then they had it here and in Jeddah. 

"It is very, very close and I think it will be that way for the rest of the season. It's a big mistake but the consequence considering the mistake could've been much bigger. It's only seven points today but it could cost more the next time, so I need to be careful." 

Ferrari got zero points through Carlos Sainz, who got stuck in the gravel following contact with Daniel Ricciardo at the first chicane on the opening lap. 

Sainz said: "It was very bad, definitely. A tough moment. 

"It's not at all the way I wanted to go out in front of the fans. Turn two can be bad, but there are always these tough moments in the life of the sportsman and you have to go through them. 

"As long as I keep working hard, the good times will come." 

Lewis Hamilton scotched any suggestion he might still challenge for the Formula One drivers' title after an Imola nightmare on Sunday. 

The seven-time champion placed 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and was lapped by race winner Max Verstappen, leaving him a distant seventh in the 2022 standings after four races. 

Hamilton's former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg questioned team principal Toto Wolff's assertion that it was the car, rather than the driver, that had been the dominant factor in the British star struggling. 

Given Hamilton's team-mate George Russell finished a creditable fourth, Rosberg believes Wolff chose his words carefully in an effort to gee up his lead driver. 

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hamilton said it had been "a weekend to forget, that's for sure". 

When asked about title prospects and the possibility of fighting his way back into contention, Hamilton said: "I am out of the championship, for sure. There's no question about that. But I will still keep working as hard as I can and try and somehow pull it back together somehow." 

Rosberg raced for Mercedes from 2010 to 2016, pipping Hamilton to the title in his final year with the team before driving off into retirement. 

Wolff described the Mercedes as "undriveable" as he spoke to Hamilton over team radio at the end of Sunday's race in Italy, saying it was not fit for a world champion. 

But Rosberg, also speaking to Sky Sports, believes that was a case of clever politics from the Mercedes team chief. 

"Here, Toto was playing the mental game which is very smart on his behalf again, taking the blame themselves and really trying to support Lewis mentally. Lifting him up and saying that it wasn't Lewis' doing, it's on us," Rosberg said. 

"It's very smart because it's not quite the truth and let's not forget that Russell is in P4 with that same car, so Lewis definitely had a big role to play in that poor result this weekend." 

Rosberg believes there was "more in that car" than Hamilton has been able to find. 

He added: "It's so important that Lewis keeps that motivation through the whole season, it's important for the team and it's quite easy for Lewis to lose it in these kinds of situations." 

Max Verstappen felt Red Bull "were on it" at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and thoroughly deserved their one-two. 

Reigning Formula One champion Verstappen started on pole after winning Saturday's sprint race and he took maximum points at Imola by winning and setting the fastest lap. 

He cut Charles Leclerc's championship lead from 45 points to 27. The Ferrari driver span out from third when trying to take the bonus point from Verstappen and ended up finishing sixth. 

That opened the door for Lando Norris to finish third, with Sergio Perez making it a first one-two for Red Bull since Malaysia in 2016. 

"It's always tough to achieve something like that but already yesterday and the day before, we were on it and it was looking like a strong weekend," said Verstappen. 

"Today, you never know with the weather how competitive you are going to be, but I think we did very well and this one-two is very deserved. 

"The start was very important but afterwards, judging the conditions and when to swap to the slick tyres, because in the lead you have to always dictate the pace, and it's always a bit more difficult initially, but everything was well managed." 

Perez defended brilliantly to keep Leclerc at bay after getting past him on the opening lap, though he was lucky DRS was not enabled until after he took a trip across the grass and gave the Ferrari a chance to close the gap.

"It was really intense! The fight since halfway through the race we were fighting, then it was all under control but then they start chasing us again with the stop and it was the fight again to warm up the tyres," said Perez. 

"The most important thing today is to not make mistakes, because with these conditions it was so tricky out there. To get a one-two in these conditions, I think it is a great result for the team. We've been so unlucky at the start. It's been so difficult for us. 

"I am very pleased to see everyone in my team smiling today." 

Norris said: "It was an amazing race. An amazing weekend.  

"I'm happy, the team deserves it. From where we were in race one to now scoring a podium, top job by the team. It's just hard work [from the team]. A lot of time of effort back in the factory and here at Imola. 

"It was a mixture of tricky conditions, but we've been able to capitalise on that as well. But I love these conditions, so I always do quite well. Just a mixture of hard work and a great weekend and it all pays off." 

Lewis Hamilton received an apology from Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff after finishing a sorry 13th in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola.

Seven-time Formula One king Hamilton was told by Wolff his car had been "undriveable", and "not worthy for a world champion".

Wolff also said it had been "a terrible race" for the team. That was despite George Russell faring rather better than team-mate Hamilton, coming home in fourth position to collect points.

Hamilton wound up empty-handed and sits seventh in the championship with 28 points from the first four races of the season, already 21 points behind Russell and 58 adrift of leader Charles Leclerc.

To boot on Sunday, there was the embarrassment of Hamilton being lapped by Max Verstappen on lap 40, a sign of the times in their rivalry.

In an exchange over team radio at the end of the race, Silver Arrows team principal Wolff told Hamilton: "Sorry for what you have needed to drive today.

"I know this is undriveable and not what we deserve to score as a result. So we will move from there, but this was a terrible race."

Hamilton replied: "Yeah, no worries, Toto. Let's keep working hard."

Mercedes face a major challenge to match the pace of the Ferrari and Red Bull cars this season, with the next race a fortnight away in Miami.

"We will come out of this," Wolff said.

Speaking later to Sky Sports, Wolff said it had been a "really bad" result for Hamilton.

"He got squeezed by the Alpine, the other two cars undercut and there's just no overtaking when you're in a DRS train," Wolff said.

"We saw from George what the car can do in free air, but we are not good enough for a world champion, not worthy for a world champion. We just need to fix the car.

"I think we are going to look at things for Miami. I think we can make a step in the understanding of the car. It's another day, we just really need to understand more and bring development to the car which will fix the bouncing."

Max Verstappen surged to victory in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and gained ground on Charles Leclerc, who had a costly late spin. 

Having given up on catching race leader Verstappen, Leclerc pitted from third for soft tyres in a bid to take the extra point for the fastest lap away from the Dutchman. 

However, the Ferrari driver lost control at the Variante Alta and sustained damage that forced him to pit again – enabling Lando Norris to take third. 

Leclerc dropped to ninth but recovered to sixth as his championship lead was cut by 18 points, with Sergio Perez making it a Red Bull one-two. 

Verstappen started on pole following his success in Saturday's sprint race and he never surrendered that position, though Leclerc slid down from second to fourth on a wet opening lap. 

The safety car was deployed after Carlos Sainz span out following contact with Daniel Ricciardo, who was nudged from behind by Valtteri Bottas at the Variante Tamburello. 

Leclerc got past Lando Norris on lap eight but was already six seconds adrift of Verstappen, with the Dutchman only building on his lead after changing for slick tyres on lap 20. 

Perez, who quickly regained second after losing out to Leclerc in the pits, produced some excellent defence to keep the Ferrari at bay despite a trip across the grass before DRS was belatedly enabled just after the halfway point. 

Leclerc set the fastest lap but ended up losing track position when he span into the barriers on lap 53, with Verstappen taking the extra point after changing to soft tyres. 

A frustrated Lewis Hamilton said "each weekend is a rescue" after Mercedes' dismal start to the Formula One season continued with a disappointing qualifying session ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Hamilton finished 13th during an incident-strewn, weather-affected afternoon at Imola on Friday, missing out on Q1.

Mercedes team-mate George Russell, meanwhile, will be in 11th for Saturday's sprint race, which Max Verstappen will start at the front of the grid.

It is the first time Mercedes have had both cars fail to progress from Q2 since the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix.

They were unfortunate, with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz crashing as rain started to fall to end the session prematurely, though it seemed unlikely the Silver Arrows would have made it into Q3 regardless.

Mercedes sit second in the constructors' standings after the opening three races of the season but are 39 points adrift of leaders Ferrari, whose championship-leading Charles Leclerc will start alongside Verstappen on the front row on Saturday.

Red Bull, meanwhile, are just 10 points behind Mercedes, and Hamilton lamented a difficult day on the track.

"It wasn't a great session," the seven-time world champion told Sky Sports. "Came here with optimism and everyone is working hard at the factory, but it is disappointing.

"I think we underperformed as a team today. There are things we should have done, but we didn't. We will work as hard as we can to move up in the sprint race.

"We will just keep working. It is what it is. Each weekend is a rescue."

Reigning champion Verstappen, meanwhile, secured his first pole position of the season, albeit he needs to maintain that in the sprint race to start at the front on Sunday.

He said: "It was tricky out there with the dry/rain. It was very slippery. It was hectic, a long qualifying but of course in the end happy to be here. It is an amazing track and it really punishes you if you make a mistake.

"I am really pleased with pole. It will be different weather at the weekend but a good start.

"Our first three races didn't go to plan, but we will try to have a good weekend here."

Lando Norris spun into the barriers to end Q3 – and the session as a whole – early, but the McLaren driver will start in third place on Saturday.

"I am happy I am top three which is quite a surprise for us," Norris said. "There was a chance at least for us to go forwards even more. The car was feeling good and I was feeling confident. A shame it ended like that, but I am happy.

Leclerc, meanwhile, rued making an error in Q3 as he had to settle for second.

"It was very tricky, especially on the slicks. There were quite a lot of wet patches, and it was all about putting the laps in and waiting for Q3 to put it together," Leclerc explained. "It is frustrating because when it counts in Q3 I made the wrong choice."

Lewis Hamilton remains staunch in his stance against the FIA's jewellery ban, with the seven-time world champion insisting "you should be able to be who you are".

New race director Niels Wittich, who replaced Michael Masi at the start of the season, informed Formula One drivers that the ruling on accessories would be reinforced before the Australian Grand Prix.

Wittich suggested "body piercing or metal neck chains" were forbidden, with checks to be undertaken before races, but Hamilton still competed on Sunday with piercings in both ears and a nose stud.

The 37-year-old could, in theory, be penalised both financially and in terms of points for breaking the sporting code, with F1's race director insisting the rules were to prevent injury for the driver.

However, Hamilton – who finished fourth in Melbourne, one place behind Mercedes team-mate George Russell – does not intend on removing his jewellery.

"I don't have any plans on removing them," he said. "I feel they are personal things. You should be able to be who you are. There's stuff that I can't move.

"I literally can't take these out [gesturing to piercings on his right ear]. They're literally welded on so I'd have to get them chopped off or something. So they'll be staying.

"It's been the rule forever. Since I've been here it's been the rule, so there's nothing new. I'm just going to come with more jewellery next week."

The jewellery ban has been in place since 2004, but Wittich made a special effort to stress the rule was back into strong consideration in his pre-race notes in Melbourne.

While Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff praised the work of the new race director thus far, he questioned whether Wittich needed to pick a problem with what he sees as a minute issue.

"How he has run the first few races has been respectful, solid and he hasn't put a single foot wrong," Wolff said, as reported by PA Media.

"But is that [jewellery ban] a battle he needs to have at this stage? However, if it turns out to be the biggest unfortunate misstep of a race director, I would take it a thousand times over."

Record crowds at this weekend's Australian Grand Prix might have been welcome to organisers, but drivers on the Formula One grid have expressed concern on where it currently sits on the calendar.

Before a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Albert Park circuit traditionally hosted the first race of the season, since the Australian GP's move to Melbourne from Adelaide in 1996.

With pre-season testing in Bahrain leading into the season-opener at the Sakhir circuit for the 2021 and 2022 season, however, Melbourne's traditional status has been rendered impractical.

While the crowds underlined the appetite for F1 in the region, the drivers were cool on the Australian GP's scheduling as a standalone week, before the series continues in Italy.

"It works well at the moment because we are doing the winter testing in Bahrain, it makes sense to stay there," Red Bull's Sergio Perez said. "Just coming to Australia for a single race is quite painful for everyone.

"We all want to come here, but there are ways we can improve and in fairness to F1, Australia hasn't been on the calendar for the last [two] years. I'm sure that going forward they can have a look at it."

While Mercedes' George Russell said the previous scheduling at Albert Park was "cool", the back-to-back arrangement with Bahrain requires a rethink for Australia.

"I think Melbourne here as the season opener was really cool because everybody came up here early and there was a lot of excitement and anticipation," he said.

"But I think having Melbourne in between races, especially as a stand-alone is too tough for the teams and everybody."

Before the Australian GP moved to Melbourne, Adelaide traditionally held the final race of the Formula One calendar, circumventing these logistical issues.

If Bahrain was to retain the opening of the season, Russell believes pairing Melbourne with other Asian races is a possible solution.

"If it is geographically correct…we are happy for it to be at any point of the season," he said. "We obviously race very far east with Japan and Singapore, China obviously not this year, but it is on the calendar from next year onwards.

"I just think there is a better compromise to be had. I know there is a huge amount of limitations involved."

George Russell said the Formula One championship will be decided by results rather than pace after clinching his first podium finish for Mercedes at the Australian Grand Prix.

Russell finished third in Melbourne, with team-mate Lewis Hamilton coming home fourth as the team responded to a disappointing result in Saudi Arabia, where Russell and Hamilton came fifth and 10th respectively. 

Mercedes, who are bidding for a ninth consecutive constructors' championship, have struggled for pace early in the new campaign, but profited from Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz both failing to finish as they picked up valuable points at Albert Park. 

Having earned 65 points in the opening weeks of the season, second-placed Mercedes trail Ferrari by 39 points in the constructors' standings, and Russell highlighted the importance of being able to capitalise on others' mistakes in order to grab vital points.

The 24-year-old also, however, stressed the need for Mercedes to make improvements after team-mate Lewis Hamilton again spoke out regarding problems with the team's W13 car.

"It doesn't matter how fast the car is, if you don't make it to the end then you are not there to pick up the pieces," Russell said.

"We were probably the fifth-fastest team behind McLaren and Alpine yet here we are in third place.

"It is a championship based on results not pace.

"But we know if we want to keep that position, we need to find more performance in the car."

Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes must "leave no stone unturned" in their quest for improvements after he battled to a fourth-place finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion has endured a frustrating start to the 2022 campaign, sitting fifth in the drivers' championship standings and repeatedly speaking out on problems with the team's W13 car.

Hamilton batlled to fourth in the third Grand Prix of the season after starting fifth on the grid, with team-mate George Russell claiming his first podium finish for Mercedes in third as Ferrari's Charles Leclerc stormed to victory.

After describing Mercedes' car as "spiteful" in the aftermath of qualifying in Melbourne, Hamilton stressed the need for the team to make improvements in "every single area" if they are to compete with early-season pace-setters Ferrari.

"I will be on Zoom calls with our bosses, really trying to rally them up," he said.

"We have got some improvements that we need to make, and we need everyone's support in doing so.

"It is about making sure we leave no stone unturned, that the hunger is there, and we are maximising every moment.

"I will be chasing the people in the wind tunnel, the aerodynamic guys, and just looking at every single area.

"There is performance to be gained and we need it now, not in two or three races. I have got to keep that encouragement and energy high."

Mercedes are bidding for a ninth consecutive constructors' championship, but trail Ferrari by 39 points in the 2022 standings after three races.

While calling for improvements across the board and noting that the gap to Ferrari is "pretty big", Hamilton stressed the need for the team to remain upbeat and highlighted that there are many races to come.

"I prefer to stay optimistic," he added. "There are 20 races to go. 

"I am really hoping we can get in the fight, but with every bit of improvement we make so will Red Bull and Ferrari. 

"It is not going to be easy. The gap is pretty big right now, but there is a long way to go."

Russell, meanwhile, is second in the drivers' standings after following up his fourth and fifth-place finishes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with an impressive showing at Albert Park, and Hamilton was keen to praise the 24-year-old for his performances since making the switch from Williams.

"It is incredible," Hamilton said of the start Russell has made to his Mercedes career.

"He has been so solid. He is really grafting away and is doing an amazing job."

The next date in the Formula One calendar will see Hamilton bid for a repeat of his 2020 triumph at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, after he finished second to Max Verstappen at Imola last year.

Max Verstappen says Red Bull are "already miles behind" after the reigning world champion suffered a second DNF of the 2022 Formula One season at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Dutchman had sat second throughout the race at Albert Park and had closed the gap on eventual race winner and championship rival Charles Leclerc amid a safety car deployment.

But a mechanical failure saw him forced to retire once again after he also failed to see out the season opener in Bahrain, with the Ferrari of Leclerc leading home from Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez and Mercedes' George Russell.

It is the second time in three races Verstappen has been blighted by problems beyond his control, and he bemoaned that he cannot think about defending his crown right now.

"We're already miles behind," he stated. "I don't want to think about the title fight, I just want to finish races.

"It's frustrating and unacceptable. These kinds of things if you want to fight for the title cannot happen."

Team principal Christian Horner voiced his own disappointment to Sky Sports afterwards too, adding: "We don't know what the issue is yet. I don't think it is engine related.

"I think it might be a fuel issue but we need to get the car back and look at exactly what has happened.

"[It's] desperately frustrating. We didn't have the pace to race Charles today. They were in a league of their own but frustrating not to bag those points."

One beneficiary of Verstappen's exit was Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, with the seven-time world champion completing a second-row lockout for the Silver Arrows after his struggles this year.

"We definitely didn't expect to be third and fourth," the Briton added to Sky Sports. "George did a great job today. We'll take these points and keep pushing.

"I couldn't fight for third as the engine kept overheating. I had to back off. We bagged as many points as we could for the team and that's great."

Charles Leclerc saluted his team's work across the Australian Grand Prix, as the Ferrari driver claimed his second win of the 2022 Formula One season in Melbourne.

The Monegasque led from pole throughout to claim victory in the third race of the year, driving a masterfully composed race out in front at Albert Park.

With presumptive title rival Max Verstappen forced into a DNF behind him with another mechanical failure, Leclerc has now opened up a 46-point gap on the reigning world champion.

Even before then, Leclerc had looked comfortable in the lead, and he was quick to pay tribute to his crew back in the Ferrari garage for helping him take his game up a level.

"It's the first win where we have controlled the gap," he stated. "Honestly, what a car today. Of course, I did a good job all weekend, but it was not possible without the car.

"Especially in the race pace, we were extremely strong. [The] tyres felt great - from the first lap to the last lap, we were managing the tyres extremely well. I am just so happy."

Leclerc was forced to navigate both physical and virtual safety car restarts throughout, and almost lost his place to Verstappen when the former came in midway through the race.

"It was very difficult, especially the safety car restart," he added. "I thought it was going to be difficult to keep the first position, but then we managed to do so.

"We are only in the third race, so it is difficult to think about the championship, but we have a very strong car, a very reliable car.

"That makes me smile after the last two years, which have been difficult for the team and myself, so it is great to be back in this position."

Red Bull's Sergio Perez came home second to capitalise on team-mate Verstappen's latest car woes, and the Mexican was muted on the missed chance to lock out the rest of the podium.

"That race was a bit tricky," he added. "We were a bit unlucky losing positions with the safety cars which we recovered later. It would've been great to have a double podium, but we lost Max."

Mercedes' George Russell was the biggest beneficiary of both the safety car and Verstappen's withdrawal, with the Briton edging team-mate Lewis Hamilton for his first podium of the year.

"We have got to be in it to win it and capitalise on others' misfortune," he added. "Obviously we got lucky today twice, but you have got to take it.

"We are never to give up. We have got to keep fighting. This weekend we were a long way behind our rivals but here we are standing on the podium."

Charles Leclerc extended his championship lead by winning the Australian Grand Prix and Max Verstappen retired for the second time in three races on Sunday.

Ferrari driver Leclerc led from start to finish at Albert Park to secure his second victory of the season, with Sergio Perez finishing second and George Russell third.

World champion Verstappen pulled over on lap 39 of 58, while Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz - who started the day second in the driver standings - spun off early in the race after starting back in ninth spot.

Leclerc got off to a good start and Lewis Hamilton moved up from fifth to third behind world champion Verstappen.

The safety car was deployed when Sainz found himself in the gravel after losing control on lap three, with Leclerc extending his advantage as Perez used the DRS to overtake Hamilton.

Verstappen pitted for hard tyres on lap 19 and the safety car was out again when Sebastian Vettel retired, giving Russell the opportunity to pit and remain in third place.

Leclerc fended off Verstappen when the race restarted and that was as close as the Dutchman came to taking the lead before he pulled over due to another issue with his Red Bull.

Monegasque Leclerc was untroubled, easing to a second win in three races and put the icing on the cake by clocking the fastest lap.

Leclerc finished over 20 seconds ahead of Perez, with Russell securing a podium spot and Hamilton crossing the line in fourth spot.

Lewis Hamilton described the temperament of his Mercedes as that of "a viper, or a rattlesnake" after qualifying fifth for the Australian Grand Prix.

The seven-time Formula One champion recognised a significant shift in performance as he finished just ahead of team-mate George Russell, with both Mercedes cars starting on the third row for Sunday's race.

That is a welcome boost to the team, after Hamilton was eliminated in Q1 last time out in Saudi Arabia.

This time, both cars safely made it through to the third round of qualifying, and Hamilton said it was "nice to be back up there" as he and Mercedes looks to challenge early-season pace-setters Ferrari.

"Jeddah was really, really, really tough, to be so far back and not really be able to make progress," Hamilton said.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hamilton said the Mercedes team had worked through the night in an effort to draw the best possible lap from the car.

And he claimed there could be better still to come, but the danger lies in pushing too hard.

"I feel like with my lap today there was a little bit more in the car," Hamilton said. "I'm naturally also gutted I wasn't able to extract that little bit.

"But the problem is when you push that car a little bit more, she's quite spiteful. She's like a viper, or like a rattlesnake, you never know."

Hamilton has complained about the W13 car bouncing during the early weeks of the season, and that remains an issue.

He was almost a full second behind Ferrari pole-sitter Charles Leclerc in Q3 on Saturday at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit, meaning there remains a significant gap in performance.

"We just have to try to find a level of the bouncing as hardcore as we can go, without rattling our brains out of our skulls, and that's what we try to do," Hamilton said.

"[Russell] and I have slightly different cars because we're trying all different things. I've got something in my car that makes the car a little bit heavier.

"Hopefully it will enable the team to gain more information from the race tomorrow. I hope from that we can start making some progress."

Hamilton has previously taken eight pole positions at Albert Park, matching the all-time record for any F1 circuit. Eight poles has also been previously achieved by Michael Schumacher at Suzuka, Ayrton Senna at Imola and Hamilton himself at Hungaroring.

Qualifying success has not typically translated to success on race day for Hamilton in Australia, however, as he has only recorded two wins at Albert Park, in the 2008 and 2015 seasons.

Max Verstappen admits he is still finding it a "struggle" to drive his Red Bull after being pipped to pole for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix by Charles Leclerc.

Championship leader Leclerc outpaced Verstappen with his final lap of a dramatic qualifying session in Melbourne on Saturday to ensure he will start at the top of the grid.

The Ferrari driver, who has finished first and second in the opening two races of 2022, posted 1:17.868 late on in Q3 to finish 0.286s ahead of Verstappen.

"It feels great and very happy to be starting on pole," Leclerc said. "Again, we were quite surprised by our pace in qualifying, so we will see what happens.

"Overall, I'm very happy because it's a track where I've always struggled in the past and I've struggled this weekend.

"You probably couldn't see from outside because we were quite fast, but I was struggling quite a lot with mistakes, being inconsistent.

"I really worked on that to try to put a good lap together in Q3. I knew it was just all about putting it together and I managed to do it in Q3, so I'm very happy."

Verstappen was edged out by Leclerc in a thrilling Saudi Arabian Grand Prix two weeks ago and is third in the drivers' standings, with Carlos Sainz occupying second place.

Leclerc's Ferrari team-mate Sainz will start Sunday's race down in ninth, however, after being caught by red flags that were brought out following a crash for Fernando Alonso.

Red Bull's Verstappen will therefore have a chance to climb the standings this weekend, but the Dutchman is not entirely pleased with how the weekend has gone thus far.

"I would have hoped to start first, but we have to accept where we finish, but the whole weekend has been a bit tricky for me," he said.

"I've never really found a stable grip whether it's front or rear and that's just not nice. For me, that's really been the case all year.

"I've never found a comfortable balance where I could attack corners, especially in qualifying and that's a big limitation – it's something very new for me in the last three years.

"Of course, I'm talking like I'm P18, but I think we have a lot of potential in the car we're not showing and I think that's a bit of a shame.

"But I expect it to be tight [on Sunday]. Maybe Ferrari will find something, but I hope not and hopefully we can have a good battle again."

 

Despite his complaints, it is Verstappen's first front row start at Albert Park as he seeks just a second podium finish in six appearances Down Under.

Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez finished third in qualifying, though that will be reviewed as he is under investigation.

That is due to the Mexican failing to slow for double waved flags after Lance Stroll inadvertently turned into Nicholas Latifi, with both drivers blaming each other for the crash.

Perez, who could only finish four in Jeddah last time out after claiming pole – the first Mexican to ever do so – was more upbeat than Verstappen.

"It felt good. Q1, Q2 things were going good. With all the red flags, it's always very hard to keep the momentum going," he said.

"I regret a bit the decision to go into Q3 with our strategy on the tyres, but I think P3 is a decent start for tomorrow."

Elsewhere in Saturday's qualifying session, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, who has taken a record eight poles in Australia, finished fifth, narrowly behind McLaren's Lando Norris.

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