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Australian Grand Prix: Sergio Perez penalised as Max Verstappen leads returning Carlos Sainz in qualifying

Australian Grand Prix: Sergio Perez penalised as Max Verstappen leads returning Carlos Sainz in qualifying

Sergio Perez has been hit with a three-place grid penalty at the Australian Grand Prix, where dominant Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen leads the chasing pack once again.

The experienced Mexican has been dropped from third position to sixth on the starting grid for Sunday’s race in Melbourne after stewards ruled that he had impeded Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg during an incident in the first section of qualifying on Saturday.

Perez’s demotion sees Lando Norris move up to third at the Albert Park Circuit, with Charles Leclerc also bumped up one spot after aborting his final lap along with Norris’ McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri.

Verstappen will start the race from the front again after qualifying 0.270 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who impressed on his return to action following surgery for appendicitis that saw Britain’s Oliver Bearman race for the Scuderia at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

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

"They (Ferrari) seem very quick in the long runs so there is a question mark over tomorrow."

It was, however, a torrid qualifying session for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton surprisingly dumped out in Q2 as he had to settle for a lowly 11th place on the grid. Silver Arrows team-mate George Russell was seventh, meanwhile.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

"The inconsistency in the car really messes with the mind," said a frustrated Hamilton, who will join Ferrari in a blockbuster move for the 2025 Formula One season.

"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.

"It is three years in a row where I have had a similar feeling. 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."