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Leclerc takes pole position for F1 Australian GP

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) – A Ferrari versus Red Bull battle is shaping up as the likely scenario today at the first Australian Grand Prix (GP) since the pandemic began in 2020.

Charles Leclerc claimed Ferrari’s first pole position at the revamped Albert Park circuit since 2007 with a final lap of one minute and 17.868 seconds in Melbourne yesterday.

Running close behind were the Red Bulls of world champion Max Verstappen, who qualified .286 seconds behind, and Sergio Perez.

Leclerc and Verstappen have shared the opening two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and will now start alongside each other on the front row.

Leclerc, whose teammate Carlos Sainz qualified ninth, said he had never felt entirely comfortable on the circuit in previous visits.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco steers his car during qualifying for the Australian F1 GP in Melbourne. PHOTO: AP

This continued through practice sessions on Friday and yesterday. But in front of a record crowd of 123,247 yesterday, he gambled by asking his Ferrari for more in what was a dashing last lap as he took his second pole position of the season and the 11th of his career. “It was a good lap. This time I took quite a big risk, especially on Turn Six, which was quite tricky,” Leclerc said.

“I am very happy with the lap, especially on a track like this where I have always struggled in the past, and also through practises, even though we were competitive.”

However, neither Leclerc nor Verstappen expressed great confidence after qualifying, with the Ferrari driver predicting a tight race.

“I think we are very close with Red Bull. It is going to be close tomorrow,” Leclerc said.

Verstappen set the challenge for Leclerc late in Q3. But he was far from happy with the way his Red Bull had performed, saying it was a struggle.

“It has been terrible for me the whole weekend. It is just not a good balance,” he said.

“I have spent the whole weekend chasing something and I never felt comfortable for one lap, except the long runs.”

In qualifying fifth, .957 seconds behind Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton’s streak of six straight pole positions in the Australian GP is over.

After two races, Leclerc leads the championship with 45 points, followed by Sainz on 33 and Verstappen with 25.