MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Circuit on March 23, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Verstappen: Did I expect pole? Definitely not

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Circuit on March 23, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen revealed that taking pole position for the 2024 Australian Grand Prix seemed unlikely to him, and his Red Bull team, before Qualifying today in Melbourne.

The Dutchman has started the 2024 season exactly where he left off last year. His and Red Bull’s era of domination seems to be continuing with the RB20, which has won the opening two rounds with ease.

So far this season, Verstappen has now secured a hat-trick of pole positions following his 1:15.915 time achieved around the Albert Park Circuit during Qualifying. Teammate Sergio Perez was the third quickest driver in Q3, but will start the Grand Prix from sixth place after receiving a three-place grid penalty for impeding the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg in the earlier stages of the session.

In the end, Verstappen’s advantage stood at almost three tenths to the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz Jr. But the 26-year-old was seemingly surprised to have topped the timing screens on Saturday for the 35th time in his F1 career.

When asked by media if he expected to be on pole position, he exclaimed: “No, definitely not. In Q1 and Q2 the feeling wasn’t really great either. Actually, the whole weekend the balance is just not how I wanted it. Just a bit too much understeer and that’s obviously not what you want here.

“Then, for Q3 we got it slightly better, but still not great, I would say. In the end, I drove around the problems a bit, and in the end… there were two good laps.”

Ferrari a worry for both Verstappen and Perez

top three 2024 F1 australian gp qualifying

Verstappen outlined his expectations for the 58-lap race: “Ferrari just looks very good. You can see it’s going easy for them. Over one lap and over a long run, they manage to keep their tyres in a very good condition.

And for us, so far it’s just been very difficult to find the right balance. And so it’s a bit of a question mark, I think, also for us, how we will be on the tyres tomorrow… At the end of the day you have to drive what you have“, the defending Champion added.

Teammate Perez ended up four-tenths slower than Verstappen but was nevertheless optimistic about his chances of moving up the field from a P6 grid slot. He told Red Bull media: “The car felt good, we were making good progress through Qualifying. I think that was quite positive, and we are in a good position to fight the Ferraris tomorrow.

The Mexican echoed Verstappen’s concerns about tyre wear during the Grand Prix. He said: “I think degradation is going to be quite tricky. [Ferrari] are looking very strong so it will be very hard to beat them but we will give our best to hopefully get that victory.”

Can Verstappen hold onto the lead, and will Perez make it a trio of second-place finishes in 2024? Make sure to watch the Australian Grand Prix, commencing at 04:00 GMT (15:00 local time) on Sunday March 24th.