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Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen competes during the qualifying round of the 2023 Formula One Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne. Image Credit: AFP

Melbourne: Max Verstappen will have his best chance of claiming an inaugural Australian Grand Prix title after taking pole position in his Red Bull for Sunday’s race on the Albert Park circuit.

But the two-time world champion was not pleased with the performance of his RB19 despite setting a track record around the circuit on Saturday.

After setting a lap record during practice earlier on Saturday, the drivers’ championship leader set a benchmark of 1 minute, 16:732 seconds in the final session of qualifying.

“I have been on the podium once, but I want to be on a different step this time,” Verstappen said after claiming his first pole position in Australia.

Mercedes driver George Russell will share the front row of the starting grid after recording a time 0.236 seconds slower than Verstappen.

Third position

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will start in third position on what was an encouraging day for Mercedes, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso qualifying fourth.

“This is totally unexpected. For us to be up in the two front rows is a dream,” Hamilton said. “To be this close to Red Bull is incredible.”

Verstappen, who won the season-opening race in Bahrain, was progressively faster on Saturday but raised concerns about his car on the lap prior to setting the new mark.

“Downshifts are getting worse as well,” Verstappen said.

After qualifying, Verstappen said he has confidence in the Red Bull’s reliability.

“I think the last run was very good. The whole weekend has been very tough … but it all worked out in Q3,” he said. “I think we always try to fine-tune and we will continue to do that. I think tomorrow we will have a good race car, but it is quite tricky on the tires.”

Red Bull’s hopes of continuing its dominance early this season were dealt a blow with Sergio Perez failing to post a qualifying time. Perez arrived in Melbourne after winning the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix two weeks ago.

But the Mexican driver endured a horrible Saturday as he struggled to retain control of his RB19. After experiencing difficulties in the third and final practice session earlier on Saturday, the 33-year-old’s wheels locked at Turn 3 early, with Perez ending up in the gravel.

Sharp exchange

In a sharp exchange with his team over radio, Perez complained the mechanical problem was the same issue that plagued him during P3 earlier in the day.

“It was the same (expletive) issue again,” he said.

Melbourne’s Oscar Piastri will start from 16th on the grid when driving in his home Grand Prix for the first time after his McLaren failed to progress past the initial qualifying stage. McLaren’s struggles continued with Piastri’s teammate Lando Norris, who will begin from 13th position.