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Verstappen on pole ahead of Sainz at Australian Grand Prix

MELBOURNE, Australia -- A "very satisfied" three-time world champion Max Verstappen clinched a third straight pole of the season on Saturday at the Australian Grand Prix as the flying Dutchman targets a record 10th consecutive win.

Under hazy skies at Albert Park, Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, back in the car barely two weeks after appendicitis surgery, came second in tense qualifying and will keep the Red Bull ace company on the front row.

Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull will start third alongside Lando Norris, who scored a surprise fourth in his McLaren.

"Very happy with that because so far this weekend it has been a bit tough to find a good balance in the car," said Verstappen, who is looking to repeat his feat from last year when he started first and won a chaotic race in Melbourne.

"And even throughout qualifying in Q1 and Q2 I didn't really feel I could be fighting for pole. But then we made some little tickles on the car and that seemed to help me in Q3 to really push it to the limit.

"Obviously things can improve, but overall very satisfied with the performance."

The 26-year-old knocked out his rivals to earn a 35th career pole with a flying lap of one minute 15.915, 0.270 secs ahead of Sainz, who missed the last race in Jeddah.

"I don't feel 100 percent, it's impossible after spending a lot of days in bed like I did to try and recover," said the Spaniard after his remarkable comeback.

"But the good thing is that I have no pain, I just have discomfort and everything feels a bit weird.

"Today, when the adrenaline came out I could close the visor and go for it which is a good thing."

The 2022 Melbourne winner Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari was fifth with McLaren's Oscar Piastri sixth on his home track.

Mercedes' George Russell came seventh ahead of RB's Yuki Tsunoda and the Aston Martin pair of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso.

But there was disappointment for Mercedes' seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton who missed Q3 and will start from 11th.

Perez came second to Verstappen in the opening two races and said he had confidence he could match or better the feat on Sunday.

- Faith -
"It was very tricky qualifying with the tyres and getting the best