Max Verstappen secured the team’s third pole position in a row of the 2023 season during Australian Grand Prix qualifying, but its been far from the ‘straightforward’ weekend he hoped it would be for the team. Red flags in both FP1 and FP2 disrupted their Friday practice running, which left him struggling to “find a rhythm” with the tyres. Tyre warm-up is tricky at Melbourne due to the relatively low ambient temperatures, plus the track surface is now a year on since being resurfaced in 2022. Red Bull suffered badly from tyre degradation throughout last year’s race, with Charles Leclerc taking a commanding 20 second victory over Sergio Perez while Verstappen retired with engine issues. This is set to be another factor for the team this year as the temperatures rise to between 18 and 20 ° C on Sunday. Could fourth DRS zone help troubled Perez? Neither Red Bull driver has ran the Hard tyre this weekend, with only George Russell and Lewis Hamilton using it in FP2 out of the frontrunners. Both have an extra set available compared to everyone else as a result, which is likely to be used by Perez as he powers his way through the grid from last. The Red Bull driver has the advantage of there being four DRS zones this year, coupled with the superior straight-line speed advantage of the RB19. Russell is less convinced that Perez will be able to come through into the top 10, given the tight nature of the Albert Park circuit. “I think it’ll be challenging around here. For sure he will come through to the top 10. But I don’t think, on a circuit like this, you’d be able to fight towards the front,” he said. Verstappen added: “This track is a bit tricky to pass but that extra DRS zone will help, for sure. It depends also on the pace of the other cars in the race, if they have tyre degradation, or if you’re better on deg.” According to Pirelli Motorsport boss Mario Isola, the Hard is the best race tyre due to the degradation shown on the Medium. “Both the Soft and the Medium showed a little bit of graining on a track that still isn’t rubbered in with low temperatures,” said Isola. “The Hard demonstrated itself to be very consistent and not so far from the other two compounds in terms of performance. “A one-stopper remains the optimal strategy, with medium-hard being theoretically fastest and soft-hard slightly slower.” Can Mercedes go for it? Russell believes the team should “go for it” on their quest to seal an early victory, after a troubled start with the W14. They have the advantage of two cars flanking Verstappen up front with Hamilton in third, although a fast-starting Fernando Alonso could break that advantage in pit strategy. Russell’s best times from FP2 show him in the low- 1:21s and mid- 1:20s, although it is likely they were running slightly lighter fuel to simulate the end of the race. Both Alonso and Charles Leclerc appear to favour the Soft tyre, potentially running that at the start as they match the high- 1:22s and low- 1:23s done by Verstappen on the Medium. Alonso believes Mercedes is a lot closer on pace as they begin to understand more how their car reacts to setup changes. “In general, they were within one tenth of the pace on Sunday to us. Here they were up to P2 yesterday, I think Lewis in FP2,” he told media, including . “It is not as good as Red Bull, no one has a car close to Red Bull. But they are getting better on and they will be a contender for wins soon.” TYRE ANALYSIS – LAP TIMES (1:XX.X)

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