Sergio Perez handed grid penalty ahead of F1 Australian Grand Prix

Red Bull’s dreams of a third-straight front row lockout took a substantial hit following qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix.

The team saw both drivers finish in the top three in qualifying. Max Verstappen held off an incredible performance from Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. — who returned to the track two weeks after an appendectomy that held him out of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix — to take pole position, and teammate Sergio Pérez slotted in third.

However, Pérez will not be starting third after all. The driver was hit with a three-place grid penalty for impeding Haas driver Nico Hülkenberg during Q1, dropping Pérez down to sixth.

After the qualifying session both Pérez and Hülkenberg were summoned to meet with race officials, who described the incident from their perspectives. As Hülkenberg was on a push lap he reached Turn 13, where he encountered Pérez who was on an out lap. The Red Bull driver did not move off the racing line, which forced Hülkenberg to pull off the throttle to avoid driving into the back of Pérez.

According to the report from the stewards, they heard from both drivers and reviewed team radio transmissions. As the stewards wrote in their report, Red Bull “ … was focused on the car in front of Pêrez that had just slowed, and did not give Pérez a warning that Hülkenberg was behind him until one second before Hülkenberg arrived, and significantly too late to avoid impeding Hülkenberg.”

The stewards noted that they “appreciate” the situation Pérez and the team faced during Q1, describing the traffic during the first portion of qualifying as “dynamic.” But they reached the conclusion that Pérez “unnecessarily impeded” the Haas driver.

For his part Hülkenberg noted that the incident was not the reason he failed to advance to Q2. “I got held up on my first run by Perez which wasn’t ideal, and then my second lap wasn’t clean. The lap was looking promising until the exit of Turn 7 when the wind changed and I lost a bunch of time just from that different wind direction,” stated the Haas driver in the team’s post-qualifying report. “I then lost the front tires for the rest of the lap and didn’t manage to improve enough. We’re all very close in the midfield so we’ll see, but the graining we’ve seen this weekend maybe offers some interesting options and potential tomorrow, so either way I’m looking forward to it.”

Now Pérez will start in sixth, and the chances of finishing at the front took a rather big hit. He’ll be behind the Ferrari duo of both Sainz and Charles Leclerc — and the Ferrari’s pace has been strong all weekend long — and he will also be behind the McLaren duo of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, with Norris starting third and Piastri behind him in fifth.

Whether Pérez can make up those three spots will be a major storyline Sunday Down Under.

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