F1 LIVE: Revamped Mercedes eye podium charge as Ricciardo ready to roar

LIVE: A thrilling Formula One championship is set to ratchet up to another level when the paddock takes to Spain for the traditional opening of the European leg of the championship (11pm AEST).

Championship points leader Charles Leclerc survived a spin in a nervous third qualifying session to nab pole ahead of Red Bull’s reigning world champion Max Verstappen, who battled reliability issues.

Verstappen said: “I couldn’t do my final run. It’s a bit of a shame, but overall to be on the front row here, looking at the whole weekend, it was a good achievement.”

24-year-old Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz will line up third – and Leclerc is hoping the Ferrari duo can make it a one-two finish and further damage Verstappen’s title defence.

“I hope Carlos can help,” said Leclerc. “I hope we can do a one-two together with Carlos – it would be so great for the team and we will give it our all.”

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But a much-improved qualifying performance from Mercedes has the silver arrows hoping to battle for the podium, with George Russell starting fourth and Lewis Hamilton sixth, either side of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

“It’s our best performance in qualifying this season,” Russell said.

Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed a ‘pretty good session’ to reach third qualifying and will start ninth in his McLaren, two places ahead of teammate Lando Norris.

It marks the first time Ricciardo has out-qualified his teammate this season.

“It was a pretty good session. I’m happy with Q3,” Ricciardo said. “I think that was our target, for sure, so we had our work cut-out for us.

“I think it was a pretty tricky weekend so far, just trying to understand the new parts on the car – but I’m relatively happy to get into Q3 and just get on top of it enough to do that.

“I think we’re still fighting a little bit in some areas so I’m just trying to perfect it – but on paper ninth is a solid place to start, and we’ll keep chipping away. So hopefully we’ll keep finding bits and pieces and get some solid points tomorrow.”

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