Vettel chases 3rd straight Aussie GP win to equal Schumacher

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco goes through turn 10 during the final practice session for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, March 16, 2019. The first race of the year is Sunday. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Two-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel is chasing some career marks set by Michael Schumacher at the Australian F1 Grand Prix and it doesn't really bother him to be starting from the second row of the grid

MELBOURNE, Australia — It doesn't really bother Sebastian Vettel that he'll be starting the Australian Grand Prix from the second row of the grid.

He won the Formula One season opener the previous two years despite starting behind Lewis Hamilton, who on Saturday extended his habit of taking pole position in Australia to a sixth successive year.

Vettel has had more luck settling into rhythm on race day Down Under, and is aiming to equal two of Michael Schumacher's records on Sunday.

The four-time world champion is aiming for a third consecutive Australian GP title and fourth overall at Albert Park — both records held by the F1 great and fellow German.

"I am not too worried. I know we have a great car," Vettel said. "And we've done it before around here."

Ferrari drivers Vettel and Charles Leclerc appeared to be the fastest in winter testing, but have so far trailed Hamilton's Mercedes in all three practice sessions and in qualifying in Melbourne.

It took a lap record of the circuit in the final seconds of qualifying for Hamilton, the five-time and defending world champion, to edge teammate Valtteri Bottas for pole position.

Vettel skidded off the track in Q2 but recovered quickly to finish third in qualifying, 0.704 seconds behind. Leclerc slipped from first in Q1 to third in Q2 to fifth in Q3 when Red Bull's Max Verstappen moved into fourth between the Ferrari pair.

Vettel joked about his little off-road rally but said it didn't hurt the car, "fortunately, Q3 was fine ... didn't affect our qualifying."

He said the speed of the Mercedes was more than anyone had expected so early in the season but thinks the Ferraris are set to get quicker. Mercedes has produced the drivers' championship winner for the last five years despite Ferrari sometimes having the faster cars, and it's something Vettel wants to reverse in 2019.

"The gap is there today and was a surprise, but our focus is tomorrow and (we) don't worry about the gap now," Vettel said. "Clearly Mercedes is favorite ... (but) with 58 laps, we have some time to get a proper read on where we are."

___

More AP racing: https://www.racing.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

More AP F1 coverage: https://apnews.com/FormulaOne

Related News

Chinese sportswear brand makes inroads in tennis...

Jan 20, 2017

Svetlana Kuznetsova has a different look than most tennis players

Venus focused on tennis, not age, in record 73rd...

Jan 20, 2017

One could never accuse Venus Williams of being sensitive about her age

Nadal holds off Zverev to reach 4th round at...

Jan 21, 2017

Rafael Nadal had a good, hard look at the future before pulling a few tricks from his past to hold...

Bryan brothers announce retirement from Davis Cup...

Jan 22, 2017

Bob and Mike Bryan are retiring from playing Davis Cup for the United States after 14 years with...

Tough at the top: Murray, Kerber make 4th-round...

Jan 22, 2017

It was tough at the top for Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open, with both the...

Matthew Dellavedova, tennis player? Nope, it's...

Jan 22, 2017

Basketball fans may have done a double take upon seeing the Australian Open schedule on Sunday:...

NHL Livescore