Dominant Leclerc extends championship lead with Australian GP victory

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc converted pole position into his second victory of the season at Albert Park, as Max Verstappen failed to finish with hydraulic issues.

The only time the victory looked in doubt for the Monegasque driver was after the second safety car, when a slow restart gave Verstappen an opportunity to attack into turn one, but Leclerc held on to extend his championship lead to thirty-four points over Mercedes’ George Russell.

In the end, even if Verstappen had made the overtake it would have been inconsequential, as Red Bull’s reliability issues reared their ugly head once again, with the Dutchman’s car failing at the start of lap 39, just seconds after he had set the fastest lap of the race.

Sergio Perez secured his first podium of the season in second place, as Mercedes matched their best result of the season from Bahrain, with George Russell leading Lewis Hamilton home in third and fourth.

It was Hamilton who had the best start out of the front runners, jumping from fifth to third on the run towards the first corner, overtaking Perez and Lando Norris. One man who did not have a good start was Carlos Sainz, dropping five places as he struggled with the hard tyres. Tyre warmup was the least of his concerns on lap two however, as the Spaniard went deep into turn nine, losing the car over the grass and ending beached in the gravel. This is the first time Sainz has failed to score points since the French GP last year.

Into turn 1 at the start of the GP. Image courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

Perez was able to work his way back past Hamilton in the first stint, but the Mercedes driver looked to be managing his tyres better, and was briefly able to make the overcut work on the Mexican driver, before Perez struck back with a bold move around the outside of turn ten.

Lewis may feel aggrieved that it was his teammate who scored the podium, and not him. Russell admitted afterwards he had been fortunate with the timing of the second safety car, which was brought out by Sebastian Vettel’s miserable weekend coming to an end in the barrier at turn four. This allowed Russell to take advantage of a cheap pit stop to come out ahead of Perez in third, but the Mexican was soon able to make his way past the Briton.

It was a much more promising race for Mercedes, who looked to be matching the Red Bulls on pace at times throughout the race. McLaren also had their best result of 2022, with Norris just finishing ahead of home hero Daniel Ricciardo, as they finished fifth and sixth. Esteban Ocon secured seventh for Alpine, in what was a very quiet race for the Frenchman.

The McLarens solid performance all weekend. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

This was the first race at the Albert Park circuit since 2019, and since then changes had been made to the track, most noticeably the removal of the chicane at what was turns eight and nine, in an attempt to improve the racing. There was no doubting the effectiveness of this in the midfield, with the different strategies leading to some brilliant battling.

Lance Stroll pitted twice early on, and this allowed him to climb as high as ninth at one stage. However, worn tyres combined with a five-second penalty for weaving on the straight meant points were always going to be a difficult task, and the Aston Martin dropped down the field in the later stages.

The Stroll train in full affect during the GP. Image courtesy of Aston Martin Media

Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly finished eighth and ninth respectively, with Alexander Albon securing a shock point for Williams in tenth. After starting on the hards from last, the Thai driver was forced on to a different strategy by the safety cars. Whereas Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen took advantage of the virtual safety car caused by Verstappen’s retirement to change onto the medium tyres, Albon stayed out on the hards.

He eventually pitted on the penultimate lap (the latest allowed by the regulations), coming out on a fresh set of softs to secure the Grove-based team’s first point of the season. Alonso and Magnussen struggled with the graining that dogged many of the front runners in the early stages, finishing comfortably outside the points.

Although Leclerc took victory in Bahrain, this was the first time this season where the Ferrari looked comfortably clear of the Red Bull in race pace. The Formula One calendar heads to Imola in two weeks time for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, which will also host the first ‘sprint race’ of the season.

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