F1: Australia – Charles Leclerc Takes a Dominant Victory in Melbourne Return
The Monegasque extends his championship lead as he takes his first career grand slam in Formula 1, while Verstappen retires with power issues again.
Ferrari’s success continue in the hands of Charles Leclerc once again, who took his second win of the season from pole and set the fastest lap for the third consecutive race. It is his first career grand slam in Formula 1, where he qualified on pole, won the race, led every single lap and took the fastest lap all in the same weekend. As of today’s results, he is also the only driver to finish in the podium across all races after his teammate Carlos Sainz spun out of the second lap, beaching his car in the gravel trap.
Leclerc got away well from pole, with Verstappen starting alongside him attempting to find a way past the Ferrari driver to no avail. Sergio Perez lost his 3rd place to Lewis Hamilton on the first turn, and was stuck in a Mercedes sandwich as Lando Norris dropped behind the Mercedeses of Hamilton and Russell after a brilliant P4 in qualifying. Carlos Sainz started 9th after a disastrous qualifying run plagued by a red flag and a mistake, and his nightmares continued as a poor start dropped him down to 14th. In an attempt to pass Mick Schumacher on the second lap, he lost control of his car and slid off to the grass, before spinning of to the gravel trap in Turn 12 and beaching his car.
The incident brought the VSC then Safety Car out, as the marshals had taken several laps to clear the stranded Ferrari out of the gravel trap. Leclerc still successfully defended the lead on the restart while Perez eventually found his way back past Hamilton to retake 3rd. Another Safety Car was deployed in Lap 23 when Sebastian Vettel hit the wall in Turn 4, but Leclerc still kept Verstappen at bay and began pulling away as the Red Bulls faced tyre wear issues. Russell took advantage of the second Safety Car, pitting for new tyres as he kept his position ahead of Hamilton, who made his stop before the Safety Car period.
The hopes for a double Red Bull podium disappeared after Verstappen pulled out of the race in Lap 39 with an engine issue, where it subsequently caught fire shortly after. This gave Leclerc a big lead, which at the end he won by 20 seconds over Perez, while George Russell completed the podium and took his first for Mercedes. Hamilton lost out to his teammate by 3 seconds to finish 4th, while the McLarens of Norris and home hero Ricciardo found redemption after lacking pace in the first two rounds and finished 5th and 6th respectively.
Esteban Ocon took a solid 7th for Alpine, while Valtteri Bottas salvaged an 8th place finish after qualifying 12th, the first time he missed Q3 in a whopping 103 race weekends. He took advantage of a late mistake by Pierre Gasly, who ended up finishing 9th after running off the track in the penultimate corner. The final point was taken by Alexander Albon, with a brilliant display where he stayed out on his hard tyres the entire race and ran as high as 7th, before pitting in the final lap and emerging just tenths ahead of Zhou Guanyu, securing Williams’ first points finish of the season. The last finisher in the lead lap was Lance STroll, who earned a five-second time penalty for weaving on the straights during his battle for points, however his race was not affected by the penalty.
The Haas pair of Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen finished a lap down in 13th and 14th respectively, a weekend to forget for the American team after their strong display in the previous rounds, although Schumacher is still seeking his first F1 points. Yuki Tsunoda finished 15th, ahead of Nicholas Latifi and Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard faces a disappointing end to a promising weekend after being a threat for pole until his mechanical failure, and during the race where he missed the pit window during the second Safety Car and tumbled down the order by the time he made his stop.
Leclerc now leads the standings with 71 points to his name, 34 points ahead of Russell who impressively sits in 2nd amidst tough times in the Mercedes garage, where they currently struggle to find pace and fix their cars’ porpoising issues. Sainz remains 3rd in the standings with 33 points, three ahead of Perez who climbs up to 4th overall. Sitting 2 points behind him is Hamilton, while Verstappen covers the ‘big six’ with 25 points, all of which came from his Saudi GP victory. Leclerc remains as the title favorite of the season, and is keen to extend the current gap even more in the upcoming race at Imola, and will seek his 2nd victory in Ferrari’s home turf.
Featured Image – Scuderia Ferrari, Motorsport Images/Carl Bingham