CHARLES Leclerc claimed his second Formula 1 race win of the season, his Ferrari dominating the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne despite a determined challenge from the Red Bull of reigning World Champion Max Verstappen.
Leclerc was around half a second per lap faster than Verstappen during the opening part of the race, but although two Safety Car periods allowed the Dutchman to challenge the Ferrari driver at the restarts, the Monegasque remained in complete control.
Verstappen, winner of the second round of the World Championship in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, was forced to retire from the race with an apparent engine-system failure. This is the World Champion’s second non-finish of the season.
The second Red Bull driven by Mexico’s Sergio Perez put in a strong performance, finishing in second place ahead of the Mercedes drivers George Russell and 7-times World Champion Lewis Hamilton.
✅ Pole position
✅ Fastest lap
✅ Race win
Charles Leclerc is the first Ferrari driver to take a Grand Slam since Fernando Alonso in 2010 😲 pic.twitter.com/TQUIWwmTJo
— ESPN F1 (@ESPNF1) April 10, 2022
“There is so much to take away from this race,” said Mika Hakkinen afterwards. “Charles Leclerc was in complete control and said afterwards that the car felt really strong, using its tyres well and giving him a really consistent performance. That’s what any top driver wants – a car that’s quick from the start to finish and responding to all your inputs.”
“What’s important is that Charles has taken two wins and a second place from these first three Grands Prix, while Max Verstappen has had one win and two non-finishes. At this level you cannot afford to have constant technical failures. Max will not be happy.”
As though to underline the point, Mercedes driver George Russell now lies 2nd in the World Championship for drivers despite the fact that he and team mate Lewis Hamilton have been struggling with their cars’ performance issues.
“George drove a really strong race and that 3rd place was very important. It’s really surprising to see him 2nd in the World Championship but his consistency and the car’s reliability has been impressive – 4th in Bahrain, 5th in Saudi Arabia and now a podium in Australia. It’s also noticeable that he is ahead of Lewis Hamilton, although the Safety Car had a big influence in Melbourne so I don’t think that is any reflection of relative performance.”
“Lewis and George are both doing a fantastic job for Mercedes while the team sorts out its performance problems, and that is another reason Red Bull need to fix their reliability issues. This championship could easily develop into a three-way fight between these teams and Ferrari.”
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) April 10, 2022
Mika also paid tribute to his former team McLaren which finished 5th and 6th with Lando Norris and local hero Daniel Ricciardo.
“The men and women at McLaren have really started to unlock performance from the car and it’s clear to see a big step was made this weekend. With a major regulation change it takes time to understand how to get a car working, but McLaren is clearly on the right path.”
This was the first Australian Grand Prix since 2019, the 2020 event being cancelled on the morning of Friday 13th March 2020 due to the Covid-19 crisis. To mark Formula 1’s return to Australia the race saw a weekend attendance of 420,000 spectators – the country’s largest attended sporting event.
“This was a major success for Formula 1 and it’s great to see the Australian fans welcoming the sport back in such high numbers,” said Mika Hakkinen. “I have good memories of winning in Melbourne back in 1998 and getting a fantastic response from the fans, but it’s great to see Formula 1 generating so much enthusiasm. It’s very impressive and a good sign of Formula 1’s health despite the global pandemic.”