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Australian GP Race Review

Leclerc takes season’s second win in Melbourne

April 10, 2022

Verstappen suffers season’s second DNF. 

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took home his second win of the year, after a dominating race in Melbourne that saw the Monegasque driver take home his first ever Australian Grand Prix victory. Leclerc finished a comfortable 20 seconds ahead of the only Red Bull to have finished the race of Sergio Pérez, while Mercedes’ George Russell scored his first podium of the season with the team, finishing in third place. Behind Russell, his veteran teammate Lewis Hamilton was ahead of the two McLaren’s of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo in fifth and sixth place. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon finished seventh ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valterri Bottas and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. Williams’ Alex Albon, who ran a brilliant strategy that saw him pit right on the last lap, took the final points, giving the British team their first points.

For Max Verstappen, it was a terrible Sunday after showcasing decent pace to challenge for the win, the Dutchman suffered his second DNF of the season with another technical issue and it looks incredibly tough for the reigning World Champion’s title defence, sitting sixth in the championship standings after the Australian Grand Prix. 

Racing got underway at Albert Park after three years and Leclerc led from Verstappen on the line. There was immediate action even before the cars reached turn one, with Hamilton picking out Sergio Pérez and slotting into third position with George Russell behind the Mexican pushing the Red Bull. A bit further down, Carlos Sainz, who’s qualifying was interrupted due to the red flag during the final qualifying session, had a horror start, dropping down to 13th place within a few corners. Elsewhere, AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda made up a couple of places while Haas’ Mick Schumacher also had a strong start, gaining a couple of positions in the opening lap. By the time we had finished the second lap, Leclerc was six-tenths ahead of Verstappen ahead while Hamilton was five-tenths behind the reigning World Champion. 

For Ferrari’s Sainz, who was having a horrible start, his terrible Australian weekend got over on lap 3 when he went a bit too wide at turn 13 and ended up in the gravel, ending his race. This saw an early Safety Car getting deployed for the remaining 19 cars. Racing resumed again on lap 6 with Leclerc once again leading from Verstappen. By the end of lap 7, Leclerc was seven-tenths clear off Verstappen although the Red Bull looked the quicker car, especially on the straights, with the Ferrari suffering from the porpoising effect worse than before. By lap 10, the top two started breaking off from the rest of the grid while Pérez tried to chase down Hamilton to regain that podium place and help his teammate to put pressure together on Leclerc. Pérez got the job done on lap 10, squeezing through the inside of Hamilton’s Mercedes on turn 3. For Hamilton not only did he lose a place to Pérez behind him but was now under threat from his own teammate George Russell, who was quickly closing behind the seven-time champion. Further down the grid, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, who was racing for the first time in the season after missing out the opening two races due to Covid, went off track and dropped down to last place. Up ahead, by the 15th lap, Leclerc had built a six and half second gap to Verstappen while Pérez was a further five seconds behind his teammate.

Verstappen was the first of the top three to box after coming in on lap 19 with the young Dutchman rejoining in seventh position but was being pressured by Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, who was climbing back through the field after a heartbreaking qualifying on Saturday that saw him not be able to finish a potential front row start due to a technical issue. While Verstappen was battling it out with a multi world champion for seventh, Pérez was under pressure from another multiple world champion of Hamilton and with the Red Bull looking horribly off pace and not being able to gain grip on the set of mediums. Pérez came in for his pit stop on lap 21, rejoining in ninth position while both the McLaren’s pitted one of the other as well on lap 21 and 22. Leclerc was called in on lap 22 and the race leader had a swift 2.7 seconds stop and rejoined the race in first position with Hamilton also pitting the same lap. Hamilton though managed to overcut Pérez and the Red Bull driver was on the back of Hamilton again managed to retake fifth place. A second Safety Car was deployed on lap 24 again as Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel stopped on the track due to the German world champion hitting the wall on turn four and the damage with the wall had his front-wing broken. Vettel was another one like Sainz, who would want to quickly forget the Australian weekend and move on after having multiple crashes throughout the weekend. The Safety Car though was a blessing in disguise for George Russell, who pitted under the Safety Car and rejoined the race without losing any positions, in third position. 

The Safety Car came in on lap 27 and Verstappen immediately tried to snatch the lead from Leclerc but the Monegasque driver managed to hold on to the lead and Verstappen faced pressure from Russell, right behind him. Russell almost knicked off second place from Verstappen but the Dutchman managed to keep his car in the right spots on the track to hold on to the position. Leclerc took full advantage of Verstappen and Russell’s duel and built up a 1.6 second gap to Verstappen by the second lap after the restart. Pérez took fourth position from the yet-to-stop Fernando Alonso on the 30th lap with the Spanish double world champion under pressure now from his old McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton did manage to take the spot from Alonso on the main straight and the Brit was eyeing a podium place, trying to chase down Pérez. Pérez, though, wasn’t interested in battling it out with Hamilton and by lap 35, the Mexican was a second behind Russell in third place and had already built a four second gap to Hamilton behind him. After struggling to make the move for a couple of lap, Pérez managed to get back into the podium places, sweeping past Russell on the outside of turn 9 and making the move stick on turn 10. 

On lap 39, Verstappen pulled over on the track at turn one, with the team asking Verstappen to stop the car due to a possible power issue. Verstappen’s retirement on track brought out the Virtual Safety Car. Racing resumed on lap 40 and Leclerc this time had almost a 12 seconds lead from Pérez in second place with Russell and Hamilton behind the remaining Red Bull. With ten laps left, Leclerc had a 14.6 second lead over Pérez while the two Mercedes’ were just falling off, behind the Mexican. Hamilton meanwhile was just over a second behind his teammate and trying to take that final podium place. Leclerc meanwhile was cruising up front and so much so that the Monegasque was inquiring about whether he can go for the fastest lap, even with five laps left! Leclerc romped to victory, taking a 20 second win of the season with Pérez finishing second ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell. 

Leclerc’s win now sees the Monegasque driver consolidate his championship lead at the front to 34 points with George Russell sitting in second position with 37 points. Hamilton’s fourth place finish sees him jump to fifth place in the drivers’ championship ahead of Verstappen while Sergio Pérez sits in fourth position. Sainz’s retirement though means that Mercedes have taken the constructors’ lead from Ferrari with the Italian team falling behind the eight-time champions. 

Ferrari heads to home-turf to Imola in two weeks time and as the Scuderia slowly begin the march towards a possible double championship winning season, they know the European leg is crucial for the championship battle. For Red Bull, even though they have had the pace throughout the opening three races, reliability has been an issue for the Austrian team and if they want to fight for the championships, they need to find a quick fix. 

Aditya Chaudhuri

Hailing from the City of Joy, the things that bring me joy are cricket, a good non-tilt CS:GO session, F1 and movies.

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