Charles Leclerc cruised to his second win of the 2022 FIA Formula 1 World Championshipafter an emphatic display at the Australian Grand Prix where the Monegasque driver appeared to be untouchable, whilst some of the favorites ran into trouble Down Under.
Second place was claimed by Oracle Red Bull Racing but not by the driver who many predicted would challenge Leclerc for the win, Sergio Perez stood on the second step of the podium after Max Verstappen retired late on from the race. George Russell rounded off the podium, the first of his career as a Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team driver.
Leclerc untouchable Down Under
From the lights going out, Leclerc was in complete control of the Grand Prix having started from pole position. The Monegasque driver claimed every accolade at the Albert Park Circuit, After taking pole, the win, the fastest lap and Driver of the Day, as he stretched his championship lead to an impressive thirty-four points, from Russell who sits second in the standings.
Despite winning by just over twenty seconds, Leclerc was kept busy at times during the race. The first race in Melbourne since 2019 featured two Safety Cars and one Virtual Safety Car. The Scuderia Ferrari driver almost made a hash of the second safety car restart, after getting on the power too early coming out of the final corner, Verstappen who was second at the time tried to challenge Leclerc but it was to no avail.
It wasn’t all good though for Ferrari on Sunday, as Carlos Sainz Jr It became the first retirement of the race, after spinning across the grass between Turns nine and ten, before becoming beached in the gravel on the Turn ten exit. It summed up a disastrous weekend for Sainz, after being caught out by the red flag during final qualifying. Sainz who started ninth, chose to start the race on the Hard compound. This decision saw the Spaniard swallowed up by the pack on the opening lap, after he struggled to generate heat into the hardest tire.
Sainz brought out the first safety car of the race on the second lap in front of a sell-out crowd, the Spaniard’s incident occured after running deep into Turn nine whilst trying to overtake Guanyu Zhou.
Red Bull reliability woes
What was looking like an unchallenged double podium for Red Bull, turned quickly into disaster. Verstappen who ran second all race suddenly pulled-off the track on lap thirty-nine, the Dutchman threw the steering wheel of his RB16 in anger, as the World Champion suffered his second reliability-based retirement of the season. Verstappen radioed to the team that he could smell something, before being told instantly to stop the car.
The race had been an unventful one for Verstappen leading up to his retirement, the Dutchman sat five seconds behind Leclerc for most of the race with no apparent answer for the Championship Leader’s pace. Verstappen was even forced into an early pit-stop, after locking-up at Turn 11 on lap twelve, heavily graining his front-left in the process. The result leaves Verstappen sixth in the championship and forty-six points behind Leclerc.
Sergio Pérez thankfully didn’t suffer from the same reliability issue as his team-mate, in fact the Mexican battled hard all race after being boxed in on the opening lap, dropping him behind Lewis Hamilton. Pérez made light-work of the Seven-Time World Champion, with an excellent move on the run down to Turn nine. After initially building a gap of a few seconds to Hamilton behind, the Mexican was eventually under pressure from the British driver. Both Verstappen and Pérez appeared to struggle with tire management, whilst Mercedes excelled.
Pérez was pulled into the pits on twenty-one lap whilst under huge pressure from Hamilton behind, the British driver actually managed to pull the overcut on the Mexican but was then easily overtaken again. Pérez was also overcut though by the other Silver Arrow of George Russell. Russell pitted as the race’s second safety car was brought out to clear up the mess left by Sebastian Vettel. The German who had a nightmare weekend on his return to the sport since having COVID-19, crashed bizarrely on the entry of Turn five, after running across the curbs on the exit of Turn four.
After the restart, Pérez managed to find his way past Russell and up into third, the Mexican remained there for the rest of the race and inherited second-place following Verstappen’s unfortunate retirement.
Mercedes making progress
It was arguably the strongest race of the season so far for Mercedes, both Russell and Hamilton made excellent starts to the race before eventually settling into the Grand Prix in fourth and fifth. Hamilton on the whole demonstrated better pace than his new team-mate, and did sit ahead up until the second safety car. Hamilton ultimately lost his place on the podium after pitting the lap before Vettel’s crash took place, the British driver was vocal of his frustration over the team radio.
Whilst Mercedes had no answer to Ferrari’s pace, the Silver Arrows did appear to have a package which could challenge Red Bull once the tires were fully up to temperature. As well as this both British drivers were able to manage their tires better than both of Red Bulls. This was clearly visible in the lead up the first round of stops, as Hamilton caught Pérez quickly before the Mexican pitted.
Once Pérez was on fresh rubber, neither Hamilton nor Russell could do anything about the Mexican’s pace, although Russell did defend third-place at the time brilliantly for a number of laps. Once Verstappen retired, Russell ran in third and Hamilton in fourth for the remainder of the race, with no battle occuring between the pair. The result for Mercedes meant they remained second in the Constructors’ Standings, with Russell rising to second in the championship after claiming his first Mercedes podium.
What about the rest?
Behind the usual frontrunners were both McLaren F1 Team drivers. Lando Norris finished fifth with Daniel Ricciardo The sixth finishing at his home Grand Prix, in what was McLaren’s best weekend of the season by far, as they performed to a level seen most weekends in 2021.
Alpine F1 Team’s Esteban Ocon finished seventh ahead of Valtteri Bottaswho made up several places in the final few laps, after being stuck behind Lance Stroll for a number of laps. Stroll was actually awarded a five-second penalty which was applied to his time after the race, for weaving down the main straight whilst defending his position. Pierre Gasly took ninth but really should’ve finished eighth, the Frenchman ran wide at the penultimate corner late on which allowed Bottas to take the position with ease.
Tenth spot went to arguably one of the best performers of the day, as Alex Albon scored a single point in just his third race for Williams Racing after one of the best drives in his Formula 1 career. Albon who started last, made his only stop at the start of the final lap of the race, after running on the hard compound for fifty-seven laps. Albon’s lap-times were competitive throughout, as the Thai driver demonstrated that Williams have got a car capable of scoring points this season.
Zhou just missed out on the points in eleventh with Stroll’s five-second penalty dropping him to twelfth. The Canadian finished ahead of Mick Schumacher, Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda and Nicholas Latifi.
Fernando Alonso was the last of the running drivers to cross the line, the Spaniard finished seventeenth after graining his medium compound tires whilst trying to fight his way through the midfield. It summed up a disappointing weekend for Alonso, who would’ve potentially started on pole had he not crashed in final qualifying. Verstappen, Vettel and Sainz all retired from the race.
What’s next for Formula 1?
Round four of the championship takes place in two weeks time at Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The Tifosi will be out in force with the venue being the closest on the calendar to Ferrari’s factory. The next round will also see the first sprint qualifying of the year, where Red Bull will be hoping to get on top of their reliability problems.
2022 Australian Grand Prix Full Results:
|1||Charles Leclerc||MON||Scuderia Ferrari||58 Laps|
|2||Sergio Perez||MEX||Oracle Bull Racing||+ 20.524s|
|3||George Russell||GBR||Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team||+25.593s|
|4||Lewis Hamilton||GBR||Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team||+28.543s|
|5||Lando Norris||GBR||McLaren F1 Team||+ 53.303s|
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||McLaren F1 Team||+53.737s|
|7||Esteban Ocon||FR||BWT Alpine F1 Team||+ 61.683s|
|8||Valtteri Bottas||FIN||Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen||+68.439s|
|9||Pierre Gasly||FR||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+ 76.221s|
|10||Alexander Albon||THA||Williams Racing||+ 79.382s|
|11||Guanyu Zhou||CHN||Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen||+ 81.695s|
|12||Lance Stroll||CAN||Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team||+ 88.598s|
|13||Mick Schumacher||GER||Haas F1 Team||+ 1 Lab|
|14||Kevin Magnussen||DENE||Haas F1 Team||+ 1 Lab|
|15th||Yuki Tsunoda||JPN||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+ 1 Lab|
|16||Nicholas Latifi||CAN||Williams Racing||+ 1 Lab|
|17||Fernando Alonso||ESP||BWT Alpine F1 Team||+ 1 Lab|
|DNF||Max Verstappen||NED||Oracle Red Bull Racing|
|DNF||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team|
|DNF||Carlos Sainz||ESP||Scuderia Ferrari|