F1: Charles Leclerc and Ferrari mark their territory at Australian Grand Prix testing

MELBOURNE – Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was quickest in Friday’s second free practice session ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, just ahead of reigning world champion Max Verstappen.

Leclerc clocked a time of one minute, 18.978 seconds at the reconfigured Albert Park layout, with Verstappen 0.245 seconds behind the wheel of his Red Bull. Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz, who was in the lead after the first practice session, finished third.

“The day was quite positive. The grip on the track was good and the bumps are much less pronounced. It’s a bit smoother and it makes the track more fun too because you can actually attack the corners a bit more, explained Verstappen. We are still a bit far from Ferrari, but I think this weekend we can maybe get a little closer. »

McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo, in front of his home crowd, ranked 10th and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) could not do better than 13th.

Quebecer Lance Stroll, who caused the only red flag of the second session when he lost part of his left front fender, was 14th, 1.633 seconds behind the leader. His team-mate Sebastian Vettel was deprived of the second session after suffering engine failure in the first.

There will be another practice session on Saturday before afternoon qualifying in preparation for Sunday’s race.

Leclerc won the season-opening race in Bahrain and Verstappen took the second in Saudi Arabia, both in March.

As part of a major refurbishment of the Melbourne track, five corners were reconfigured at Albert Park and two were removed altogether, meaning practice times were typically five seconds faster than at previous races.

Friday’s sessions came 756 days after the 2020 race was canceled at the last minute due to the COVID-19 pandemic with spectators queuing at the gates of facilities for the first session on March 13 in the same year.

Sainz and Leclerc set the best times in the first session, but Sainz moderated expectations for Ferrari. And this despite the victory and a second place for Leclerc as well as third and second positions for Sainz in the first two races.

“We keep saying that Red Bull and Mercedes are the favorites because we haven’t been in the fight for the title in recent years,” said the Spaniard. We are always very careful. We know we have put together a great car on track, but these two teams have been fighting for the title for two or three years.

“They know how much they need to improve, they know exactly what they need to do. And we may be missing a bit of that experience. »

Leclerc abounded in the same direction.

“Even though we are in the lead…we’ve only had two races, so it’s still too early to think about the championship,” Leclerc hinted.

Leclerc had revealed ahead of the first practice sessions that he believed the track changes could give Red Bull an advantage.

“For our car, I would prefer to stay with the old layout, but that’s only from a performance point of view,” added Leclerc. The only reason I say that is because the Red Bulls seem to be very strong on the straights? and there are a lot of straights in general now, so we might have a little more trouble. »

After two races, Leclerc leads the drivers’ championship with 45 points, followed by Sainz with 33 and Verstappen with 25.

Verstappen hopes to improve his position after Sunday’s race.

“Over the long term, I think everything worked out well, and we made some good improvements today,” Verstappen said after the second session. We are heading in the right direction and we will try to build from there tomorrow. »

Second free practice session:

Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:18.978 (27 laps)

Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) 1:19.223 (22)

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Ferrari) 1:19.376 (27)

Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault) 1:19.537 (22)

Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull) 1:19.658 (20)

Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault) 1:19.842 (25)

Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1: 20.055 (25)

Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1: 20.100 (24)

Pierre Gasly (FRA / AlphaTauri-Honda) 1: 20.142 (27)

Daniel Ricciardo (Australia/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:20.203 (24)

George Russell (GBR/Mercedes) 1:20.212 (25)

Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Red Bull) 1:20.424 (30)

Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:20.521 (23)

Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:20.611 (28)

Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1:21.063 (23)

Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari) 1:21,191 (23)

Alexander Albon (THA/Williams-Mercedes) 1:21.912 (28)

Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari) 1:21.974 (22)

Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:22.307 (24)

First free practice session:

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Ferrari) 1:19.806 (24 laps)

Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:20.377 (21)

Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull) 1:20.399 (20)

Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) 1:20.626 (22)

Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:20.878 (22)

Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault) 1:21.004 (27)

Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:21.027 (26)

Daniel Ricciardo (Australia/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:21.155 (23)

Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault) 1:21.229 (21)

Valtteri Bottas (FIN / Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1: 21.247 (23)

Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Red Bull) 1:21.289 (26)

George Russell (GBR/Mercedes) 1:21.457 (26)

Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:21.661 (18)

Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Red Bull) 1:21.701 (26)

Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1:21.821 (21)

Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:21.869 (24)

Alexander Albon (THA/Williams-Mercedes) 1:22.754 (25)

Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari) 1:23.186 (18)

Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:23.924 (25)

Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari) 1:24.349 (15)

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