Dominant to the end: starting in pole position, Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) flew over the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, marked by the abandonment of his announced rival for the title, world champion Max Verstappen (Red Bull).
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On the route of Albert Park in Melbourne, where 420,000 spectators came this weekend, the Monegasque dominated the Mexican Sergio Pérez (Red Bull), 2andand Briton George Russell (Mercedes), 3and.
For the fourth victory of his career – the second this season after the inaugural round in Bahrain – Leclerc even set the fastest time in the race.
“What a car today! This weekend we were extremely strong, the tires were excellent. I am so happy. It’s incredible to win here”, rejoiced the winner on arrival.
And to continue: “We are only in the third race, so it is difficult to think about the championship, but we have a very strong and reliable car. It’s great to be back in this position.”
In the championship, Leclerc now has 71 points and is ahead of George Russell (37), his Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz Jr (33), Sergio Pérez (30). Verstappen drops to 6and place with 25 points behind Lewis Hamilton (28).
Victim of a mechanical problem and forced to retire, engine on fire, at 39and of the 58 laps planned, Verstappen, 3and of the championship before Australia, therefore signs the bad operation of the weekend.
“We have to finish the races. Today was a bad day, I was managing the tyres, I couldn’t fight Charles.
Starting second, a position he kept until his retirement, the Dutchman considers the situation “frustrating” and adds that “this kind of thing, if you want to fight for the title, is unacceptable”.
In Bahrain in mid-March, Verstappen had already had to retire due to a breakdown, three laps from the finish, then he won the next round, in Saudi Arabia, ahead of Leclerc.
Another notable retirement was that of Leclerc’s teammate, Carlos Sainz, second in the drivers’ standings on arriving in Australia. The Spaniard lived a weekend to forget: modest 9and in qualifying and started on hard tyres, he lost control of his single-seater from the start and ended his race bogged down in a gravel pit.
In addition to the Spaniard, Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), who returned to competition after missing the first two rounds due to COVID-19, was also forced to retire after hitting a wall.
The abandonment of Verstappen therefore allows the Briton George Russell to climb on the third step of the podium. The second of the season for the reigning world champion team, after Hamilton’s 3rd place in Bahrain. Starting 5th, the seven-time world champion finished 4th.
If, since the start of the season, the team has had difficulty managing its original aerodynamic single-seater, is this ranking synonymous with an imminent return of the Silver Arrows to the forefront? “We had a little luck today (…) but we take it,” tempered Russell.
“There is so much work to bring us back up to standard. We are never going to give up, we were very far behind and yet here we are, on the podium. If anyone can do it, it’s Mercedes.” He had started in the third line (6and) of the GP, right next to Hamilton.
1. Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari), the 306.124 km in 1 h 27:46.548 (average: 209.254 km/h)
2. Sergio Pérez (MEX/Red Bull-Honda) at 20.524
3. George Russell (GBR/Mercedes) at 25,593
4. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) at 28.543
5. Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) at 53,303
6. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes) at 53,737
7. Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault) at 1:01.683
8. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) at 1:08.439
9. Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Honda) at 1:16.221
10. Alexander Albon (THA/Williams-Mercedes) at 1:19.382
11. Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) at 1:21.695
12. Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) at 1:28.598
13. Mick Schumacher (GER / Haas-Ferrari) in 1 lap
14. Kevin Magnussen (DEN / Haas-Ferrari) in 1 lap
15. Yuki Tsunoda (JPN / AlphaTauri-Honda) 1 lap
16. Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1 lap
17. Fernando Alonso (ESP / Alpine-Renault) 1 lap away