RACE DEBRIEF

    Melbourne’s heavily-revised Albert Park circuit delivered a thrilling Grand Prix to mark Formula 1’s racing return to Australia for the first time since 2019. We’ve picked out six winners and five losers from the Australian Grand Prix…

    Winner: Charles Leclerc

    On paper, Charles Leclerc didn’t think the sweeping changes to Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit would suit his Ferrari F1-75, but the reality turned out to be very different.

    The 24-year-old secured pole position by the biggest margin so far this year and went on to dominate the Grand Prix to secure his second win of the season and fourth of his career.

    READ MORE: ‘It was the first race where we could control the gap’ says Leclerc after extending championship lead Down Under

    It’s only the second time in the last 18 years that a Ferrari driver has taken a grand slam – win, pole, fastest lap, led every lap – and he leads the championship by 34 points, a larger margin than anyone had at any time last year.

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    Leclerc and his Ferrari are going from strength to strength this year

    Loser: Max Verstappen

    It was a challenging weekend for Max Verstappen, who never felt happy with his Red Bull at any point during the weekend and was always chasing the balance and set-up.

    Even so, the reigning world champion was running a comfortable second in the race when his RB18 suffered a mechanical issue, which the team suspected was an external fuel leak.

    READ MORE: ‘If you want to fight for the title these things can’t happen’ – Verstappen frustrated by ‘unacceptable’ Melbourne retirement

    The retirement was his second in three races and leaves him 46 points adrift of Leclerc in the standings, with 20 races still to go.

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    Verstappen's afternoon finished in disappointing fashion

    Winner: George Russell

    Even George Russell was surprised when he was told after the race he was now second in the drivers’ standings, the Briton believing his struggling Mercedes team only have the fifth fastest car right now.

    Despite the lack of performance, Mercedes – and in particular Russell – have been ruthlessly efficient in getting the most out of what they have.

    Though fortunate with the timing of the Safety Car, Russell nonetheless got the maximum out of his package to take his opportunities and secure his first podium for Mercedes, and beat team mate Lewis Hamilton for the second successive race.

    READ MORE: Russell says first Mercedes podium and second-place in the championship is ‘pretty crazy’

    Losers: Aston Martin

    Mike Krack’s tenure as Aston Martin Team Principal got off to a challenging start – and that continued with, as Krack put it, a 'weekend to forget' for billionaire Lawrence Stroll’s operation in Melbourne.

    2022 Australian Grand Prix: Vettel crashes out at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit

    The team ended up with a significant damage bill, as Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel both had accidents on Saturday. The team did a great job to rebuild the cars, but Vettel – who was starting his season in Australia after missing the first two races with Covid 19 – crashed again on Sunday.

    With Williams scoring, they are now bottom of the championship and the only squad yet to score this season.

    READ MORE: Vettel says Aston Martin was ‘too much of a handful for me’ after crashing out of racing return in Australia

    Winner: Alex Albon

    Alex Albon faced an uphill battle in Melbourne after being relegated to the back when his Williams didn’t have enough fuel post-qualifying to supply a sample for testing.

    But he nailed a riskier strategy to perfection, running 57 of the 58 laps on the hard tyre, managing the compound’s degradation impressively and pulling out enough of a gap to stop for softs for the final lap and stay inside the top 10.

    It was his first point for Williams, the team’s first point of the year and their first in Australia since 2017.

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    Albon scored a very hard-won point in Melbourne with an aggressive strategy

    Loser: Carlos Sainz

    This was Carlos Sainz’s most challenging weekend in months, the Spaniard’s fight to get comfortable with the car disrupted by a series of issues with the steering wheel.

    He qualified down in ninth, having lost his first Q3 run to a red flag with not enough time to prepare the tyres for his second run, and then the team changed his steering wheel just moments before the Formation Lap on Sunday.

    READ MORE: Australian GP weekend a ‘bit of a disaster’ says Sainz after spinning out

    The car went into anti-stall, he dropped to 14th and then made a mistake by trying to overtake Zhou Guanyu on cold tyres to spin off into the gravel. That ended his 17-race points streak and a run of 31 Grands Prix without a retirement – both previously the longest active streaks.

    Winners: McLaren

    It has been a chastening start to the season for McLaren, who have been paying the price for encountering front axle issues in Bahrain testing.

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    Double points for McLaren capped a much better weekend for the papaya team

    However, the British team have made progress from weekend to weekend and a combination of car refinements and track characteristics meant they were competitive enough to get both cars in the top-six in Melbourne, having not finished higher than seventh in the first two races of 2022.

    They move above Alpine into fourth in the constructors’ championship, with Daniel Ricciardo all smiles as he scored his first points of the year in his home race.

    READ MORE: McLaren happy with double-points finish – but Norris warns repeats will be tough

    Loser: Fernando Alonso

    This weekend promised so much for Fernando Alonso, but ultimately delivered his second point-less race in a row.

    The Spaniard reckoned he was on course to take provisional pole when damage to an oil ring led to the car cutting out mid corner and pitching him into the wall.

    He was set to rescue solid points on Sunday, Alonso believing sixth was possible, but his strategy was hurt by the Safety Car. The Alpine driver was then forced to stop a second time with his medium tyres in bad shape and he dropped out of points contention.

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    After a brilliant start to the weekend, things went from bad to worse for Alonso

    Winner: Sergio Perez

    Sergio Perez was desperately unlucky with the Safety Car in Saudi Arabia, and while he was undone by it again in Australia, he fought back impressively to take second.

    It was the first time the Mexican has finished in the top-six in Melbourne in nine previous visits and was his first podium of the season.

    A second successive points finish after retiring in the season opener helps him move ahead of team mate Verstappen into fourth in the drivers’ standings.

    READ MORE: We couldn’t match Ferrari at any point’ says Perez after salvaging P2 for Red Bull

    Losers: Haas

    Haas left a Grand Prix without points for the first time this season, as a poor qualifying ultimately left them with too much to do in the race.

    Mick Schumacher lost a couple of positions with an off-track excursion and ultimately finished 13th while team mate Kevin Magnussen’s strategy was ruined by the Safety Car and he ended up 14th.

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    No points for Haas, but they were keen to take the positives

    It wasn’t all bad, though, as the team found a good chunk of performance from Friday into Saturday – and showed good race pace. Plus they are a solid seventh in the constructors’ championship.

    Winner: Australian Grand Prix

    Australian Grand Prix organisers always put on a stunning event – but they took their game to another level for the return of F1 racing for the first time in 1,121 days.

    An impressive 420,000 fans packed into Albert Park to deliver Australia’s biggest sporting weekend attendance ever.

    The atmosphere was incredible, the fan zone was rocking and the packed racing schedule delivered a feast of entertainment on a track that featured several tweaks to corners, and which had been resurfaced for the first time in 25 years.

    READ MORE: What the teams said – Race day in Australia