RACE DEBRIEF

    Charles Leclerc said he was able to control the lead of a race for the first time in F1 after a show of dominance in Melbourne, as the Ferrari driver extended his lead in the championship with a very comfortable victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

    Leclerc led all 58 laps on his way to a first win at Albert Park, Verstappen challenging but ultimately retiring from a likely second-place finish on Lap 39. While Leclerc’s lead over the Dutchman hovered at just over five seconds before Verstappen stopped on track, the Ferrari driver warned his rivals that this had been the first time he had been able to control a race lead in his career.

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    “In Formula 1, it’s the first race where we controlled a little bit the gap,” asserted Leclerc. “Honestly, what a car today. Of course, I did [well] all weekend, but it was not possible without the car. And this weekend, especially in the race pace, we were extremely strong. Tyres felt great from the first lap to the last lap, we were managing the tyres extremely well, and I am just so happy.”

    Now 34 points ahead of Mercedes’ podium finisher George Russell in the standings, and another four points ahead of team mate Carlos Sainz, who retired early on in the race, Leclerc is well in control of the title race. And after a Grand Slam – pole position, fastest lap and victory with every lap led – is he thinking about a maiden championship just yet?

    2022 Australian Grand Prix: Leclerc takes dominant victory in Melbourne

    “Well, obviously, we are only at the third race, so it’s difficult to think about the championship – but to be honest we have a very strong car and a very reliable car too, and for now we have always been there [at the top] so I hope it continues.

    “And if it does [continue] we probably have chances for the championship like this – we will be fighting for the championship, which obviously makes me very happy after the last two years that have been difficult for the team and for myself, so it’s great to be back in this position.”

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    Leclerc leads the championship going into Ferrari’s home race at Imola – while Ferrari team mate Carlos Sainz will be looking to bounce back having spun out from P14 early in the Australian Grand Prix.

    Red Bull, meanwhile, are third in the constructors' standings while Sergio Perez is their highest place driver – fourth in the drivers' championship – after Verstappen suffered a second DNF of the season on Sunday.

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