Dominant Leclerc beats Perez to Australian GP win as Verstappen retires
Charles Leclerc won the 2022 Australian Grand Prix to consolidate his and Ferrari’s championship leads as Max Verstappen suffered a second retirement in three races – Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez finishing second and Mercedes’ George Russell completing the podium.
A capacity crowd descended on Albert Park, Melbourne hosting its first Australian Grand Prix in 1,100 days. After action-packed free practice and qualifying sessions, they were treated to another thrilling show on Sunday afternoon.
Driver of The Day Leclerc kept his rival Verstappen at bay through two Safety Cars – the first when team mate Carlos Sainz spun out from P14 on Lap 2, and the second on Lap 23 after Sebastian Vettel’s crash. The threat dissolved on Lap 39 when Verstappen stopped with his engine on fire, allowing the Ferrari driver to cruise to victory over Perez with fastest lap to boot.
Russell took P3 having pitted during the caution for Vettel’s crash, Hamilton losing out on another podium by two seconds in P4 – Mercedes however outscoring Red Bull to retain P2 in the constructors’ standings.
FORMULA 1 HEINEKEN AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX 2022
|1 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:27:46.548||26|
|2 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||+20.524s||18|
|3 George Russell RUS Mercedes||+25.593s||15|
|4 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||+28.543s||12|
|5 Lando Norris NOR McLaren||+53.303s||10|
McLaren were a distant P5 and P6, Lando Norris a few tenths ahead of home hero Daniel Ricciardo in a solid showing for the team in orange – Esteban Ocon eight seconds back in P7.
A penultimate corner lock-up on Lap 54 saw AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly drop from P8 to P9, while Valtteri Bottas gained an extra place to take P8 having started 12th. The Alfa Romeo driver capitalised on Gasly’s mistake, Sainz’s retirement and a difficult race for Fernando Alonso (P17 after a late pit stop for fastest lap).
One of a handful to start on hards, Alex Albon stopped late before claiming P10 to give Williams a deserved first point of 2022.
Zhou Guanyu had a solid 58-lap journey from P14 to P11, missing out on the final point by a whisker to the wily Williams of Albon ahead.
As it happened
Just five kilometres away from the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the late, great Shane Warne enthralled a hundred thousand on any given weekend, Albert Park hosted a sell-out crowd for the first Australian Grand Prix since 2019 – hoping to witness enough twists and turns worthy of a 'Warney' bowling spell.
For round three of the championship, we had Charles Leclerc lining up on pole for Ferrari against two Red Bulls – Max Verstappen from P2 and Sergio Perez from P3 – while team mate Carlos Sainz was ninth on the grid. Lando Norris lined up P4 for McLaren ahead of the Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton in P5 and George Russell P6.
Sainz, Fernando Alonso (from P10), Kevin Magnussen (P16), Sebastian Vettel (P17), Lance Stroll (P19) and Alex Albon (P20) would be the only five to start on hards, the others beginning on mediums.
With track temperatures rising past 40 degrees Celsius, the lights went out. Verstappen suffered a millisecond of wheelspin, allowing Leclerc to retain the lead into Turn 1, while Hamilton swept into third at Perez’s expense – and Russell into fourth in front of Norris.
Sainz’s qualifying misery was compounded on Lap 2 – the Spaniard having dropped down to P14 on his hard tyres – where he tried to pass Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu around the outside of Turn 9 and spun into the following corner’s gravel to trigger a Virtual Safety Car that evolved into a Safety Car.
Safety Car in for Lap 7, Leclerc dropped the hammer with Verstappen and Hamilton right in his tow down to Turn 1. Perez soon loomed large in Hamilton’s mirrors and on Lap 10 he scythed past down the inside of Turn 3 for P3. Norris and homecoming team mate Daniel Ricciardo, holding steady in P7, turned the wick up and were reeling in the Mercedes pair ahead.
At the very front, Verstappen suffered a lock-up into the right-hand Turn 11 on Lap 12, and suffered graining on his left-front tyre. Leclerc was then told to go long on his medium tyres, one-stop strategy still at play. The call to box came on Lap 19 – Verstappen coming in for a set of hard tyres and emerging seventh.
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s pace on mediums had taken a turn and now Perez was under pressure from the seven-time champ. The Mexican was called in to box at the start of Lap 21, as was Norris. Leclerc, however, still hadn’t pitted – and Verstappen was on the charge in P5. The Monegasque driver finally came in on Lap 23 and was ahead of the reigning champion, although the gap between the two had been halved from 8s to 4s.
Hamilton followed suit with Leclerc and, on cold hard tyres, he was just milliseconds ahead of the Mexican – the pair going side by side onto the lakeside run to Turn 9 when Perez made a stunning move around the outside. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Hamilton as the Safety Car came out – Vettel having spun on power out of Turn 4 and hit the wall, ending a torrid weekend for the four-time champion, who had missed the first two races due to Covid-19.
The timing was perfect for Russell as he chose Lap 23 to pit under caution, emerging third – ahead of still-to-pit Alonso. Preparing to restart from P6 behind Perez, Hamilton asked: “What does that mean, I’ve lost position?”
The race restarted a second time on Lap 27, the whole field on hards, but Leclerc’s start was glacial out of the final corner with Verstappen almost alongside into Turn 1. The Ferrari crucially held on to the lead, but not by much, allowing Russell to attack the Red Bull – but the top three was unchanged as the hard tyres warmed into their window.
Alonso was now the lead car in a train from P4-P9 – Perez, Hamilton, Magnussen then the McLarens behind. On Lap 30, Perez calmly pried P4 off the Alpine going into Turn 4, Hamilton next to take a place off Alonso one lap later with DRS. Magnussen aspired to follow suit but made a mistake coming out of the final corner on Lap 33 and lost out to the McLaren of Norris, Ricciardo sweeping by two laps later.
Perez now had his eyes on P3 with DRS on Russell – being told (to his puzzlement) to nurse the Mercedes’ tyres above all – and on Lap 36 made the move on the Mercedes going into Turn 11. Russell tried to hit back but to no avail.
In the lead, Leclerc put in a purple lap but Verstappen, five seconds behind, responded in kind. There was an answer to the Ferrari’s pace – but just how strong was it?
On Lap 39 came the answer to that question when Verstappen peeled off at Turn 2 and launched the steering wheel out of his smoking RB18 as he gestured marshals to put the fire out. The VSC was Race Control’s answer to the Dutchman’s bad luck – a second DNF in three races.
Leclerc would cruise to victory from then on, the margin totalling to more than 20 seconds – with fastest lap giving him another point.
Perez took P2, five seconds ahead of Mercedes’ Russell – while Hamilton was left cursing his luck in P4. Crucially, the Silver Arrows once again outscored Red Bull in the fight for P2 in the constructors’ standings. As for McLaren, they ran a lonely race to P5 and P6, Norris just 0.4s ahead of homecoming team mate Ricciardo at the flag – the Australian having run as high as P4 before his Lap 22 stop for hards.
Ocon had a straightforward journey to P7 for Alpine having pitted once on Lap 18 – but team mate Alonso had a far rockier ride on Sunday. Running as high as eighth when Ocon pitted, the Spaniard cooked his tyres and fell down the order having battled in a midfield train with the lap counter ticking down to 58. Pitting for mediums with four laps left, he ended up last of the runners in P17.
Valtteri Bottas started 12th and found it hard to make early in-roads, but finished eighth for Alfa Romeo, briefly losing out to AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly but hitting back on Lap 40. In an attempt to pass then-P9 Lance Stroll, Bottas was barged off track but continued on for another points finish.
Gasly therefore finished ninth from 11th on the grid, ahead of Albon – who ran 57 laps on hard tyres before pitting. The Williams driver, having started last thanks to a grid penalty from Saudi Arabia, made it as high as P7 and lost just three places with his late pit stop.
Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu was solid but came up short for the final point thanks to Albon’s brilliant strategy.
Stroll, given an academic penalty for crashing into Nicholas Latifi (P16) in qualifying, started P19 but finished P12 on hard tyres having pitted for mediums on the Lap 4 Safety Car, swapping back to hards one lap later. He was, however, given a five-second penalty for weaving ahead of Bottas in defence of P9 on Lap 42.
Behind Stroll was Mick Schumacher, the Haas driver running wide on Lap 12 and again on Lap 50 – but passing Magnussen, who pitted for from hards to mediums with 20 laps remaining, late on. Magnussen was battling for the final point but outmanoeuvred himself on Lap 17 – and was summoned to the stewards post-race for an on-track scuffle with Alonso.
Yuki Tsunoda started 13th on mediums and briefly battled for the final points-paying position, but ended up 15th as his pace waned on hard tyres. That left Williams’ Nicholas Latifi 16th after his qualifying crash, and Alonso last on the board from P10 on a trying Sunday.
Verstappen, Vettel, and Sainz were the three retirements – but it was the former’s DNF that gave Leclerc free reign on Sunday as he stretched his and the Scuderia’s championship leads.
"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," said winner Leclerc.
"Obviously we are only at the third race, so difficult to think about the championship, but to be honest we have a very strong car and a very reliable car too… so I hope it continues and if it does we probably have chances for the championship."
Charles Leclerc leads the drivers' championship with 71 points to George Russell's 37 going into April 24's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix – while Max Verstappen's two DNFs leave him on 24 points behind Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton.
Drivers' standings after the Australian GP
|1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari||71|
|2 George Russell Mercedes||37|
|3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari||33|
|4 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing||30|
|5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes||28|
|6 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing||25|