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Leclerc stretches title lead with Aussie GP win

Leclerc stretches title lead with Aussie GP win

FORMULA ONE: Charles Leclerc dominated the Australian Grand Prix earlier today (Apr 10) to take a commanding championship lead after Max Verstappen retired with another engine problem.

By Michael Lamonato

Sunday 10 April 2022, 10:20PM

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Victory for the Ferrari driver was comprehensive, winning the race from pole, leading every lap and setting the fastest lap for his first career grand slam, a rare Formula 1 accolade claimed by only 14 other drivers in history.

The Monegasque was untouchable, including by Max Verstappen, who started alongside him on the front row but couldn’t keep pace without his tyres suffering on the newly resurfaced Melbourne circuit.

The Dutchman was out of contention long before the first pit stop window and was on track for second place when he suffered an apparent fuel leak that stopped him on the side of the track and put him out of the race.

It was the second terminal failure in three races this season, blowing out Verstappen’s points deficit to 46 points - almost two clear race wins - after only three rounds of his title defence.

With Verstappen out of the picture Leclerc was able to cruise to the finish, though he reeled off a series of fastest laps to ensure he took home the bonus point for fastest lap - his third of the season - and stamp his authority on the opening stage of the 2022 championship.

“What a car today,” he said. “Of course I did a good job all weekend, but it was not possible without the car.

“Obviously we’re only at the third race, so it’s difficult to think about the championship, but to be honest we’ve got a very strong car, a very reliable car too, and for now we’ve always been there.

“I hope it continues like this, and if it does, then we probably have chances for the championship, which obviously makes me smile after the last two years, which have been difficult for the team and obviously for myself.”

Sergio Perez inherited second place for Red Bull Racing after battling past Fernando Alonso and George Russell in the second half of the race, atoning for positions lost by the timing of a mid-race safety car.

“It’s a good result,” Perez said of his first podium of the season. “Unfortunately we lost Max. It’s would’ve been great to have a double podium for the team… we’ve been a bit too unlucky in the first two races.”

Russell finished third after vaulting ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton during a safety car to record his first Mercedes podium and second rostrum appearance after finishing second for Williams in the non-event Belgian Grand Prix last season.

Despite Mercedes’s deeply unimpressive start to the season, Russell’s consistency saw him move to second in the championship and 34 points behind Leclerc.

“We’ve got to be in it to win it and capitalise from others’ misfortune,” he said from almost half a minute off the lead. “We’re never going to give up. We’re going to keep on fighting. We were a long way behind out rivals, but here we are standings on the podium.”

Hamilton finished fourth ahead of McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, the papaya pair executing an unexpectedly strong weekend at a track that proved ideally suited to their underdeveloped car.

Esteban Ocon was seventh at the flag ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who pipped Pierre Gasly for eighth after the Frenchman made a late mistake at the penultimate corner.

Thai driver Alex Albon was one of the field’s most competitors for 10th place after starting from last on the grid. The Williams driver completed 57 of 59 laps on a single set of hard tyres, rising well into the points before taking his mandatory tyre change with just one lap to go, allowing him to slip into 10th for his first point of the year.

Zhou Guanyu was 11th ahead of Lance Stroll and Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen. Yuki Tsunoda finished 15th for AlphaTauri ahead of Nicholas Latifi and Fernando Alonso, who had been on track for points before being forced into a late tyre stop that dropped him to last among the finishers.

Verstappen was one of only three retirements. Sebastian Vettel’s race ended in a crash exiting Turn 4, his Aston Martin spun around on the kerbs and spat into the barrier, while Carlos Sainz threw his car off the road on the second lap at Turn 9 before sliding across the track at Turn 10 and getting beached in the gravel.

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