MELBOURNE — Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed victory at the 2022 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix on Sunday after a relatively processional race at the upgraded Albert Park circuit.
Defending world champion Max Verstappen was forced to retire his Red Bull car on lap 38 with smoke coming out of the power unit, allowing Leclerc to cruise to the checkered flag.
Fans had high hopes that the Melbourne track, which returned to the calendar this year with several widened corners and a chicane removed, would allow for more overtaking during round three of the championship.
Rather, most overtakes took place as a result of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) zones, and the grid was re-shuffled when Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel crashed out on lap 23, triggering a virtual safety car.
Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, finished second and Mercedes’ George Russell rounded out the podium with an impressive third-place finish — his best result since joining the team this season.
He was less than three seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the other Silver Arrows, who seemingly criticized his team in the final laps of the race for putting him “in a really difficult position.”
Hamilton later clarified his radio message, telling reporters, “I couldn’t race for position because the engine was overheating, I had to back off.”
The seven-time world champ added, “George did an amazing job today. I saw a bit of the battle of him racing Perez, I wish I could have been in it.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris and hometown hero Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth respectively — a season-best points haul for the papaya outfit who struggled to get to grips with their car in the first two races of the year.
Ricciardo crossed the line 0.4 seconds behind Norris, later confirming that he was ordered not to attempt to overtake his teammate in the closing stages of the race.
“Looked like a bit of a photo finish, I was told Lando had a few issues towards the end. Obviously, he slowed down quite a lot so the team said, uhh… be sensible,” he said. “I had to control myself a little bit but of course, a fifth and a sixth is a massive result for us so far this year.”
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Afla Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, and Williams’ Alex Albon rounded out the points finishes.
Leclerc now extends his championship lead to 71 points, ahead of Russell with 37 and his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz with 33.
“It feels incredible,” the Monégasque driver said of his stunning victory.
“Now I know that underneath me I’ve got a car that is capable of winning. Keeping up with Red Bull in terms of development is going to be difficult [but] I’m confident. There’s no reason for us to be on the back foot,” he continued, confirming that the Italian outfit had “some developments coming.”
Formula 1 now heads to Italy for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on April 24, followed by the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on May 8.