Leclerc Dominates Down Under


Ferrari takes home another big race with help from Charles Leclerc. (Courtesy of Twitter)

This week, the 2022 Formula 1 season continued with the Australian Grand Prix, bringing the sport back to the land down under. After the 2020 edition of the Grand Prix was canceled minutes before the start of the weekend due to the pandemic, F1 finally made its long awaited return to Australia.

During the weekend, it once again seemed as if the race would be between Red Bull and Ferrari, with both teams showing strong race and qualifying pace. When it came time for qualifying, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc got pole position with both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez behind in second and third, respectively. Leclerc’s teammate, Carlos Sainz, qualified in a lowly ninth due to his first run being ruined with a red flag and a poor second run. The McLaren of Lando Norris was in fourth with the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in fifth and sixth.

When it came time for lights out, Leclerc got away cleanly with Verstappen also holding position. Perez had an amazing start but was squeezed out by Verstappen, eventually losing his position to Hamilton who moved into fourth with another great start. On lap three, the Virtual Safety Car was brought out for Sainz, who spun on his hard tires into the gravel trap where he beached his car. The VSC was quickly upgraded to a Full Safety Car to allow the stewards to safely remove the stranded Ferrari from the track. On lap seven, the safety car was brought in and the race continued with Leclerc getting a clean restart and holding the lead ahead of Verstappen. Hamilton was still in third, blocking Perez’s progress and potential to impact the race. Eventually, on lap 10, he finally got past the seven-time world champion to move up into third.

On lap 19, Verstappen pitted for new tires, with Perez pitting on lap 21 and both Hamilton and Leclerc pitting on lap 23. Hamilton was able to jump Perez in the pits and retake the position. However, on lap 24 another Full Safety Car was brought out due to Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin crashing. This was Vettel’s first race of the season after being sidelined due to COVID-19, putting an end to a miserable weekend for the four-time champion. This safety car let Russell get a cheap pit stop and overtake both Perez and Hamilton to be third, behind the leader Leclerc and Verstappen. On lap 27, racing resumed, but Leclerc could not get away as cleanly as before, and Verstappen remained right behind him. Leclerc was finally able to build a gap away from Verstappen while Perez overtook Russell for third.

On lap 39, disaster struck with Verstappen retiring from the race with an engine issue, his second in three races. With an even bigger gap to Perez who inherited second place, Leclerc was able to relax a little and ensure that he was able to get to the finish.

After 58 laps, Leclerc crossed the finish line to win the Australian Grand Prix with Perez in second and Russell in third to round out the podium. Leclerc dominated the weekend, earning his first grand slam in the process. A grand slam is when a driver gets pole position, wins the race, leads every lap and gets the fastest lap during the race. Leclerc became the first Ferrari driver to do it since Fernando Alonso back in 2010 in the Singapore Grand Prix. As for the reigning champion, Verstappen has had a horrible start to the season. For context, in all of last year, Verstappen retired three times the entire season which was 22 races. In 2022, he already has two retirements in three races. If any title defense is to be carried out, Red Bull needs to fix their reliability woes because if not, the lead will simply be too big to climb over. 

With Verstappen and Sainz retiring, Leclerc was able to take a big haul of points compared to his championship rivals. You can take a look at both championships here. The next race is in two weeks in Imola, Italy at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Once again, expect more upgrades to all of the cars as they try to get to grips with the new regulations. With only three races down, everything is still to play for in both championships.