Australian Grand Prix 2022: Leclerc dominates as Verstappen fails to finish
Charles Leclerc has successfully extended his lead in the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship fight with a dominant performance and an emphatic win at Albert Park in the 2022 Australian Grand Prix as his prime rival Max Verstappen was forced to retire with eighteen laps to go.
As lights went out in Melbourne, it was another action-packed race on a heavily altered circuit, with a tight midfield battle, teams with improved performances and bittersweet moments for the top constructors - here is how it all unfolded as Formula 1 returned to Albert Park after three years.
Leclerc sails to victory as disaster strikes Verstappen at the Australian Grand Prix 2022
Max Verstappen suffered his second retirement in the first three races of the season due to a suspected power unit issue, leaving him 46 points adrift of the Championship leader.
Verstappen was running in second place when his car faced a fuel issue and a mechanical problem which forced him to park it on lap 39.
Although it was an unexpected end to his stint in Melbourne, Verstappen was no match for Leclerc as the Ferrari was in a league of its own through the entire race.
Polesitter Charles Leclerc got off to a great start as he maintained his lead through turn 1 and comfortably cemented his position as race leader for the first stint of the race.
Max Verstappen tried to stick tight to the Ferrari but ran into tyre problems and higher degradation earlier than expected, which enabled Leclerc to increase the gap by as much as 1 second per lap.
Red Bull attempted the undercut on Leclerc just as Charles achieved a nine-second lead over Verstappen. Max boxed on lap 18 - three laps earlier than Charles, and the gap between the two front runners was nearly halved after Leclerc emerged from the pits on lap 22.
A safety car was brought out as a result of Sebastian Vettel’s crash into the wall on exit of turn four. This second safety car restart was the only instance where Charles faced a minor threat from Verstappen.
As the race resumed at the start of lap 27, Verstappen managed to challenge Leclerc and draw alongside on the run to turn one. However, Leclerc defended his lead and began to pull away from the Red Bull without any difficulty.
Verstappen’s efforts at challenging Leclerc for the win seemed almost non-existent at the Australian Grand Prix 2022 as Leclerc dominated each lap and proved that the Ferrari this year is in a different league.
Max’s retirement in the final third of the race further cemented Leclerc’s chances of standing on the top step of the podium. He ticked off each of the remaining laps one by one, and sailed comfortably through to victory with the fastest lap time under his belt.
Ferrari have won three out of the last four races in Melbourne. The 2022 Australian Grand Prix was nothing short of a Charles Leclerc show as he scored his first Grand Slam-Pole position, led every lap, achieved the fastest lap and won the race.
Fernando Alonso was the last Ferrari driver to achieve this feat at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2010.
Carlos Sainz’s nightmare weekend
As memorable a weekend it was for Leclerc, it was one to forget for his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. He had a poor qualifying session on Saturday, got off to a weak start in the race and lost control of his car on the second lap forcing him to retire.
A last-minute steering wheel change was made to Sainz's Ferrari while it was positioned on the grid before the race, which supposedly contributed to his DNF. He got off to a very slow start and was immediately passed by those behind.
Sainz rapidly tumbled down the order from P9 to P14 by the end of lap one. Ferrari opted for the hard compound tyres which after lap one, did not seem like the best strategy for him. His tyres were not warm enough and he could not maintain or gain track position.
Into lap two, Carlos tried to pass Mick Schumacher’s Haas around the outside of the fast turn nine-ten chicane. He broke too late, lost control and ran wide and onto the grass, spinning back across the track and into the gravel trap on the exit of turn ten.
His streak of scoring points in seventeen consecutive races came to an unfortunate end. A Safety Car was deployed as his Ferrari was being recovered.
Expectations from Carlos Sainz were high as the Ferrari had the potential to fight back from P9 and make it to the podium places by the end of the race. It was a disappointing weekend overall and one to forget for the young Spaniard.
Success stories for Mercedes and Sergio Perez
After a miserable weekend for Lewis Hamilton in Jeddah and concerns during the free practice sessions in Melbourne, there seemed like a chance Mercedes could get lost in the midfield fight.
Lewis Hamilton got off to a splendid start in the race, overtaking both Lando Norris and Sergio Perez before turn one. He rapidly moved up the order from P5 to P3 and held off the Red Bull until lap nine, when Perez’ pace superiority helped him regain his position.
Hamilton stayed out for two laps longer than Perez before his first pit stop and managed to remain ahead after he re-entered the racetrack. He barely stayed ahead as the Red Bull of Perez comfortably overtook Hamilton on his out lap.
Moments later, Sebastian Vettel’s crash brought out the Safety Car under which George Russel boxed and got onto a set of hard tyres. His advantage gained by pitting under the Safety Car put him comfortably ahead of Hamilton and Perez, in third place. Russel put up quite a fight as he defended his position against the Mexican.
Russell, fighting mid-race, was told by his team: “If you're hurting your tyres to keep Perez behind, you can let him by.”
Russell countered: "That's not what I want to hear.”
After putting up a decent and gamely fight, the young Englishman was eventually overtaken by Perez. The Mexican strongly held on to his position and finished second, behind Charles Leclerc.
Lewis Hamilton finished in fourth place with his teammate George Russel bagging his second podium in Formula 1 and first for Mercedes, finishing in third.
The Alpines and McLarens showed great potential across the weekend and it seemed like Mercedes would face tough competition from them.
Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo got off to a great start in the race and held strong track positions, closely following the Mercedes.
However, by the final stint they were nowhere near the Brackley team as the two Mercedes drivers showed great race pace. McLaren finished over twenty seconds behind Mercedes.
By the end of the race, it was clear that the performance of the Silver Arrows was a match for Red Bull and Mercedes were well clear of their midfield opponents.
Damage limitation is their game which they seem to be playing splendidly. Mercedes secured the most points as a team in Melbourne and now sit above Red Bull, in second place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Sergio Perez finally ended his ill-fated start to the season by achieving his first podium at the Australian Grand Prix 2022.
The Mexican has shown great promise in the first three races - pole sitter in Jeddah who missed out on a podium place due to an ill-timed safety car, and a second-place finisher in Melbourne.
Sergio Perez has turned an average start to the season into a great one by sitting fourth in the Drivers’ Championship and is performing relatively better than his counterpart at Ferrari.
Perez has proven to be a clear contender for pole position and a podium finisher for each weekend so far this season.
Williams score their first point
Until lights went out at Albert Park on Sunday for the Australian Grand Prix 2022, the weekend was full of crashes, penalties and disappointment for Williams.
The first half of the race was poor for the team as both drivers were scrambling around the bottom of the order.
However, Alex Albon pulled off a unique race strategy by staying out on the hard set of tyres for 57 out of 58 laps. He deftly managed his tyres well enough to maintain enough race pace and track position even on old tyres.
He pitted on the final lap, got onto a set of soft tyres and defended his position against Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu to take home the last point up for contention by finishing in tenth position.
Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen opted for a similar strategy but failed to achieve what the young Thai driver pulled off.
The remarkable tyre management, pit stop strategy and overall performance thrusted Albon to open Williams’ account for the season by earning the team one point.
Sebastian Vettel’s disastrous start to the season as Aston Martin’s bane continues
Four time world champion and fan favourite, Sebastian Vettel finally returned to the paddock for his first race weekend appearance this season.
The German driver missed the first two races because of COVID and was back in action at the Australian Grand Prix 2022. Unfortunately, the weekend ahead of him unfolded in a way he would never have imagined.
Aston Martin has gotten off to a terrible start to the season with major reliability issues and lack of race pace. The story in Melbourne was no different than in Bahrain and Jeddah. Both drivers had their own set of harrowing experiences.
Sebastian Vettel: Engine failure in FP1, and a fine of 5000 euros for riding a scooter back to the paddock inappropriately.
He missed FP2 on Friday, suffered a massive crash in FP3 on Saturday and nearly missed out on Qualifying.
Vettel’s race was one to forget as well. He ran onto the rumble strip, wobbled off the track on lap 22 and hit the wall at turn 5. The Aston Martin lost its front wing and Vettel’s race was immediately over.
Lance Stroll: Crashed in FP3. Earned himself a penalty in Qualifying after being found guilty of causing a daft crash with Latifi’s Williams. Stroll also earned a five second penalty during the race due to weaving on the straights while defending his position.
Both cars continued their pointless streak at the Australian Grand Prix 2022. Apart from the car not being upto the mark, all three drivers of the team seemed too uncomfortable to get the best out of whatever little the car has to offer.
Neither Niko Hulkenberg, Lance Stroll or Sebastian Vettel could get on top of the car and make it seem even remotely competitive.
( Featured Image: © Eric Alonso/Getty Images)