Charles Leclerc Wins Australian Grand Prix From Pole

Max Verstappen suffered his second mechanical retirement in just three races this season.

auto prix f1 aus
PAUL CROCKGetty Images

Through three races, the 2022 Formula 1 season seems to be a duel between Ferrari lead driver Charles Leclerc and Red Bull lead driver Max Verstappen. That makes the first three races for Leclerc a stellar start to the biggest season of his career to date. It also makes the first three races for Verstappen a relative disaster.

Leclerc took pole in yesterday's crash-filled qualifying session, then pulled away on lap 1 to begin what would become a rout of an Australian Grand Prix for Ferrari. The win marks his second in three races, plus a runner-up finish in the other race and the extra point for fastest lap in all three races. It is a strong beginning for what should be Leclerc's first-ever legitimate shot at a driver's championship. It gets even better when you see what's happened to the rest of the field.

Verstappen, Leclerc's most likely title rival through three races, has held pace on track in all three events and actually beat Leclerc in Jeddah two weeks ago. He also retired from the season's opening race with a late engine issue, then repeated the feat with a late mechanical issue from second in today's race. That puts him a startling 46 points behind Leclerc through three rounds, six points away from the equivalent of two full wins. If Leclerc does not retire in those races, the gap looks even more significant: If Leclerc finished second in each race and neither won the bonus point for fast lap, it would take Verstappen seven race wins to pass Leclerc again.

Verstappen is not the only contender struggling, though. Leclerc's Ferrari teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., fell out of the top ten on the start of today's race before spinning and retiring by the end of the race's opening lap. Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes has struggled for pace, but he's salvaged finishes of third and fourth in two races. He also finished tenth in the third, and Mercedes will need to make substantial in-season improvements if either Hamilton or George Russell hope to give this Ferrari team a fight.

Sergio Perez and Russell completed today's podium from Australia, followed immediately by Lewis Hamilton. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo came home fifth and sixth, the first encouraging results of the year for a McLaren team that was so optimistic in the first round of preseason testing before finding themselves completely lost in the same car in both the test and race at Bahrain. Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Pierre Gasly, and Alex Albon rounded out the points-scoring positions, with Albon earning Williams their first point of the season on an outlandish one-stop strategy that saw him stay on his opening tires until the final lap of the race.

F1 has just one week off before its first European race of the season. That will be the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, a race that was added back to the calendar as a pandemic fill-in event but has already become a series mainstay all over again.

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