Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc cruised to victory in the Australian Grand Prix, extending his Formula One championship lead as Max Verstappen retired with engine difficulties.

Leclerc led the whole race, converting pole position into his fourth career victory and making it two wins in the first three races of the season to enhance his championship lead, while Verstappen retired after finishing second.

With the exception of a botched Safety Car restart that exposed Leclerc to an attack from Verstappen midway through the race, the Ferrari driver was able to fend up his main adversary and pull away from Red Bull’s Sergio Perez to finish a comfortable 20 seconds ahead.

In third position, George Russell earned his first podium for Mercedes after pitting under a Safety Car, allowing him to overtake Perez and teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Russell held on to third place ahead of Hamilton, who appeared frustrated in the final seconds when he radioed in to warn his Mercedes team: “You guys put me in a really tight position.”

After the first three rounds, Leclerc has a 34-point advantage over Russell at the top of the standings.

Lando Norris led out McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo in a distant fifth place behind the much-improved Mercedes. After 58 laps, they were only 0.434s apart. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon finished seventh, as Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas improved to eighth place to earn more points.

Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri finished ninth ahead of Alex Albon, who completed the top-10 to earn Williams’ first point of the season after the Anglo-Thai driver delayed his mandated pit stop until the last lap.

Verstappen’s title defence has gotten off to a shaky start, with the reigning world champion’s second DNF in three races due to suspected power unit reliability issues.

On Lap 39, Verstappen pulled over in second place at Turn 2 after reporting over the radio to his crew that he could “smell some weird stuff” coming from his Red Bull.

Red Bull made a series of tweaks to Verstappen’s car in the run-up to the race, indicating that the team was already concerned about dependability.

The focus will now go to determining the cause of Verstappen’s second retirement of the season, as the Dutchman fell further behind championship leader Leclerc.

Carlos Sainz was the first of the day’s retirees when he went into the gravel after the Turn 9/10 chicane on the second lap, following an abysmal start in which he had dropped from ninth to fourteenth after struggling to fire up his hard tyres.

The Spaniard appeared to be in contention for his first pole position in qualifying, but he was relegated to ninth after his first run in Q3 was halted by a red light, and he was late for his second and final run due to a starter problem.

Sebastian Vettel’s terrible return to Formula One after missing the first two rounds due to COVID-19 was aggravated when he crashed into the barriers at Turn 4 22 laps into the race.

Vettel had missed most of Friday’s running due to engine issues, and a crash in final practice had left his Aston Martin team with a large repair work, limiting him to only one flying lap in qualifying.

2022 F1 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX – RESULTS

POSDRIVERNAT.TEAMTIME
1Charles LeclercMONScuderia Ferrari58 Laps
2Sergio PerezMEXOracle Bull Racing+ 20.524s
3George RussellGBRMercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team+ 25.593s
4Lewis HamiltonGBRMercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team+ 28.543s
5Lando NorrisGBRMcLaren F1 Team+ 53.303s
6Daniel RicciardoAUSMcLaren F1 Team+ 53.737s
7Esteban OconFRABWT Alpine F1 Team+ 61.683s
8Valtteri BottasFINAlfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen+ 68.439s
9Pierre GaslyFRAScuderia AlphaTauri+ 76.221s
10Alexander AlbonTHAWilliams Racing+ 79.382s
11Guanyu ZhouCHNAlfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen+ 81.695s
12Lance StrollCANAston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team+ 88.598s
13Mick SchumacherGERHaas F1 Team+ 1 Lap
14Kevin MagnussenDENHaas F1 Team+ 1 Lap
15Yuki TsunodaJPNScuderia AlphaTauri+ 1 Lap
16Nicholas LatifiCANWilliams Racing+ 1 Lap
17Fernando AlonsoESPBWT Alpine F1 Team+ 1 Lap
DNFMax VerstappenNEDOracle Red Bull Racing 
DNFSebastian VettelGERAston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team 
DNFCarlos SainzESPScuderia Ferrari 

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