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Melbourne win consolidates Leclerc's championship lead

NEWS STORY
10/04/2022

While last season was all about Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, this year it's very much Max and Charles Leclerc, certainly for the time being.

Having thrilled us with their cat and mouse battles in Bahrain and Jeddah, we can expect more of the same today.

The Ferrari clearly has the edge in terms of pace, but if the world champion can get off the line and into the first corners first, he might well be able to fend off the Ferrari. Working together the Bulls can make life really difficult for Leclerc, and it is not unreasonable to expect Verstappen or Perez to seek to stall the Ferrari in favour of their teammate.

While Leclerc really appears to be the real deal this year in terms of being a title contender, one cannot help but feel that his Dutch rival panics just a little too easily and at times is his own worst enemy.

Ahead of a race which is almost certain to feature the VSC and probably the full Safety Car, possibly even a red flag or two, it is interesting that the FIA is clamping down on Verstappen's habit of pulling alongside rivals at the restart.

While Verstappen can count on his Red Bull teammate for support, Carlos Sainz starts from ninth, and other than the hassle of trying to get ahead of the likes of Esteban Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo and the Mercedes air, faces a tough time from countryman, and boyhood hero, Fernando Alonso.

Both were clearly frustrated by their issues in Q3 and both will be determined to make amends.

While the updates to the track have had the desired effect in terms of increasing lap speeds, it remains to be seen if they will also aid overtaking, a number of drivers having already expressed doubts. Indeed, following the number of instances of impeding one can understand their scepticism.

Other than the battle out front, McLaren will be keen to prove that this week's apparent step forward is no fluke, while Mercedes also has the opportunity to keep itself in the hunt ahead of its return to base and the much needed opportunity to sort out the W13.

Other than the Ferrari and Red Bulls, the Alpines have looked good all weekend, and but for that hydraulics issue, Alonso could have been right up there. As it happens the Spaniard injured both his thumbs in his Q3 crash, but, ever the Samurai, he is determined to continue.

As ever, the midfield looks likely to feature some great battles, with AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo likely to be challenged by Haas from behind whilst seeking to close the gap to the Alpines and McLarens.

While Williams continues to flounder, one team that will be keen to consign Melbourne 2022 to history is Aston Martin which thus far truly has had the weekend from hell.

Back on a 'real' race track, let's hope that once again F1 can serve up what the fans really want, out and out racing, not directives over jewellery and underwear.

According to Pirelli, the quickest strategy is a straightforward medium to hard one-stopper. The characteristics of the soft tyre made it the default choice in qualifying while starting on the medium opens up the widest range of options, especially with warm and dry weather expected.

Now that the drivers are no longer obliged to start on their fastest Q2 tyres, there's a lot more flexibility, which they are all keen to take advantage of. However, there's still an element of unpredictability.

The revised circuit with its smooth new asphalt is constantly evolving, and some of those revisions mean that there are unforgiving walls in close proximity with rapid corners... just ask the Aston Martin drivers So a safety car is far from out of the question and that could reset the strategies entirely, opening the door to a two-stopper with perhaps even the soft for a final run, depending on the timing of the pit stops and the race circumstances.

Being Australia, rather than the horrid flat-bed truck, the drivers' parade consist of the drivers heading out in classic cars, and actually being able to wave to the fans rather than gather in groups and chat.

As the pitlane opens, following yesterday's overcast conditions, today it is bright and sunny. Air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 39 degrees. It is quite windy also, which should aid slipstreaming - of which there should be plenty on this revised layout. There is 0% chance of rain.

As the drivers arrive on the grid, Hamilton calls for a change of shoes... let's hope that he's wearing regulation Nomex socks.

Speaking on the grid, Mattia Binotto says it is "not impossible" that Sainz can work his way up to fourth.

Meanwhile, Alonso assures us that - sore thumbs or no sore thumbs - "we will attack!"

Meanwhile, as he prepares to climb into his car, it is clear that Lewis Hamilton is in no rush to adhere to the clampdown on jewellery and body piercings.

Worryingly, there is some late work being done on Verstappen's car.

As they head off on the formation lap, most are sporting mediums, though Sainz, Alonso, Magnussen, Vettel, Stroll and Albon - those with lots of work to do - are on hards. All get away.

The grid forms.

They're away! Leclerc and Verstappen get away side-by-side, while there are great starts from Hamilton and Perez. However, into Turn 1, the Mexican has nowhere to go and in addition to losing out to Hamilton almost loses out to Russell also. It's a poor start for Sainz also, while Norris is slow off the line. However, through the first series of corners, on a track which has history, there are no incidents.

Perez is all over Hamilton, clearly smarting from Turn 1, while the McLarens are hounding Russell. Further back, Sainz is battling with Schumacher, the two actually banging wheels as they jostle for position. Like his countryman, Alonso, Sainz is struggling to get the hards up to a decent racing temperature.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Leclerc, Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Russell, Norris, Ricciardo, Ocon, Gasly and Alonso. Sainz is down to 14th, Magnussen up to 16th.

Oh dear, Sainz' day goes from bad to worse as he spins off into the gravel at T10, the Spaniard appearing to have beached the car.

"I'm in the gravel," he reports, "they'll have to push me."

The VSC is deployed.

As the field passes by, Sainz, still sitting in his car, is told: "Engine off, engine off".

The full safety car is now deployed as Stroll makes an early pit stop, the Aston Martin driver switching from hards to mediums. Next time around he pits again and switches back to hards.

"This incentivises Plan A," Norris is told, teammate Ricciardo is told that starting on the hards was not the way to go... as Sainz will agree.

The Safety car is withdrawn at the end of lap 6. New rules dictate that drivers must essentially remain in single file ahead of the restart - no jostling or drawing alongside your rivals.

They're away, Leclerc's leading Ferrari porpoising down the pit straight.

Perez is all over Hamilton, as Leclerc and Verstappen trade fastest sectors.

La9 8 sees Leclerc post fastest lap (23.589) as Hamilton drops 2.4s behind Verstappen. Just behind, Norris closes in on the second Mercedes.

At the start of Lap 10, Perez nails Hamilton in T3 courtesy of DRS. However, the Mexican is already 4.5s down on his teammate.

A brief off for Vettel at Turn 11, as Hamilton is warned about "high temp peaks".

"My left-front is completely grained," reports Verstappen as he slips to 3.9s behind Leclerc. The Dutchman already showing signs of panic.

A brief off for Schumacher at Turn 11.

Latifi pits at the end of lap 13, as Bottas lines up Tsunoda as they battle for 11th.

While a number of medium runners report issues, for Ricciardo it's "so far, so good".

"Plan A plus 5," Leclerc is told.

At the start of lap 16, Bottas passes Tsunoda as they head into Turn 1, Magnussen attempts to sneak by the AlphaTauri in Turn 3 but the Japanese slams the door. The Dane subsequently makes another move at Turn 9, but this time has to take to the grass to avoid contact.

In tenth, exactly where he started, that wily old fox Alonso keeps his head down and gets on with the job in hand.

His teammate pits at the end of lap 17. He rejoins in 17th behind Vettel.

Verstappen pits at the end of lap 18, the Dutchman rejoining in 7th on hards. Tsunoda also stops.

Verstappen rejoins just ahead of the Alonso/Gasly battle as the Spaniard claims 8th.

Elsewhere, Hamilton is closing in on Perez as the Mexican is clearly struggling.

On those fresh softs, Verstappen goes quickest in S1.

Perez pits at the end of lap 20, as does Norris. They rejoin in 9th and 12th as Verstappen posts a new fastest lap (23.217).

Check out our Sunday gallery from Melbourne, here.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Spindoctor, 11/04/2022 13:14

"Definitely advantage Ferrari in Melbourne. Much of that advantage seemed to come from Leclerc who drove a faultless race in a very slightly faster car. Lap-time analysis seems to show that the Red Bulls were competitive over a few laps but couldn't maintain the pace of Leclerc\Ferrari who clearly had lots in hand.....
I'm still not convinced by the "better overtaking" aspects of the new cars. It's certainly possible to follow closer but DRS still seems essential for many overtakes.

Not sure it was a "great" or even a particularly good Motor Race - much of it was classic F1 "follow the leader" with tyres & tyre stops yet again playing a starring role in the "drama" of it.

A good outcome for Mercedes. Lewis was unlucky with the Safety Car (this is becoming a habit!). That doesn't undermine Russel's performance, his podium was well-deserved & he drove an excellent race. It was interesting that McLaren too were closer to the leaders - clearly they are learning about the car & that Merc PU seemed more competitive too.

Despite Ferrari's stunning turnaround, I stand by my pre-season prediction that this season is RBR's & Verstappen's to lose - and they are doing a great job of losing it!
Nonetheless I suspect that RBR's performances on other tracks will be much better, and with Newey on-board you can be sure the car will continue to improve, maybe more than Ferrari's. With Alpine looking competitive and if McLaren can continue to improve & Mercedes can sort-out the car, then things could get very interesting over the next half-dozen races......"

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2. Posted by kenji, 11/04/2022 1:38

"I have always supported a return to freedom of choice when it comes down to tyres and how they are used during the race. That together with another supplier being introduced. We would then see many different car set ups and different strategies. Watching 16 guys exercise a form of 'butch ballet' is not necessarily entertaining. The only reason it happens is that it introduces an element of risk should a team falter thus changing possible track position.... F1 racing should be decided on track not in the pits."

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3. Posted by Egalitarian, 10/04/2022 23:36

"It seems to me that if Albon could do all of those laps on one set of tyres, there really is no need for mandatory stops at all other than to artifically introduce drama. Good for the circus if that is your thing. Just my $0.02
"

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4. Posted by kenji, 10/04/2022 9:38

"
Not the most exciting of races but nevertheless emjoyable. The right driver/team won convincingly. It's so good to see Leclerc extending his lead. The RB really wasn't in it but they were on for excellent points until the demise of Verstsppens chariot. Poor Sainz had a shocker but that's F1. Like the ED. said Alex Albon drove a really superb race and how he managed to put in those times on a set of hards that were 58 laps old was quite superb! As for Mclaren..well a very good job however I felt as though Ricciardo was quite capable of nailing
Norris on more that one occasion but was driving to a preset plan. Pity that. Like the previous week in Saudi he was in front of Norris when he lost his engine. According to Seidl he would've pulled senventh and today he would've pulled 5th. Ricciardo is slowly pulling back the times and considering he started on the back foot it could get interesting further down the track. As for Mercedes, again they lucked into points, which is distorting the picture somewhat. Russell drove well and managed to keep the GOAT off the dais which, judging by the 'whine, blaming the team' from No.44, didn't go down well at all. Let's hope that this continues but I doubt that Wolff will let them race openly for much longer. With Ferrari in the ascendancy ATM, Imola will be a spectacle of rampant Italian fervour. Roll on the next 14 days....
"

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