Verstappen dominates at Imola, taking a Red Bull 1-2

Max Verstappen led home a Red Bull Racing 1-2 in Imola as Charles Leclerc’s late spin threw away an opportunity for Ferrari to finish on the podium.

The current world champion made a great start in slippery conditions following a pre-race shower at Imola to jump rival Leclerc and then he took control of the race with a run of fastest laps.

With Leclerc losing a position to Perez into the opening sequence of corners, Saturday sprint race winner Verstappen did not look under threat as he went on to win by 16.5 seconds.

Ferrari had rolled the dice with a late pitstop to put Leclerc on the fastest available tyre before Red Bull did the same, but as Leclerc attempted to reel in the leaders, he spun to sixth.

The full grid opted to start on intermediates, all running a brand-new set of Pirelli except for Lewis Hamilton, who instead selected a set of scrubbed grooved tyres.

Verstappen overcame his wheelspin issues that hampered his sprint getaway by launching cleanly and pulling from the left-side of the grid to cover any potential threat off the line.

But Leclerc was much slower away, allowing Perez to get the jump on the Ferrari for second and then he had to defend from Norris, who squeezed the Ferrari into fourth at Tamburello.

There, Carlos Sainz torrid run of form continued as he ended up beached in the gravel after tangling with Daniel Ricciardo through the second part of the chicane.

It appeared as though Ricciardo touched the kerb and slid wide to tag Sainz into a spin – the incident passed without investigation. Ricciardo subsequently pitted and resumed down in P18.

Sainz was then stuck on the outside and duly retired as Mick Schumacher dropped from P10 to P17 after a half-spin, and as his rear-axle slid he tagged the sidepod of Fernando Alonso.

The safety car was eventually called at the end of the opening lap to pick up leader Verstappen, with Perez in second over Norris, Leclerc and Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.

George Russell, meanwhile, enjoyed a lightning launch to progress from P11 into sixth, as the Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll made similar progress to climb four spots.

Verstappen turned down the choice from the pitwall to dive in for slicks and the rest of field stuck to their intermediates despite reports of the track drying.

The safety car pulled in at the end of lap four, and the Red Bulls aced the restart to run away by 1.5 seconds over Norris, who covered off a potential challenge from Leclerc into Tamburello.

It took until lap eight for Leclerc to demote the McLaren. Norris oversteered out of Rivazza to allow Leclerc to latch onto his slipstream and dart past on the inside into Tamburello.

From there, the Ferrari driver had a 6.2 seconds deficit to Verstappen and sat 3.3 seconds adrift of Perez.

Over the next seven tours, those gaps condensed to leave Verstappen in front by 5.5 seconds over his Red Bull teammate as Leclerc sat 1.9 seconds in arrears of Perez.

Verstappen then indicated over team radio that he was ready for slick tyres in the event of a safety car but remained on track for the time being as Ricciardo rolled the dice on mediums.

Ricciardo immediately started a run of personal best sector times to indicate the crossover from inters to the yellow-walled C4 Pirellis.

Although the Ferrari crew emerged into the pitlane, Verstappen and Leclerc stayed put as Perez and Russell – who had eventually fought his way past Magnussen at Variante Alta after running deep into Tamburello – were the leading runners to dive in.

Leclerc had clear air to close the 8 seconds gap to Verstappen until next time around, on lap 19, the top two shot into their pit boxes.

Leclerc came out in front of Perez but with the new-for-2022 tyre temperature regulations, struggled on the cooler rubber and fell back to third.

Perez, having passed at the Villeneuve chicane, again provided a buffer for Verstappen who stretched the legs of the RB18 to lead by 7.5 seconds.

Leclerc, now with his tyres up to temperature, might have repassed Perez for second after the Mexican locked his front-left into Variante Alta and skipped the chicane to hit the grass.

But while Leclerc could close, with DRS still disabled despite the whole field switching to mediums, he could not pass and again settled in behind the Red Bull.

Leclerc had struggled, unlike Verstappen, to manage the graining of the front-right tyre in the sprint. Verstappen looked to have retained his superiority as his lead exceeded 10s by lap 32.

The defending champion began to dip into the low one minute, 20 seconds each lap, running 0.3 seconds quicker than Perez, and even lapping the struggling Mercedes of Hamilton on lap 40.

With Leclerc’s pursuit of Perez fading, Ferrari called him in for a set of softs on lap 50 and he only took one DRS zone to streak past Norris to resume in third place.

Red Bull responded over the next two laps by pitting first Perez and then Verstappen for softs, which brought Leclerc onto Perez’s six.

Leclerc had a seven-tenth gap only to Perez but on lap 53, he clattered the kerbs at the Variante Alta chicane and spun to the outside wall.

He broke an endplate although hit the wall square on to avoid suspension damage, resuming to pit for a new front wing and another set of softs and returned to the track down in ninth place.

That relieved the pressure on the Red Bull as Verstappen who, despite reporting some lap drops of rain, crossed the line to take his second full GP victory of the season, the same tally as Leclerc.

He landed the point for fastest lap to boot.

Perez delivered second place over Norris, who completed the podium another 18.3 seconds behind.

Russell bagged fourth, despite Mercedes not adjusting his front-wing aero balance at his pitstop, but he still came out on top in an entertaining late scrap with Valtteri Bottas.

Leclerc recovered to sixth after a late show of damage limitation to fight past Vettel and Tsunoda, while Magnussen and Stroll completed the top ten.

Alexander Albon’s much improved pace on Sunday for Williams merited P11 ahead of Gasly, while Hamilton was unable to pass the AlphaTauri despite a protracted chase.

Ocon landed P14 following a five-second penalty for an unsafe release during the switch from inters to slicks, which forced Hamilton to lift off in the pitlane and drop a place.

Zhou was P15 over Nicholas Latifi and Schumacher, who spun for the second time, while Ricciardo stopped for a set of hard tyres before rounding out the finishers in P18.

So a perfect weekend for Max Verstappen. Pole position, sprint race winner and victorious in the main Grand Prix. With his championship rival Charles Leclerc only taking P6, this result is much needed for the sake of the title.

Imola race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:32.07.986
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull 16.527
3 Lando Norris McLaren 34.834
4 George Russell Mercedes 42.506
5 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 43.181
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 56.072
7 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 61.110
8 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 70.892
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas 75.260
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1 lap
11 Alex Albon Williams +1 lap
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +1 lap
13 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +1 lap
14 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1 lap
15 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1 lap
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 lap
17 Mick Schumacher Haas +1 lap
18 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +1 lap
– Fernando Alonso Alpine DNF
– Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari DNF

Verstappen wins sprint race at Imola

Max Verstappen recovered from a bad start to pass Charles Leclerc to take victory in the sprint race at Imola. It was an exciting duel between the defending champion and Leclerc in the Ferrari.

The defending champion preserved his soft Pirellis until the closing seven laps of the 21-tour sprint to mount a late charge when it looked as though Leclerc was in control.

With the aid of DRS and as his Ferrari rival battled oversteer, Verstappen dived around the outside into Tamburello and kept his car on track to take the win and pole for the main Grand Prix on Sunday.

Leclerc had nailed his launch and with the kink on the main straight placing him on the inside, he could sprint past a wheel-spinning Verstappen to seize first into Tamburello.

Verstappen next had to ensure he retained second as Lando Norris threatened around the outside into the first chicane aboard his McLaren, but the defending champion held firm.

A super-aggressive Perez demoted Fernando Alonso and then lunged past Daniel Ricciardo for a quick rise to fifth, while Ricciardo in turn briefly tagged fourth-placed Kevin Magnussen in the concertina.

But the first lap was soon interrupted by a yellow flag then safety car when 14th-starting Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly, who lined up in 17th, came to blows.

At the Piratella left-hander, the front right of Gasly’s AlphaTauri tagged the rear-left wheel on the Alfa Romeo, which sent it spinning across the track into the inside wall.

Zhou’s car suffered terminal suspension damage, while Gasly persevered with a broken wheel rim back to the pits and swapped for another set of softs to resume behind Alexander Albon in P18.

When the safety car peeled in, Leclerc escaped without a major threat from Verstappen as the points leader swiftly established a lead a touch over 1s to remain out of DRS range.

Leclerc settled a little over the 1s threshold for three tours and then on lap seven, set what was at the time the fastest lap of the race to stretch his cushion to 1.5 seconds over the RB18.

It looked as though Verstappen might struggle to find a reply, but then the gap began to close back under a second thanks to a series of personal best sectors for the Dutch racer.

Leclerc had not made an error, as Verstappen brought the gap below a second and then used DRS and the slipstream out of the final corner to bring the difference down to half a second.

But in his pursuit, Verstappen suffered a spike of oversteer to allow the gap to creep up to 0.8 seconds again, before Leclerc’s soft tyre began to deteriorate as he too ran wide at Villeneuve.

That brought Verstappen close out of Rivazza and gave him the slipstream, which combined with DRS, allowed him to make his move around the outside into Tamburello.

Leclerc gave his rival space at the first apex, and Verstappen kept within the painted lines to make the move stick before romping to a 1.5 seconds lead before sealing the win by 2.9 seconds.

Meanwhile, it was teammate Sergio Perez that could make major gains after his struggles in a wet qualifying session had him starting seventh.

The Mexican sailed past a defenceless Kevin Magnussen – both Haas drivers and Nicholas Latifi the only cars to skip softs and start on medium tyres – into Tamburello for fourth.

And Perez kept putting the slipstream out of the final corner for the run into the chicane to good use as he then copied the manoeuvre on Norris with the help of DRS to climb to third.

The second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, starting P10 after his Q2 mistake, could make similar progress, first dispatching Alonso – who had initially struggled to leave his grid box on the formation lap – into Tamburello.

Sainz could then make a similar move on medium-shod Magnussen, then Ricciardo before eviscerating a five-second gap to Norris to pass the Briton for a fourth-placed start in the Grand Prix.

Norris led Ricciardo for a McLaren 5-6 ahead of Valtteri Bottas, a declining Magnussen and Fernando Alonso, who noticeably had to fight several spikes of oversteer.

Mick Schumacher completed the top ten on medium tyres, as George Russell maintained his starting place of P11 ahead of a climbing Yuki Tsunoda, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

So that’s pole position for the main Imola Grand Prix. The bonus eight points for this sprint victory is crucial for Max Verstappen in terms of closing the gap to the championship leader Charles Leclerc. Bring on the race for another duel between the Red Bull and Ferrari on Sunday.

Sprint race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 30:39.567
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2.975
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull 4.721
4 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 17.578
5 Lando Norris McLaren 24.561
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 27.740
7 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 28.133
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas 30.712
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine 32.278
10 Mick Schumacher Haas 33.773
11 George Russell Mercedes 36.284
12 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 38.298
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 40.177
14 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 41.459
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 42.910
16 Esteban Ocon Alpine 43.517
17 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 43.794
18 Alex Albon Williams 48.871
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams 52.017
– Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo DNF

Verstappen takes pole position at Imola

Max Verstappen will start the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix sprint event on pole position after a heavy interrupted qualifying session at Imola.

The Red Bull driver persevered through five red flags to triumph over Charles Leclerc in changeable qualifying conditions.

Stop-start rain and cool tyre temperatures led to a crash-strewn session that was finally abandoned with 40 seconds remaining on the clock after Lando Norris hit the wall in Q3.

That prevented a final one-lap shootout for pole on the grid for the Saturday sprint contest, which left Verstappen atop the times ahead of Leclerc, Norris and Kevin Magnussen.

On his second and crucial lap on intermediate tyres in Q3, despite a yellow flag for a stricken Valtteri Bottas, the Red Bull driver posted a one minute, 27.999 seconds to move ahead of Leclerc.

The defending champion was quick to confirm he had lifted off and his lap time remained on the board despite the yellow, which soon developed into a red.

That move to back off proved critical when the session resumed only for Norris to crash in what had looked to be a three-minute final run to decide top spot.

Before anyone had set a time in Q3, had brought out a brief red flag after a wet-dry track caught the Haas driver out in the more treacherous second half of the lap.

He lost the rear of the car at the second entry of Acque Minerali and spun across the gravel but kept the rears spinning to eventually rejoin, but not before the session was halted.

Alonso was ready at the end of the pitlane when Q3 resumed after a five-minute delay, the Alpine driver then fighting the car and slithering off the road at Acque Minerali.

Perez and Verstappen aborted the second apex at Tamburello, the Red Bull duo both locking the front-left to run over the gravel as Leclerc set the initial pace with his one minute, 28.788 seconds effort.

Verstappen soon crossed over the timing line just 0.02 seconds adrift as he comfortably kept Norris at bay before running for another one minute, 27.999 seconds flying lap that stormed to provisional pole.

The Red Bull driver was quick to confirm over team radio that he had still backed off considerably and changed down a gear to account for a yellow flag in the final sector.

That caution then morphed into another red flag in response to Valtteri Bottas parking up in his Alfa Romeo C42 on the downhill approach to Rivazza with a technical issue.

When the track reopened a quarter of an hour later for a final three-minute dash, the remaining eight drivers queued in the pitlane ahead of a one-lap shootout for pole.

But neither Verstappen nor Leclerc looked like improving when Norris binned his McLaren also at Acque Minerali, which settled the starting order and allowed Verstappen to land the first pole of his title defence as only one Ferrari driver was there to challenge him.

Fresh from signing a contract extension at Ferrari and in front of the team’s home crowd, Carlos Sainz put his F1-75 into the wall on the exit of the penultimate Rivazza corner in Q2.

With the threat of rain returning, the first timed lap was predicted to be critical. Sainz flashed over the timing line in one minute, 18.990 seconds and he had moved top ahead of Lando Norris.

Verstappen immediately improved and brought that benchmark time down to a one minute, 18.793 seconds to take first position as Sainz was told over team radio to push for a second flying effort.

But as he turned in to the second apex of the Rivazza left, the right-rear wheel appeared to run over the painted track border, and he span across the gravel and into the outside wall.

The front-left assembly bore the brunt, and the red flag was thrown before rain duly arrived.

After a nine-minute delay to retrieve the damaged Ferrari, conditions had deteriorated sufficiently to ensure no drivers rushed to return to the circuit with 11 minutes to run.

With the risk too great to attempt a lap on slicks, both Mercedes drivers were eliminated. George Russell, whose car had broken a floor stay in FP1 due to the extreme nature of the porpoising, missed the cut off on his only flying lap by almost six tenths to land only P11.

He beat the Haas of Mick Schumacher while Lewis Hamilton failed to make Q3 for the second time in three races – Russell having struggled to generate tyre temperature all day.

In P14, Zhou Guanyu was another casualty of the declining conditions despite the Alfa Romeo driver having ended up fourth come the chequered flag of Q1 behind Sainz.

Lance Stroll rounded out the 15 drivers and had vacated the car with three minutes to run, although teammate Vettel emerged from the pits a few second later along with Bottas, Alonso, Leclerc and Perez for Q3 sighters on intermediate tyres. None improved their time.

In the first part of qualifying, a downpour that persisted overnight on Thursday had all but stopped, with the support series creating a dry line to allow most drivers to begin on softs.

Alexander Albon caused a red flag only six minutes into Q1 as the Williams FW44 endured its latest brake failure, like that which hit Nicholas Latifi in Bahrain testing.

In the cool, damp conditions at Imola, Albon complained of losing his brake pedal altogether as he was captured crawling around with flames shooting out of the right-rear brake duct.

This was swiftly followed by a small explosion inside the assembly – likely to be the brake disc failing as it subsequently tore chunks out of the suspension to drop debris on track.

Albon had yet to set a time as Q1 was halted, while Lance Stroll led on a one minute, 23.419 seconds to find 1.1 seconds over fellow soft-tyre runner Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen on intermediates.

The 18-minute Q1 run was also a struggle on the other side of the Williams garage as Nicholas Latifi suffered a spin while accelerating on the exit of the Villeneuve chicane.

He locked the fronts to slow the car before he ran over the sodden grass, but as Latifi tried to return to the circuit, he lost the car again and spun to bring out temporary yellow flags.

Latifi eventually recovered to prevent a second stoppage, as Hamilton ran 1.6 seconds adrift of the pace to just scrape into Q2 by only 0.004 seconds while as per FP1, he struggled to heat the tyres.

That left Yuki Tsunoda to be the first driver to miss out on progressing into the second part of qualifying. Although, he did still find 0.25 seconds over AlphaTauri stablemate Pierre Gasly.

Latifi ran to P18 fastest, while Esteban Ocon was hobbled for a significant portion by a gearshift issue to ensure his Alpine remained in the garage to only beat Albon for P19.

Qualifying positions for the sprint:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:27.999
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:28.778
3 Lando Norris McLaren 1:29.131
4 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:29.164
5 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:29.202
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:29.742
7 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:29.808
8 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:30.439
9 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:31.062
10 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari No time
11 George Russell Mercedes 1:20.757
12 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:20.916
13 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:21.138
14 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:21.434
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:28.119
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:20.474
17 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:20.732
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:21.971
19 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:22.338
20 Alex Albon Williams No time

Leclerc victorious in Albert Park

Charles Leclerc took a comfortable victory at the Australian Grand Prix, scoring 26 points while the defending champion Max Verstappen scored nothing after retiring from the race.

The Ferrari driver led throughout the returning Melbourne event, which was disrupted by two safety cars – after which Leclerc dropped Verstappen each time, despite coming under heavy pressure from the 2021 title winner at the second restart.

Sergio Perez finished second ahead of George Russell, who was a big gainer under the second safety car, but had to hold off a charging Lewis Hamilton to the flag.

At the start, Verstappen looked to get a fractionally better start than Leclerc, but the polesitter was able to sweep across his front row rival and defend the inside line on the run to Turn 1, where behind Hamilton jumped Perez, who had been looking to follow Verstappen’s line to the outside.

Leclerc pulled a 0.6-second lead by the end of lap one of 58, with the top two exchanging fastest sectors over the next lap before the race was neutralised by the safety car’s appearance.

Carlos Sainz had started on the hard tyres but got a very poor launch off the line in ninth and tumbled down the pack, with the Spaniard starting to fight back on lap two when he lost the rear of his Ferrari after overtaking Mick Schumacher’s Haas into the fast left kink of Turn 9.

Sainz’s correction took him across the grass on the inside but he spun on the slippery surface, shooting sideways back across the track at the exit of Turn 10 – just in front of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu – and ending up in the gravel on the far side where he became beached.

The virtual safety car was briefly activated before the full safety car was called for, which stayed out until the restart at the start of lap seven where Leclerc was easily able to maintain his advantage over Verstappen despite his car porpoising badly on full tanks at the end of each straight.

The top two eased clear of Hamilton and Perez – the only drivers able to stay in the one minute, 23 seconds bracket, with Leclerc gaining enough fractions in each sector of the two laps that followed the race resuming to be out of Verstappen’s DRS threat by the time the system was activated.

He continued to grow his lead with a series of fastest laps, metronomic in the 1m23.3s and that reached nearly two seconds by the end of lap 11.

But that ballooned to 3.0 seconds at the end of the next tour as Verstappen, who started to push on in response to Leclerc’s rapid pace, locked up at the penultimate corner and shipped a second, then complained his medium starting tyres were heavily grained.

Verstappen’s tyre trouble meant he slipped back to the mid 1m24s and with Leclerc able to keep his speed relentlessly high, the Ferrari soon had a lead above six seconds.

This reached 8.3 seconds by the time Red Bull called Verstappen in to go to the hards at the end of lap 18, which left Leclerc leading by miles ahead of Perez, who had repassed Hamilton shortly after the safety car came in.

Ferrari left Leclerc out until the end of lap 22 to swap his mediums for hards – the same lap Mercedes called Hamilton and got him out ahead of Perez.

But the tricky warm-up on the C4 rubber meant the Red Bull could close in on the sweeping run to Turn 9 and shoot ahead just before the quick left and just before the race was neutralised by the safety car’s appearance for a second time.

This was because Sebastian Vettel’s terrible Formula 1 return ended in the barriers ahead of the fast, tight right of Turn 5 – the Aston Martin driver having lost the rear of his AMR22 hitting the exit kerb of the previous left and spearing into the wall on the track’s inside.

With Vettel needing to be recovered from the short straight between Turns 5 and 6, and plenty of debris needing to be cleared from ahead of the former, the safety car stayed out until the start of lap 27, with Leclerc’s previous advantage – down to 6.9 seconds thanks to Verstappen’s strong pace on the hards after his stop – totally gone.

At the second restart, Leclerc’s run onto the main straight was compromised by going too wide and so Verstappen was able to close in and get alongside on the run to Turn 1.

But the Ferrari was able to stay in front with a solid defence on the inside line, which he repeated on the following straight and so was able to maintain the lead despite the pressure.

Leclerc then set about re-establishing his lead – again moving clear of Verstappen seemingly with ease to reach a gap of 3.4 seconds by the end of lap 31, the top duo reaching the one minute, 22 seconds having spent the early laps after the safety car in the one minute, 23 seconds and one minute, 24 seconds respectively as they worked to maintain critical tyre life.

Just like in the first stint, Leclerc set a string of fastest laps as he stroked clear of Verstappen, his lead back above five seconds by the end of lap 35.

It looked as if that gap would continue to grow – especially when Leclerc responded to a lap 37 Verstappen fastest time with an even quicker one on the following tour – when Verstappen suddenly pulled over a retired on the inside of Turn 2 on lap 39.

Smoke coming from the Red Bull RB18’s airbox suggested an engine issue was the cause, with the car’s recovery covered by a VSC and so Leclerc’s lead – now back over Perez – was maintained.

He cruised home, still with very strong pace in the 1m21s for most of the rest of the event, to win by 20.5 seconds – taking the fastest lap to boot with a blistering one minute, 20.260 seconds on the final lap, where he also had to negotiate traffic.

Perez was clear in second, with Russell third after he was able to stop during the Vettel safety car and get out just ahead of Fernando Alonso – yet to stop after starting on the hard tyres – Perez and Hamilton.

After Alonso went backwards on his old tyres, Perez hunted down Russell and pressured him for several laps before getting by with DRS on the outside line to Turn 11 – the Briton not fighting hard, possibly as a result of a Mercedes warning that “tyre management was more important that position”.

The looked like it might cost Russell a first Mercedes podium, but Verstappen’s retirement boosted him back and he came home ahead of an unhappy Hamilton, who noted that his run of bad luck with safety car timing continued here.

The McLaren drivers were secure in fifth and sixth, Lando Norris leading Daniel Ricciardo home, with Esteban Ocon seventh for Alpine.

Valtteri Bottas got ahead of Pierre Gasly late-on when the AlphaTauri locked up and slid off at Turn 13 – the pair having been part of a thrilling multi-car scrap with Lance Stroll and Alonso once the Spaniard had stopped in the closing stages.

Alex Albon scored a brilliant first point for Williams after doing a 57-lap stint on the hards, running ahead of Ocon for a long time after the second safety car and gaining as the battle behind raged, which meant he could stop extremely late and not slide out of the top ten.

There, Zhou ended up P11, while Stroll finished P12 – penalised 5s for his aggressive weaving in defence against Bottas – the Aston having gained by pitting twice under the first safety car and completing a net two-stopper from there to get amongst the cars that had started ahead before falling back.

Alonso ended up as the last finisher after his contra-strategy backfired when he appeared to encounter severe degradation late-on and slid down the order to end up P17.

So another fine victory for Charles Leclerc with a commanding drive in Albert Park. The Ferrari F1-75 is very fast and reliable. The championship is looking promising as the next round is the Scuderia’s home race at Imola.

Australian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:27:46.548
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull 20.524
3 George Russell Mercedes 25.593
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 28.543
5 Lando Norris McLaren 53.303
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 53.737
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine 61.683
8 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 68.439s
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 76.221s
10 Alex Albon Williams 79.382s
11 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 81.695s
12 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 88.598s
13 Mick Schumacher Haas +1 lap
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 lap
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1 lap
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 lap
17 Fernando Alonso Alpine +1 lap
– Max Verstappen Red Bull DNF
– Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin DNF
– Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari DNF

Leclerc takes pole position at Albert Park

Championship leader Charles Leclerc scored pole position at Albert Park by beating Max Verstappen in a qualifying session that was interrupted twice due to red flags and big crashes.

Leclerc led after the first runs in Q3, setting a time with one minute, 18.239 seconds just before Fernando Alonso crashed at Turn 11 – the right hander at the end of the back straight and the second DRS zone.

Alonso had just set a then best time in the middle sector when he lost the rear of his Alpine going through Turn 11, the two-time champion saying after he crashed having been sent into the gravel and then into the wall on the outside, that he had “lost the hydraulics” and “could not change gear”.

When the session resumed for the final Q3 runs – with all the qualifying running taking part on the soft tyres – Perez led the pack around, opting to leave earlier to take two flying laps while the rest built to a single final effort with two warm-up laps.

Perez’s second Q3 attempt ended up just 0.001 seconds shy of Leclerc’s earlier effort, before Verstappen forged ahead of both on with one minute, 18.154 seconds.

But Leclerc responded with purple sectors in the first and final thirds – Alonso retaining the best time in the middle sector – to post a time of one minute, 17.868 seconds and secure his second pole of the season by 0.286 seconds.

Perez’s third Q3 run ended up being no better than his second and he finished third, ahead of Lando Norris, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in a run of three British drivers.

Hamilton had been trailing Russell with just the final Q3 laps to go – the Mercedes cars employing similar run length tactics to Perez after the Alonso red flag, which lasted nearly 15 minutes.

Home crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo ended up in seventh position ahead of Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz.

Sainz was unfortunate to not complete his first Q3 flying lap just as the red flags were brought out for Alonso’s crash and he could not match his teammate’s pace in the final minutes.

Alonso took P10 as he did not set a time in Q3 as a result of his accident.

In Q2, which Perez topped, Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas paid for not bettering their personal bests on their final laps as they exited in P11 and P12 – the latter losing his long Q3 appearance streak as a result.

Yuki Tsunoda and Zhou Guanyu did produce their best laps on their final fliers, which yielded P13 and P14 for the AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo drivers respectively.

Mick Schumacher, who completed his last Q2 lap, a personal best, before most of the rest of the pack, took P15.

After the middle segment had concluded, several Q3 runners – including Leclerc, Hamilton and Verstappen – complained about the setting sun compromising their vision as they lapped the Albert Park circuit.

The visibility problem, which prompted Leclerc and Hamilton to request darker visors for Q3, was because the session was running long due to the delay following Alonso’s crash and Q1 being suspended with two minutes remaining following a massive crash between Canadians Nicholas Latifi and Lance Stroll.

Stroll had only just entered the fray once Aston Martin’s repairs on his car after his late FP3 crash, when the pair came together in an apparent misunderstanding regarding letting cars pass when on a slow lap as they exited Turn 5.

Latifi had just let Stroll by as they ran at slow speed towards Turn 5 – the tight, fast right hander than ends the track’s first sector – when the Williams accelerated and passed the Aston on its right hand side, with Zhou approaching both from behind at higher speed.

As Latifi was passing by, Stroll turned right – possibly to get out of Zhou’s way as is the requirement for drivers not on a flying lap – and the pair made contact, breaking the Aston’s right-front suspension and sending Latifi spearing into the wall and smashing all the corners on his Williams.

When the session resumed after a 15-minute delay, which Aston used to finish the repairs it had also been completing on Sebastian Vettel’s car that looked set to be incomplete before the red flag, a series of drivers queued at the end of the pitlane and then raced to gain a track position advantage and find the required tyre temperature for one final lap.

On that, only Gasly and Vettel were able to set personal bests, which meant Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen – one of the most active on the final warm-up lap as he passed the Williams and Ricciardo to head the pack – missing the cut in P16 and P17 behind Schumacher, who out-qualified Magnussen for the first occasion in their time as Haas teammates.

Vettel’s effort was enough to get him ahead of Latifi’s time from before his crash with Stroll, who brought up the rear of the field with no time set.

As he returned to the pits at the end of Q1, Albon, who will drop three places on the Melbourne grid as a result of his crash with Stroll in the Jeddah race, was ordered to pull over and stop his car ahead of the penultimate corner when Williams detected a problem.

The crash between Latifi and Stroll will be investigated now qualifying has concluded, while Vettel was fined €600 for speeding in the pitlane during his brief appearance in Q1, which Verstappen led.

So congratulations to Charles Leclerc in scoring his second pole position of the season. The Ferrari F1–75 looks beautiful and fast and with Saudi Arabian Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen on the front row, we are ready for another battle for supremacy on race day. Bring it on!

Australian Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:17.868
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:18.154
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:18.240
4 Lando Norris McLaren 1:18.703
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:18.825
6 George Russell Mercedes 1:18.933
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:19.032
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:19.061
9 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:19.408
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine –
11 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:19.226
12 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:19.410
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:19.424
14 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:20.155
15 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:20.465
16 Alex Albon Williams 1:20.135
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:20.254
18 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:21.149
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:21.372
20 Lance Stroll Aston Martin –