Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has led from start to finish to win the Australian Grand Prix.
Leclerc logged his second win in three Formula One races this season with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez finishing second and Mercedes’ George Russell third in Sunday’s race at Melbourne’s Albert Park.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo came sixth in his McLaren and reigning world champion Max Verstappen failed to finish for the second time this year.
Leclerc started in pole position and retained his frontrunning ahead of Verstappen with a smooth start as Ricciardo held his grid position of seventh.
But the race of Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz lasted less than two laps, with the Spaniard – who finished second and third in the opening two races – misjudging a turn and sliding across grass and then into the gravel.
After a safety car was deployed, Leclerc rapidly increased his lead over the chasing Verstappen, who slipped more than six seconds behind the Ferrari leader on lap 14.
Verstappen entered the pits for a tyre change on lap 19 and resumed in seventh spot with his Red Bull colleague Perez taking second spot – but some 16 seconds behind Leclerc – followed by Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Russell and then Ricciardo.
Two laps later, Perez also pitted and was soon followed by Ricciardo who went from fourth to ninth after his pit stop.
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Leclerc made a tyre change on lap 22 when 26 seconds in front and resumed with a six-second lead from Verstappen.
But Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel hit a wall on lap 24, ending his race, and the resultant safety car allowed second-placed Verstappen to restart racing on the rear of Leclerc.
Within 10 laps of the restart, Leclerc’s Ferrari had pulled away again to create a lead of more than five seconds before Verstappen’s chase suddenly ended on lap 39.
The reigning world champion pulled over and shut down his car, telling his team radio he was smelling some “weird fluid”.
Verstappen’s exit left Leclerc with a whopping lead of more than 11 seconds from Perez with less than 20 laps remaining and the Monaco-born 24-year-old then cruised to victory.