Australian F1 Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc converts pole position into full Aussie triumph

Race winner Charles Leclerc of Ferrari celebrates on the podium after the F1 Grand Prix in Australia. Photo/Getty

Charles Leclerc ended a dominating weekend in his Ferrari after converting his pole position into a complete triumph at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The 24-year-old Leclerc extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship while taking his second win of the season after winning the season-opening race in Bahrain.

Leclerc was able to hold off Red Bull rival Max Verstappen on the opening laps and defended well mid-race in safety car conditions to pull away for a decisive victory in 20.524 seconds.

Sergio Perez overcame a slow start to take second place ahead of the Mercedes combination of George Russell, who secured his first podium of the season, and Lewis Hamilton.

McLaren duo Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth.

Verstappen, the world champion, endured another frustrating run when a mechanical failure ended his hopes as he ran 39 laps second in the 58-lap race.

Verstappen, clearly disappointed after the race, never really challenged Leclerc, whose Ferrari was the fastest car in Melbourne race conditions.

The Drivers’ Championship leader, who stopped on lap 22, confirmed that by posting the fastest lap of 1 minute, 20.260 seconds with a flourishing final lap.

He is the first Ferrari driver since Fernando Alonso in Singapore in 2010 to complete a “grand slam” of racing, having taken pole position, led from the end, won the race and also set the fastest time.

“Honestly, what a car today. Of course I did a good job all weekend, but it wasn’t possible without the car,” he said.

His teammate Carlos Sainz, who finished on the podium in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, was less fortunate during a trying weekend.

After a problem in qualifying caused him to start from ninth place, he fell further back in the field with a slow start, then lost control on lap two, ending his race.

But Leclerc believes Ferrari have shown they will be competitive in the constructors’ championship this year.

“Obviously we’re only in the third race, so it’s hard to think about the championship,” he said. “But, to be honest, we have a very solid car, a very reliable car too, and so far we have always been there. I hope it continues like this and if it continues we probably have chances for the championship.”

The Mercedes team has struggled so far this year and is behind rivals Ferrari and Red Bull.

But Russell was pleased with his car’s improvement over the weekend, although he conceded they had been lucky with Verstappen’s misfortune.

“We had a bit of luck today…but we’re going to take advantage of it. To be on the podium is special,” said Russell.

“We’ll never give up. We’ll keep fighting. We have to keep going while we’re on the back foot, I’m sure we’ll get there after a few more races.”

Verstappen said the Red Bull was “already miles behind” Ferrari.

“I don’t even want to think about the championship right now,” he said. “I think it’s more important to finish the races, because today, in general, was still a bad day. It’s quite frustrating and unacceptable.

“I knew there was a problem and it would always be a question mark to finish the race, but that kind of stuff, if you want to fight for the title, can’t happen.”

-AP