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After driving high after a decisive victory for Ferrari in the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, Charles Leclerc’s faith in the team’s prospects with the race is growing.
A grand prix counted as a showdown between Leclerc’s Ferrari and Red Bulls from Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez ended with the Monaco driver as a one-sided winner.
The 24-year-old Leclerc extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 34 points, while claiming his second win of the season after winning the season-opening race in Bahrain.
An audience of 128,294 in Melbourne was treated to an emphatic triumph by Leclerc, who was able to hold the Verstappen during the initial laps and defended well in the middle of the race under safety car conditions to pull away for a decisive victory of 20,524 seconds.
Engine failure forced Verstappen out of the race in the 38th lap of the Albert Park circuit, with Perez overcoming a slow start to take second place ahead of Mercedes duo George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in third and fourth place respectively.
McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth in an Australian GP, drawing a record-breaking turnout of 419,114 over three days.
Leclerc became the first Ferrari driver since Fernando Alonso in Singapore in 2010 to complete a “grand slam” race consisting of winning pole position, leading wire-to-wire and also posting the fastest time.
The driver’s championship leader, who pitted on the 22nd lap, posted a fastest lap in 1 minute, 20,260 seconds with a final lap, and was clearly the fastest car all weekend, which he described as a pleasant surprise.
“Honestly, what a car today. Of course I did a good job all weekend, but it was not possible without the car,” he said.
His teammate, Carlos Sainz, finished on the podium in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but endured several setbacks in a test weekend.
After a problem in qualifying resulted in him starting from ninth, he fell further back in the field with a slow start and then lost control on the second lap, ending his run.
Nevertheless, Leclerc is optimistic about Ferrari’s prospects for the manufacturers’ championship this year.
“Of course we are only in the third race, so it’s hard to think about the championship,” he said.
“But to be honest we have a very strong car, also a very reliable car, and for now we have always been there. I hope it continues like this and if it does, we probably have chances for the championship.”
Verstappen, the world champion, never really challenged Leclerc and withdrew with mechanical failure while driving second.
Despite the victory in Saudi Arabia fourteen days ago, the Dutchman was clearly disappointed with the performance in Melbourne, saying that Red Bull was “already miles behind” Ferrari.
“I do not even want to think about the championship at the moment,” he said. “I think it’s more important just to finish races, because today was generally just a bad day again. It’s pretty 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 thing if you want to fight for the title can not happen.”
The Mercedes team has also addressed issues to start the season and is out of pace after both Ferrari and Red Bull.
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Russell was able to claim the first podium finish of the year as Verstappen was forced out of the race and can only hope the team is able to close the hole later in the year.
“We were a little lucky today … but we’ll take it. Standing on the podium is special,” Russell said.
“We’ll never give up. We’ll keep fighting. We’ll have to keep doing this while we’re behind, I’m sure we’ll get there after a few more races.”
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon finished in seventh place ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly in an AlphaTauri.
Despite disqualification from qualifying due to a fuel irregularity, Williams driver Alex Albon finished as number 10 to secure the team’s first point of the season.