As the third race weekend of the 2022 season got underway, the Formula 1 (F1) grid returned to Melbourne, Australia for the first time since the 2019 Australian Grand Prix (GP). After two years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Australian GP, conducted from Friday, April 8 to Sunday, April 10, brought changes to some of the corners of the Albert Park Circuit, along with the replacement of the chicane at Turns 9-10 with a right-hander.
Ferrari continued to lead the rest of the pack in strong form, and Mercedes improved their race pace, while reliability issues plagued Red Bull. Among the 20 drivers, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc held the spotlight during the race, putting on a commanding performance and taking his second win this season. The GP also saw Sebastian Vettel on track for Aston Martin for the first time this season after missing the first two races due to COVID-19.
As the drivers got on track for the first free practice (FP) session, the modifications to track corners saw many cars running wide across gravel and grass. Vettel found himself off to a rough start in Melbourne, as his car lost power and forced him to stop by the side of the track, bringing out a red flag.
Ferrari and Red Bull continued to lead the field, with Carlos Sainz fastest in FP1 and Leclerc’s Ferrari in P2 by the end of the session. The two Red Bull cars followed them, with Sergio Pérez ahead of Max Verstappen. For Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton could only manage P7 as his teammate George Russell went P12. McLaren saw a much better start to the weekend, with Lando Norris in P5 and Daniel Ricciardo in P8.
The Ferraris were strong once again in FP2, with Leclerc heading the timesheets for the second practice session ahead of Sainz in P3. Verstappen was in between the two Ferraris in P2, while Alpine also looked surprisingly fast as Fernando Alonso set a time worthy of P4 as his teammate Esteban Ocon took P6.
Vettel’s car needed a power unit change after losing power in FP1, but the Aston Martin garage did not complete the replacement in time, leaving the German driver, who has won three times in Australia, unable to come out onto the track. Lance Stroll brought out another red flag in FP2 as the wheel brow fell off of his car.
Aston Martin had a difficult final practice session on Saturday, with Vettel crashing into the barriers after a snap at Turns 9 and 10. Stroll also crashed into the barrier at the end of the session, bringing out a red flag and continuing a run of miserable FP sessions for the Silverstone-based team.
The only Australian on the grid and home favorite Ricciardo was in P6 by the end of the session, while teammate Norris took the fastest time ahead of Leclerc and Perez. Alonso was in P4 once again as the last practice session came to an end, with Sainz behind him in P6 and Verstappen in P7, Hamilton in P8, Bottas in P9, and Tsunoda in P10.
When the first portion of Q1 got underway on Saturday afternoon, Aston Martin and Williams found themselves in trouble as Stroll and Nicholas Latifi collided, leaving Stroll unable to set a time and knocking Latifi out of qualifying. Stroll was later given a three-place grid penalty for the incident, and started the race in P19. Both drivers’ teammates were unable to get out of Q1 as well, with Alex Albon in P16 and Vettel in P18 as the clock ran out.
While Albon already faced a three-place grid penalty from the last race, he was disqualified from qualifying after it was determined that his car held insufficient fuel, pushing him down to last place for the start of the race. At Haas, Mick Schumacher outqualified teammate Kevin Magnussen for the first time this season, making it through to Q2, while Magnussen was knocked out in P16.
As the drivers got back on track for the second part of qualifying, the frontrunners once again faced no issues making it through to Q3, with Ferrari and Red Bull easily at the top of the timesheets. Valtteri Bottas’ incredibly impressive run of 103 consecutive appearances in Q3, which started at the 2017 Australian GP in his first race for Mercedes, sadly came to an end in Melbourne as the he was knocked out in P12, with his teammate Zhou Guanyu behind him in P14. Alpha Tauri also lost both drivers in Q2, with Pierre Gasly out in P11 while Yuki Tsunoda was knocked out in P13.
As the shootout for pole got underway in the final portion of qualifying, it looked as though it would come down to Leclerc and Verstappen once again. While Hamilton had been on pole in Melbourne for the past six years in a row, Mercedes was unable to challenge the pace of the Ferraris and Red Bulls this year. Alonso hit the wall almost halfway into Q3, bringing an end to what had been shaping up as a very quick lap and leaving him in P10 for the start of the race. Alonso’s crash brought out a red flag, interrupting Sainz’s timed lap and leaving the Ferrari in P9.
With the final timed runs, Leclerc took his second pole of the season as he became the only driver to set a time faster than 1:18s and finished almost three tenths from Verstappen. The Red Bull driver settled for P2, with his teammate Perez just behind him in P3. Sainz’s Ferrari, though, remained in P9 at the end of qualifying.
Behind the top three drivers, Norris showed the improvements that McLaren has made since the first race of the season in Bahrain as he crossed the line and took P4. Teammate Ricciardo also looked faster than he had in the first two races, setting himself up for a P7 start.
The other teams fared decently in qualifying, with Hamilton crossing the line in P5 and pushing teammate Russell down to P6. While Alonso had a disappointing end to his qualifying session, Ocon took a strong P8, showing that Alpine was near the front of the midfield.
Ahead of the 58-lap race on Sunday, all drivers were on mediums except Alonso, Sainz, Magnussen, Vettel, and Stroll on the hard tires. Leclerc would have to put up a strong drive, seeing as the Australian GP had only been won from pole once in the last eight races in Melbourne.
As the lights went out, the Ferrari driver kept his lead well, staying ahead of Verstappen as Hamilton also made a particularly good start and got into P3 ahead of Perez. In the other Ferrari car, however, Sainz struggled from P9, losing five places and dropping to P14. The Spaniard’s race went from terrible to worse when he beached his car in the gravel just past Turns 9 and 10 and was forced to retire, bringing his weekend in Melbourne to an end and leaving Ferrari’s hopes dependent on Leclerc.
The virtual safety car was deployed for Sainz before the full safety car was called out on Lap 3. In a strange strategy choice from Aston Martin, Stroll pitted for medium tires before coming in again on the very next lap to switch back to hard tires.
The race got back underway on Lap 7, with Leclerc managing the safety car restart well to keep Verstappen, Hamilton, Pérez, and Russell behind. The focus then turned to Pérez’s Red Bull as he tried to get past Hamilton and back into the podium places. He eventually made the move stick down the inside of the Mercedes on Lap 10, using DRS into Turn 3 to set up the overtake. However, he was already four seconds behind the two frontrunners, Verstappen and Leclerc.
At the front, though, Verstappen was unable to put up any real challenge for the Ferrari driver. The Red Bull was over three seconds behind by Lap 12, locking up in the final sector to let Leclerc increase his lead to over four seconds by the start of Lap 13.
The Red Bull pit wall called Verstappen in for hard tires on Lap 18, exiting the pits into P7 on track. Pérez came in on Lap 20, letting Hamilton through into P3. The overcut was very effective in Melbourne, with Leclerc pitting on Lap 22 and keeping the lead as he emerged from the pits. Hamilton also pitted on Lap 22 and remained ahead of Pérez upon exiting the pit lane. The Red Bull eventually made the overtake stick on Lap 23.
The racing action was then brought to a pause when Vettelhit the wall on the exit of Turn 4 and came to a stop by the side of the track. The safety car was called out as the Aston Martin was pulled away, with Russell able to come into the pits for his stop and remain in P3 when he exited the pit lane. The end of the safety car period left Leclerc and Verstappen in first and second, with Russell in a surprising third ahead of Alonso, who had yet to pit, and Pérez and Hamilton behind.
When the safety car came in again, leaving Leclerc to control the restart on Lap 27, the Ferrari ran wide through the final corner, allowing Verstappen to get very close down the main straight, but Leclerc managed to keep the lead. Russell also faced pressure from Alonso behind, and had to check his mirrors even more cautiously when Pérez overtook Alonso on Lap 30 and was free to chase after Russell’s Mercedes.
The race fell back into a familiar pace by Lap 36, with Leclerc extending his gap at the front to over five seconds ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull. Though Pérez finally made it past Russell and back into P3 on Lap 36, Mercedes had a strong race pace this weekend. Red Bull, however, found themselves facing trouble on Lap 39 when Verstappen was told to stop by the side of the road with power unit issues, bringing out a fire extinguisher for his car and the virtual safety car for the rest of the drivers. This marked the second DNF in three races for Red Bull, raising more concerns about the reliability of Red Bull PowerTrains engines.
Verstappen’s exit from the race left Pérez in P2 and Russell in P3 behind Leclerc, offering Mercedes the chance to take home a podium. Under the safety car, Alonso and Magnussen came into the pits, but Albon remained on track for Williams, leaving him the only driver not having pitted in the race.
In the midfield, a DRS train formed behind Stroll’s Aston Martin as the race neared its final laps. Gasly and Bottas eventually made it past Stroll on Lap 50, leaving Stroll outside the top ten and compounding the difficult remainder of his race after receiving a five-second time penalty for weaving on the main straight while defending.
Albon finally came into the pits for Williams on Lap 57, coming out in P10 for the final lap of the race. The Williams driver ended his race in the final points position, bringing home an impressive points finish after beginning the race in P20 and making his starting set of hard tires last for 57 laps.
Leclerc earned his first Grand Slam in F1 as he took the checkered flag, winning the race after starting from pole, leading every lap, and sealing the fastest lap of the race. It was a dominant performance for the Ferrari driver, who finished over 20 seconds ahead of Pérez, who took second for Red Bull. Russell earned his first podium with Mercedes in third, while teammate Hamilton crossed the line in P4.
The race marked a very strong finish for Mercedes, given the issues the team had dealt with in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The race also saw the first double points finish for McLaren this season, as Norris finished in P5 and Ricciardo in P6. Behind the two McLaren drivers, Ocon, Bottas, Gasly, and Albon rounded out the points positions, with Alpine and Alfa Romeo looking strongest in the midfield.
Leclerc now holds the lead in the Drivers’ World Championship and sits 34 points ahead of Russell, who is second in the championship standings. After taking Ferrari’s first pole in Melbourne since 2007, it looks like Leclerc may be setting Ferrari up to repeat that year’s success and bring a new Ferrari champion to F1.
Ferrari also holds an impressive lead in the Constructors’ Championship standings with 104 points, ahead of Mercedes with 65 and Red Bull with 55. On the opposite end of the standings, Aston Martin now sits in last place with 0 points after Vettel’s DNF and Stroll’s P12 finish, while Williams is just ahead of them in ninth with 1 point after Albon’s P10 finish and Latifi’s finish outside of the points in P16.
The grid will now head to Imola, Italy for the Emilio Romagna GP from Friday, April 22 to Sunday, April 24. Ferrari will want to put on another dominating performance, especially as the race is in Italy, while Red Bull will need to address the reliability of their engines. Further back in the field, Aston Martin will need to make some drastic changes to the AMR22 given the terrible weekend the team had in Melbourne if they want to see any positive results over the next few race weekends.
Jiyu Shin can be reached at email@example.com.