Checo clinches P2 after Max DNFs in Australia
Sergio Pérez took his first podium of the season, finishing second behind Australian Grand Prix winner Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, but there was disappointment for Max Verstappen with the World Champion exiting the race with a mechanical issue.
Until the start of lap 39, Max was sitting in second and had worked hard to keep Leclerc in view as the Ferrari driver utilised his car’s greater race pace to carve out a strong lead, but as Max crossed the line to begin the lap his RB18 suddenly lost power and was forced to pull over at the side of the track at the exit of turn one and stopped with what appeared to be a fuel system failure.
The failure promoted Checo to second and having battled with both Mercedes cars in the early phases of the race, the Mexican was eventually able to draw away and claim his first podium of 2022, with five seconds in hand over third-placed George Russell.
Discussing his P2 today, driver Sergio Perez said: “It was a good result but, unfortunately, we lost Max and it would have been great to have a double podium for the Team. On the other hand, it is a good result after so many unlucky moments in the first couple of races for me. It was a very complicated race with the start I had and the safety cars but we managed to overcome it.
“My first start was very poor, we struggled a lot with degradation on the medium tyre, we were a bit unlucky with the safety car and we lost two positions which we recovered later. We got a few things wrong across the weekend and we were battling more with Mercedes than Ferrari so the pace wasn’t where we want it to be, but we will work on it.
“There is some good analysis to be done from this weekend because yesterday we were close for pole but in the race we were a bit too far off the pace. The fastest guys out there are Ferrari, we want to be up there fighting with them and today that wasn’t the case. If we can improve the car a little, then we can be more confident.”
When the lights went out at the start, polesitter Leclerc got away well, with Max just behind, but it was Checo who got the best getaway and as they powered towards turn one, the Mexican moved to the left to put pressure on his teammate. Max held his line and as he moved left for the first corner Checo was forced to back off. That allowed fast-starting Lewis Hamilton to slip through to third place.
Behind the top four, George Russell had also made a good start in the second Mercedes and he passed McLaren’s Lando Norris to claim fifth place, with Ricciardo seventh ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly.
Worst affected by the start was Carlos Sainz. On hard tyres, the second Ferrari driver struggled for grip when the lights went out and he was swamped by rivals and dropped to P14. His struggles ended on lap two, as Sainz passed Haas’ Mick Schumacher on the run into turn nine, but he went too deep, and as he tried to turn, he lost the rear of the Ferrari and spun into the gravel trap. His Ferrari was beached in the run off area and had no option but to retire from the race.
The safety car was released and when racing got underway again on lap seven, Leclerc managed the restart well and the order at the front remained unchanged. The Ferrari driver began to carve out a gap to Max and by lap nine he was 1.4 seconds ahead of the lead Red Bull. Checo, meanwhile, was beginning to put pressure on Hamilton and on lap 10 he went around the outside of the Mercedes in turns three and four to reclaim third place.
As the first stint evolved Leclerc’s pace increased and by lap 16 the race leader was just over eight seconds clear of Max, with Checo four seconds further back in third. Max was suffering with front-left graining and at the end of lap 18 he dived for the pits. In a 2.9s stop he moved to the hard tyre and emerged behind the McLarens in P7. Checo pitted at the end of lap 20 and after a 2.5s switch to hard tyres he re-joined in nineth.
Leclerc made his first stop at the end of lap 21 and after taking on hard tyres he resumed in the lead, though Max’s undercut had halved the gap between the front pair. Hamilton also pitted at the end of lap 21 and after fitting hard tyres he was able to re-join ahead of Checo in fifth place. However, the Mexican’s hard tyres were up to temperature and on lap 23 he powered past the Mercedes once more.
On lap 24 though the safety car was deployed again when Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel crashed on the exit of turn four. Mercedes reacted quickly and boxed Russell under the caution and the Briton was able to take on hard tyres and re-join in third place, ahead of Fernando Alonso, who was still on his starting hard tyres. Checo was now fifth ahead of Hamilton, while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, also on his starting hard tyres, was now seventh ahead of Norris and Ricciardo.
The safety car left the track at the end of lap 26 and Max immediately attacked. He almost drew alongside Leclerc on the run to turn one but couldn’t quite find the pace to make a move stick and as they exited the first corner, Leclerc clung on to the lead.
Behind them, Checo was losing ground behind Alonso but the wily Alpine driver was proving hard to clear. However, when DRS was enabled, Checo was able to close up to the Spaniard at the start of lap 30 and on the run to turn three he powered past the Alpine to take fourth place. He was now just over a second behind Russell.
The Mexican continued to harry the Mercedes driver and Russell’s engineer was soon on the radio telling his driver to prioritise tyre management over position. The Briton was less than pleased with the analysis but on lap 37 he relented and Checo swept past to take third place.
At the front, though, the pattern from the first stint was repeating and by lap 38 Leclerc was over five seconds clear of the lead Red Bull. And then, on lap 39, disaster struck for Max. Having come through his tyre management phase he began to close on Leclerc, but as he crossed the line to start the lap, he was forced to pull over at the side of the track at the exit of turn one to retire from the race.
Discussing his fortune today, driver Max Verstappen said: “It’s of course very disappointing to not finish today’s race, I don’t really know what happened to the car yet, we’ll take it back to the factory and regroup. I already knew there was a possibility ahead of the race that we might not finish but I tried not to think about it.
“This is not what you need when you want to fight for the Championship, the gap is already pretty big. Of course, Checo did well to come second, he scored some good points. Overall it doesn’t look like there is an easy fix so we need to work hard as a Team, there are a lot of things to work on.
“We’ll wake up tomorrow and focus on the upcoming races and do the best that we can. It is of course a long season and a lot can happen; I think at this stage we need 45 races!”
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After a brief virtual safety car period, racing resumed and Leclerc now led Checo by 11 seconds. The lone Red Bull was now four seconds ahead of Russell and Hamilton was fourth ahead of Norris and Ricciardo. In seventh place, having profited from the earlier safety car was Alex Albon, though the Williams driver was still on starting hard tyres.
At the front, and with five laps remaining, Leclerc was a whopping 20 seconds clear of Checo as the Mexican drove his RB18 to the flag. Russell was now three seconds behind him with Hamilton fourth ahead of Norris and Ricciardo. Albon at last pitted at the end of the penultimate lap and after bolting on soft tyres he emerged in P10 place.
And at the end of 58 laps, having led from start to finish, Leclerc crossed the line to take his second victory of the season and the point for fastest lap. Checo took the flag 20 seconds later for his first podium finish of the season and Russell took his first podium of the campaign in third.
Behind the top three, Hamilton finished fourth ahead of Norris and Ricciardo and Ocon took seventh ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas. Gasly was ninth and after starting from the back of the grid having been disqualified from qualifying due to a fuel irregularity, Albon took the final point on offer with a well-worked P10.
Commenting on the result, Team Principal Christian Horner said: “Checo drove an exceptional race today with some stunning overtakes to secure his first podium of the season and bag some solid Championship points. But it was very much a day of mixed emotions with Max not finishing.
“We think it was an external fuel leak and we need to understand exactly what has caused that failure, so it was a very frustrating race in that respect. But we are in this as a team and we will bounce back. We didn’t have the pace of Ferrari today, so congratulations to Charles.
“It’s a long season ahead and we have the basis of a quick and competitive car, but we need to get on top of these issues quickly and we will keep pushing.”