Ferrari, Leclerc Have Nearly Double the Points of Their F1 Rivals Now
Oh how the tables have turned.
Yes, we are only three races into the 23-race Formula 1 calendar (if you're not a member of the Tifosi, this is a slight reason for concern), but the Australian Grand Prix saw Ferrari and Charles Leclerc nearly double their opponents' points in the constructors and drivers' championships.
Leclerc took pole on Friday by not a gigantic margin over current world champion Max Verstappen in his Red Bull, managing to go 0.286 seconds quicker around Albert Park. It's not as close as some poles have been in recent years but it's definitely not the kind of thing Mercedes used to pull—where more than half a second over anyone else might suddenly appear in Q3. The race, however, was a different business.
Leclerc was able to pull out a lead on Verstappen and Sergio Perez from the start of the race and was never really challenged for it. Although both Mercedes drivers got great starts they were only ever really scrapping with the McLarens, with Red Bull the only potential challenger to Leclerc's pace. And even for them, the pace just wasn't really there.
Verstappen retired from the race with what looked like a hydraulic or oil system failure but he'd been out of a chance of challenging Leclerc for a while by then. The Red Bull just wasn't capable of catching the Ferrari and Verstappen was suffering from severe tire degradation while Leclerc glided serenely to take the fastest lap, as well as pole and the win. A Ferrari hat trick.
The Monegasque told F1 TV after the race that he'd not really expected to be quick around Albert Park because the previous two times he'd driven there, in 2018 and 2019 (since the race hasn't happened for two years due to COVID), he'd really struggled to put a lap together.
"I think we had the best car today, it's no secret and that's thanks to the team. They've done an incredible job. So I'm extremely happy about the result today and we need to keep pushing," said Leclerc.
The victory puts Leclerc at 71 points, with the next-closest driver George Russell at just 37. Ferrari has 104 while second-placed Mercedes is lurking with 65 in the constructors' title. In a mathematical sense, those are just a couple of race swings' worth of points distance but those swings seem to be going between Mercedes and Red Bull, not either one of them and Ferrari.
That said, it's not all going perfectly for Ferrari. Leclerc's teammate, Carlos Sainz, had an Extremely Bad No Good Weekend, and none of it was really to do with him. A problem on his steering wheel during qualifying, as well as some poor timing from the team, put him out of potentially contending for pole and saw him start ninth. Then he got tangled up with Mick Schumacher and ended up going off-track, only to get beached in the sand trap outside Turn 12.
Red Bull and Mercedes probably ought to thank Sainz for dropping out—had he finished on the podium, their drivers would've dropped even further down the order.
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