Two years after the last-minute cancellation near the pandemic’s start, the FIA Formula One World Championship has finally returned to Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. The long-running Australian Grand Prix circuit has also been modified to aid overtaking during its absence from the schedule. The revamped course initially featured four DRS zones. Though, race organizers reverted to the usual three DRS zones after the drivers raised safety concerns.
Like in the two races run so far this season, the duel between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc continued at the front of the field. Leclerc won pole on Saturday by three-tenths of a second over Verstappen. The race start also went in Leclerc’s favor.
The safety car was deployed early on after Carlos Sainz lost control of his Ferrari on the second lap. Sainz attempted an overtake through the high-speed left-right section at turns nine and ten, then ran out into the grass. He slid back across the track and then beached his car in a gravel trap. Sainz’s car suffered from severe porpoising all weekend that hampered his performance.
Leclerc has a pace advantage over his Red Bull rival and was able to pull a gap of five seconds. Verstappen was pitted for hard compound tires on lap 19, and Ferrari responded by pitting its remaining driver on lap 22.
The safety car had to be deployed again on lap 23 after Sebastian Vettel spun on the exit turn four and crashed his Aston Martin on the inside wall. It was a disappointing end to Vettel’s first race of his season after testing positive for COVID and missing the first two races.
Vettel’s teammate Lance Stroll arguably had an even worse weekend. He caused a collision with fellow Canadian Nicholas Latifi as the Williams driver was passing him during qualifying. He was given a three-place grid penalty. During the race, Stroll received a five-second time penalty for weaving in front of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas.
The winner of the Australian Grand Prix was effectively decided on lap 39 when Max Verstappen retired when his Red Bull caught fire in turn 1. Charles Leclerc would go on not only to win the race but also set the fastest lap and led every lap of the race. With the addition of pole position, Charles Leclerc became the 26th different driver to have a Grand Slam victory in Formula 1 history.
The two other podium positions were decided in a three-way fight between Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez and both Mercedes drivers. Despite an incredible start to pass two cars and get to third, Lewis Hamilton was overtaken by Pérez just before the second safety car period. George Russell was also able to get ahead of the Red Bull, but he couldn’t maintain his position. Pérez finished second, Russell finished third, and Hamilton ended up fourth.
Leclerc leads the World Drivers’ Championship by 34 points over George Russell. Formula 1 will return at Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in two weeks.