Leclerc Dominates Melbourne

Leclerc Dominates Melbourne

Charles Leclerc started on pole and ended in first place. His Ferrari has consistently been the strongest car on the track for the first three weeks. In Formula 1, strongest does not necessarily mean the fastest. One must finish the race. Formula 1 is about speed and endurance, and Ferrari is proving that they have both. Their only real issue as a team occurred this weekend when Carlos Sainz car spun out on lap three. There is some talk that there were some issues with the car in the first place given that he qualified ninth. When he spun out, he beached himself in the gravel and thus had to retire from the race. Despite his DNF, Carlos Sainz sits third in the championship standings.

After the first three races, there appears to be four main stories of the year. One, Ferrari appears to have left the doldrums. Two, Red Bull fields very fast cars, but Max Verstappen has DNF’d in two of his first three races. Three, Mercedes is playing catch up but is the third contender in striking distance of Ferrari. Lastly, this year’s racing is a lot more competitive with the remaining teams. Though they lack the pace of Ferrari and Red Bull, they are competing hard with each other. It will be interesting to see if there will be any new contenders separating themselves from the remainder of the field.

McLaren had a nice Sunday comparably speaking. Lando Norris started in fourth and finished in fifth followed by his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, in sixth. Norris finished in the points for the second time this year, while this is Ricciardo’s first top ten finish of the year. McLaren has been struggling to find their pace. Perhaps this week is a positive omen for their future.

This week’s race featured only five teams in the top ten starting grid; Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes and Alpine. Yet, the top ten finish was a bit more eclectic. Eight teams had at least one car in the top ten. Carlos Sainz of Ferrari, and Max Verstappen of Red Bull DNF’d, while their teammates finished P1 and P2. Both Mercedes and McLaren cars made it to the top ten and were joined by Estebon Ocon of Alpine, Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo, Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri and Alexander Albon of Williams.

Mercedes had an interesting race. At the start, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell managed to get by Lando Norris. Hamilton put a brilliant move on Sergio Perez and moved into third place going into the first long straight. However, as a team, Mercedes couldn’t find the pace to keep up with the front running Leclerc and Verstappen. They were consistently 15 seconds or more off of Leclerc’s blistering pace. Pit strategy, brilliant driving and a bit of luck put Russell in the third place after Verstappen retired. Hamilton was not pleased as the laps drained away. He felt the team let him down, but Mercedes was not about to risk losing 3rd and 4th place when they were 15 seconds ahead of the rest of the pack. George Russell now sits in second place in the overall driver standings, helped in large part by Max Verstappen’s multiple DNF’s as well as Sainz’s DNF on Sunday. Mercedes has more work to do in order to be competitive. For now, they must settle for a bit of luck.

At the end of the race, Max Verstappen was as relaxed as I have ever seen him. It was a bit puzzling given his competitive nature, and the frustration of enduring his 2nd DNF in three races. I think he was relaxed because he is a Formula 1 Champion, he has a massive contract, and he knows how good he is when his car is right. Thus far, Verstappen won the only race he finished this year. Red Bull took a big risk when they decided to build their own engines. Though Horner said he didn’t think it was an engine issue, but more of a fuel line issue, he was decidedly nervous and bedraggled during his interview. Max Verstappen was matter of fact. It is unacceptable to DNF because the car can’t make it. He is right. The pressure is on Horner to get Max’s ride going. Max will drive the wheels off it. Horner needs to give him a reliable car to do so. Perhaps that is why we saw such a stark contrast in Horner and Verstappen’s demeanor after the race.

For now, Ferrari is right where they should be. They are on top! They will look to continue their success in a couple of weeks at Emilia-Romagna. Ferrari returns home to Italy!

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