Charles Leclerc remains the measure of all things in Formula 1. The 24-year-old also won in Australia in his Ferrari. Max Verstappen fails to finish for the second time in the third race. For Sebastian Vettel, too, everything is over long before the chequered flag.

With an unchallenged start-finish victory, Charles Leclerc extended his Formula 1 lead and increased the pressure on the hapless world champion Max Verstappen. While the Ferrari driver triumphed with a controlled drive at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, Verstappen retired early for the second time this season through no fault of his own.

The defending champion had to park his rear-burning Red Bull in frustration in Melbourne and watch Leclerc slip even further in the championship standings. After his second win of the season, the 24-year-old from Monaco already has a 46-point lead over the Dutchman, who crashed out in second position, as he did at the start in Bahrain.

Behind Leclerc, who can dream of his first career world championship title early on, Sergio Perez from Mexico came in second in the second Red Bull. Britain’s George Russell took third place in the Mercedes. Leclerc’s former team-mate Sebastian Vettel did not finish in the Aston Martin after his Corona lay-off. After a self-inflicted accident, the race was over before half-time. Mick Schumacher failed again in his Haas attempt to score points for the first time in his career.

Leclerc defends his pole position

Returning to Australia after a two-year break from Corona, Leclerc defended his pole position at the start with aplomb. His Spanish team-mate Carlos Sainz, who had arrived in second place in the World Championship, on the other hand, lost only ten positions and retired on the second lap after a cocky overtaking manoeuvre. Sainz slid off the track and was lucky not to hit another car. Especially Schumacher’s car was dangerously close.

At the sold-out Albert Park in front of more than 120,000 spectators, Leclerc managed to defend first place even at the restart after the first safety car period. Behind him, Verstappen kept contact, with third-placed record world champion Lewis Hamilton quickly losing ground again. Hamilton’s Mercedes team continues to struggle to provide a competitive car to start the year. Last year’s constructors’ world champion is currently unable to dominate as in previous years.

Sebastian Vettel was also further away from the top than hoped. After overcoming his coronavirus infection, the 34-year-old only started his first Grand Prix of the season from position 17. The Hessian had to take a break in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and in Australia he already experienced difficult days before the race. An engine failure on Friday and a self-inflicted accident on Saturday meant that the 53-time Grand Prix winner had to line up hardly prepared. Vettel had won in Melbourne in 2017 and 2018 in a Ferrari, but in the Aston Martin he was unable to break free at the back of the field and was last after an involuntary trip into the gravel after eleven laps.

Driving mistake by Vettel

After an early pit stop by Schumacher, Vettel passed his German compatriot for 17th position, but it was all over on lap 24. The Heppenheimer lost control of his car after a driving error and crashed into the track barrier. After the violent impact, he was examined by the doctors, but was seen back in the paddock a short time later in good health.

Leclerc, meanwhile, extended his lead lap by lap, with the two Red Bulls led by Verstappen behind him unable to do anything and quickly opting for a tactical manoeuvre. With an early pit stop and a change to hard tyres, the world champion increased the pressure on Leclerc. Leclerc was not impressed and held the lead before Vettel’s crash forced the safety car onto the track, which had been rebuilt last year, for the second time.

Verstappen frustrated

On the second restart, Verstappen came dangerously close and was right next to Leclerc at the end of the home straight. But in his Ferrari, he was able to defend the lead thanks to the Italians’ enormously powerful engine and pulled away again until Verstappen had to get out of his broken car in frustration on the 39th lap. This had already been necessary at the season opener, when he also failed to finish in a similar situation in Bahrain. As a result, nothing more happened at the front and Leclerc for his fourth career win.