Formula 1: The Chequered Flag race review - Australia
Charles Leclerc said even he's surprised by how well Ferrari have started the 2022 season after easing to his second victory of the year in Australia.
For too long, the Scuderia were stuck in the shadows, way off the pace set by Red Bull and Mercedes in the hybrid era. But the major technical overhaul implemented for this campaign opened the door for Ferrari to jump up the grid again and they've grasped the opportunity with both hands.
After three rounds of the season, Leclerc holds a sizeable a 34-point lead in the Drivers Championship and is 8.50 to clinch his first world title. The 24-year-old is 46 points better off than reigning champion Max Verstappen, who is now 1.083 to retain his crown after a second DNF of the year.
There's plenty of work for Red Bull to do, despite Sergio Perez claiming second place in Melbourne, while Mercedes are also playing catch up after what was, overall, a difficult weekend for the Silver Arrows.
Leclerc in a league of his own
The warning signs were there for Red Bull and Mercedes at the start of the season that Ferrari could threaten to break up their duopoly, and so it has proven. Having won the opening race in Bahrain, Leclerc was unfortunate not to have held off Verstappen last time out in Saudi Arabia as the Dutchman passed him late on.
There was never a chance of a repeat of that late drama in Melbourne though, which continues to be a happy hunting ground for Ferrari as they made it three wins from the last four races at Albert Park.
It was another dominant showing from Ferrari as they topped the timesheets in practice before Leclerc snatched pole by three tenths of a second from Verstappen.
Leclerc then produced an accomplished drive to complete a comfortable lights to flag victory, barely giving those behind him a sniff. The only negative on the weekend for Ferrari were the mechanical issues that hampered Carlos Sainz's chances, before the Spaniard spun out of the race early on.
For Leclerc, it was a race to remember and perhaps most worryingly for his rivals, the Monegasque driver expects his Ferrari to be even strong for the next round in Imola.
Reliability ruining Red Bull's chances
Leclerc is 2.75 to win the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in a fortnight, with Verstappen 1.72 to bounce back after another frustrating race. Having been forced to retire in Bahrain, Verstappen was once again let down by his Red Bull with 20 laps to go in Melbourne.
The 24-year-old saw his race end in a plume of smoke and Red Bull's engineers say it will be a few days until they can work out what caused the engine failure. Verstappen branded his second DNF in three rounds as "unacceptable" post-race and believes his car is way off Ferrari right now, despite some close battles with Leclerc in the first two rounds.
Perez's second-place finish was the silver lining for Red Bull but they already trail Ferrari by 49 points in the Constructors standings with the Italians now 7.00 to claim the team prize.
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Race results mask Mercedes issues
Sandwiched between Ferrari and Red Bull in the Constructors table are Mercedes after George Russell registered his first podium finish for the Silver Arrows. He led home Lewis Hamilton in fourth, with both drivers doing well to get the most out of what is an under-performing Mercedes.
Hamilton had got as high as second in Melbourne but couldn't hold off the quicker Red Bull of Perez before his teammate jumped him under a safety car for Sebastian Vettel's race-ending crash.
The result was a good one for the reigning Constructors champions but they don't look to be closing the gap on the top two teams, qualifying over a second behind Leclerc.
Hamilton concedes the team are some way off challenging for race wins with both Mercedes and Red Bull facing a difficult but not insurmountable challenge of trying to out develop Ferrari over the course of a lengthy season with 19 races remaining.
Positive for McLaren and Albon
Mercedes are stuck in no man's land for now, somewhere between the top two teams and the rest of the grid after finishing well clear of McLaren at the Australian Grand Prix.
Despite being way off the pace of Mercedes, it was a positive showing from McLaren after an underwhelming start to the year as they converted their strongest grid positions of the campaign into fifth and sixth place. Home favourite Daniel Ricciardo got a huge reception as he followed teammate Lando Norris across the line.
Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon completed the top-10, with Albon worthy of special mention after a fine drive to score Williams' first points of the season.
Having started from 20th, Albon drove smartly on the same hard compound tyres for nearly the entire race before a late change at the end as he held on to claim one hard-earned point.
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