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Leclerc wins as Verstappen retires at Australian GP

Charles Leclerc scored a dominant Australian Grand Prix triumph for Ferrari as reigning champion Max Verstappen retired from second position. 

This season has looked set to be a championship battle between Leclerc and Verstappen, but the Red Bull driver has now retired from two of three races with car troubles. 

Leclerc turned in a masterclass from pole position and rarely looked under threat, with Verstappen only getting close enough at the opening lap and at two Safety Car restarts. 

“The car was incredible today,” Leclerc told Ferrari over his radio after the race. 

As well as pole position and the win, Leclerc also claimed the extra point for the fastest lap. His early points lead is now up to 34 over George Russell, with an advantage of 46 over Verstappen already. 

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez concluded second ahead of Russell, who beat Mercedes partner Lewis Hamilton to the final spot on the podium, his first for his new team. 

As was the case at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes was elevated into the podium places when Verstappen’s race ended early.

The Dutchman pulled his car up on the side of the road on lap 40 after telling the team over the radio he could “smell some weird fluid”.

The retirement will raise further worries around Red Bull’s reliability, with a string of car issues across that team and sister outfit AlphaTauri this season.

After Honda withdrew from F1 at the end of last season, Red Bull took over the Japanese manufacturer’s engine programme this year under the name Red Bull Powertrains albeit with help still being provided by Honda.

Hamilton had been running ahead of Russell for much of the race, but a Safety Car deployed after Sebastian Vettel crashed out of the race gave the younger Mercedes driver the chance to make a pit-stop with a smaller time loss. 

“Not having much luck with Safety Cars,” said Hamilton on the team radio afterwards, a reference to controversial losing the championship on the final lap of the season at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

Hamilton still concluded fourth in what was an improved showing for Mercedes, which seems to be a slightly better car to drive in race trim than over one lap in qualifying. 

Later in the race, a radio message from Hamilton to Mercedes was broadcast saying: “You guys have put me in a really difficult position”. 

It is unclear what that was in reference to. 

McLaren recovered from its torrid start to the season with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finishing fifth and sixth. 

Both drivers have stated the sudden improvements this weekend might be track specific, but it was a welcome return to the top six for the famous British team. 

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon finished seventh ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly. 

Alex Albon took the final point for Williams after a mammoth 57-lap stint on his first set of tires, pitting on the final lap from seventh and just emerging in the top ten. 

Haas failed to score a point for the first time this season, with Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher finishing in 13th and 14th. Carlos Sainz spun out early for Ferrari in what was an awful weekend for the Spanish driver. 

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