Leclerc outpaces world champion Verstappen to go fastest in Melbourne

By: AFP
Published: 04:57 PM, 8 Apr, 2022
Leclerc outpaces world champion Verstappen to go fastest in Melbourne
Caption: Dutch driver Max Verstappen sits in his car during the second practice session ahead of the 2022 Formula One Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne.
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Ferrari's Charles Leclerc said Friday there was still work to do despite going quickest in second practice at the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen, with a struggling Lewis Hamilton only managing 13th.

Monaco's Leclerc, the early season championship leader, was outpaced by team-mate Carlos Sainz in the first 60-minute run at a revamped Albert Park, but took the honours in the second session.

Leclerc clocked 1min 18.978 secs, with reigning world champion Verstappen 0.245secs behind after a late surge. Sainz went third-fastest in the other Ferrari.

It is early days in the season, but a title tussle between Leclerc and Verstappen is forming nicely.

"A bit of a harder Friday for me. FP1 was a bit tricky, I improved quite a bit in FP2, but there is still quite a bit of work to do," said Leclerc, 24, who won the season-opening race in Bahrain.

"I don't think anybody really put the (perfect) lap together today. We need to keep focusing on ourself. Tomorrow is qualifying and hopefully we have a good day. We need to do another step forward, and let's push."

Verstappen, who won in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, struggled with handling early on, saying on the team radio: "I'm still having the same issues, mate, I can't turn the car" after straightlining into the Turn 10 chicane. 

He headed back to the pits after five laps, but bounced back to ensure Ferrari and Red Bull were again dominant.

Veteran Fernando Alonso, who won at Albert Park 16 years ago, was a surprise fourth after a blistering 1:19.537 in his Alpine, ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.

Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine secured sixth with 2019 winner Valtteri Bottas a strong seventh for Alfa Romeo, while both the McLarens made the top 10.

Hamilton struggles again 

But seven-time world champion Hamilton continued to toil, as he did at the opening two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

His Mercedes has had problems with porpoising -– bouncing at high speed -– this season after a radical design overhaul and there are no new upgrades for Melbourne.

Both he and teammate George Russell hit trouble. Russell, who finished 11th, slid through Turn 2 and Hamilton bounced onto gravel at Turn 14.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel's return to action after missing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with Covid also went badly wrong.

After setting some respectable times, the German jumped out of his Aston Martin with 14 minutes of the first practice left as smoke billowed from the back.

"Forget it, it's gone," he said on the radio as the red flags came out and he grabbed a fire extinguisher to deal with the problem.

Once the cars had returned to the pit lane, he was seen driving around the track on a moped to return to the paddock, waving to fans, and was set to visit the stewards later to explain himself.

He failed to appear for the second practice with his team tweeting that his "car will not be ready to run" in a huge setback for the three-time Melbourne champion.

It was another miserable day for the Aston Martin team -- who are yet to score a point -- with the red flags brought out with 10 minutes left after some bodywork flew off Lance Stroll's car. He finished 14th.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.