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Leclerc wins Australian GP; Verstappen fails to finish

MELBOURNE (AFP) – A flawless Charles Leclerc led from start to finish to steer his Ferrari to an action-packed win at the Australian Grand Prix yesterday with world champion Max Verstappen failing to finish.

The world championship leader from Monaco started from pole, held his position at the first turn and never looked back, scorching round the 58-lap Albert Park circuit to take the chequered flag by a massive 20.5 seconds.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was second with George Russell an encouraging third for the struggling Mercedes and his seven-time world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton fourth.

“It’s amazing, the car was incredible today. What a race and what a pace today,” said Leclerc after clocking a fourth career win and second of the season.

“Honestly, what a car today. I did a good job all weekend but it’s not possible without the car. I’m just so happy.

“Obviously we have only had three races so it’s difficult to think of the championship but we have a very strong car and a reliable car. It’s great to be back in this position,” he added.

The McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Riccardo were fifth and sixth.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc leads Red Bull driver Max Verstappen during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia. PHOTOS: AP
Charles Leclerc celebrates on the podium after winning

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon came seventh ahead of Valtteri Bottas in an Alfa Romeo, with Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and Alex Albon’s Williams rounding out the top 10.

But there was disaster for Red Bull’s Verstappen, the winner two weeks ago in Saudi Arabia, who pulled over on lap 39 when second, saying on the team radio, “I smell some weird fluid.”

He jumped out with smoke coming from the engine, grabbing a fire extinguisher to help marshals put out the flames. It was his second retirement in three starts this season.

“These kinds of things, if you want to fight for the title, are unacceptable,” the Dutchman fumed. “We are so far behind.”

In contrast, Russell was delighted with his podium place after Mercedes’ early season struggles with porpoising – bouncing at high speed.

“We’ve got to be in it to win it and capitalise on others’ misfortune and obviously we got a little bit lucky today twice, but we’ll take it,” he said, referring to two safety cars.

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