It was certainly a weekend in Melbourne to forget for Charles Leclerc, as Scuderia Ferrari’s Monegasque driver spun out of the Australian Grand Prix on just the third turn of the first lap. The spin beached Leclerc on the gravel, marking his worst start to a season since his rookie season in 2018, and providing a painful contrast to his victory from pole position at the same race last year.
Having qualified in seventh place, Leclerc found himself bunched up in the pack shortly after the lights went out to mark the start of the Aussie GP. It was in the crowd that Leclerc made contact with Lance Stroll’s front-left wheel, sending his own Ferrari spinning while Stroll was in a better position to keep his Aston Martin going in the right direction. The incident saw Leclerc retire from the race almost as soon as it began, and a safety car followed.
Understandably frustrated, but always the gentleman, Leclerc refused to blame the Canadian for the clash. “Lance found himself between me and Fernando – and he couldn’t turn in, and we had contact,” recounted Leclerc, adding that the situation is “just extremely frustrating; I mean, it’s the worst start to the season ever, really… it is really frustrating.”
The race then resumed without the Monegasque, but not without further drama, as Alex Albon crashed out of the race on the seventh lap leading to the first of three red flags. Mercedes had the upper hand at the race restart, but Max Verstappen took P1 from Hamilton shortly before a fiery engine failure saw George Russell retire as well.
As Verstappen settled into a comfortably lead for the vast majority of the race, the finishing order began to look concrete, only for Kevin Magnussen to shunt his Haas into the wall exiting Turn 2, ripping his own tyre off and spreading debris across the track to bring out a second red flag with two laps left to go. The subsequent race restart was nothing short of chaotic, as the drivers struggled to avoid each other and the gravel.
With the third red flag flying so late into the race, officials decided to restart the race for the third time with a rolling start, which took the surviving cars across the chequered line. Verstappen was victorious again, with Hamilton taking second place a split second later ahead of Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard completing the podium in third place.
As the dust and debris settles in Melbourne, the F1 circus packs up again and preparations begin for the 2023 Azerbaijan GP on Sunday, April 30.
Featured image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari, Charles Leclerc spectating the remainder of the race from the pits post-fiasco