The Leclerc-Verstappen duel could experience a new episode: despite Ferrari dominating the first two free practice sessions of the Australian Grand Prix, the ‘Scuderia’ will have to be wary of a Max Verstappen determined to reduce his disadvantage in the general classification of the Formula 1 World Championship. On the first day on the asphalt of the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, with a partially modified layout, the best moment is been for the Monegasque Charles Leclerc. Far from them the great figure appears, Lewis Hamiltonwho still suffers with his Mercedes, despite having taken the time to joke about a curious aspect of the regulation referring to the jewels worn by the drivers …
With 1 minute 18 seconds and 978 thousandths, the World Cup leader surpassed by 245 thousandths the one who ‘a priori’ will be his main rival for the whole season, the Dutchman Max Verstappen (Red Bull), reigning world champion. Behind both of them, the Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. (Ferrari), at 398 thousandths, completed the top-3. Sainz was the fastest in the first free practices.
But despite his best time, Leclerc was not elated: “Today was a bit more difficult Friday (…) there is still a lot of work to do “declared the current leader of the World Cup. In any case, these results confirm Ferrari’s good form, at the top of the constructors’ classification, after having given up fighting for it in 2021 and thus focusing on preparation for the 2022 season.
Before the Australian race, the third of the season, Leclerc (45 points) and Sainz (33 points) overtake Verstappen (25) in overall pilots. But the Dutchman, who won the last race in Saudi Arabia at the end of March, remains optimistic: “We are still a little behind Ferrari, but I think this weekend we could maybe get a little closer. We are going in the right direction “.
Behind that trio, the Alpine of the Spanish Fernando Alonso set the fourth fastest time, ahead of the Red Bull of the Mexican Sergio Pérez, and the other Alpine, of the French Esteban Ocon.
From behind, the Mercedes of the British Lewis Hamilton and George Russell did not exceed the 7th and 12th times respectively in the first free practice session. And things did not improve in the second session: despite the drivers of the reigning world champion constructors team improving their times, Hamilton occupied a modest 13th place, behind Russell, 11th.
“Even when we do a good lap, if you look at the times, we are more than a second late. We have a lot of work to do to correct the differences, ”acknowledged the seven-time world champion. Before the Sky Sport microphones it was even more difficult: “Nothing that changes in the car makes a difference right now. You are very optimistic and you make some changes, but then the car doesn’t seem to want to improve. We made changes to FP2, which proved to be tougher than FP1 ”. “It’s frustrating why you are trying to push, you are trying to catch them and even if you do a decent turn you are under 1.2 seconds. I don’t know, it’s difficult and it’s a complicated machine, ”she admitted.
This third stage of the World Cup also marks the entry on the track of the quadruple world champion (2010-2013 with Red Bull) Sebastian Vettel, who missed the first two due to being infected by Covid-19. But the German had to pit at the start of the first session due to an engine problem that caused him to miss the second as well. Moreover, Vettel was fined € 5,000 for driving a scooter on track within a five-minute window after the end of free practice 1.
“The good points are that I felt comfortable quite quickly and that we also had good balance in the car. Too bad, however, not to have done more laps, “he explained before ensuring that his Aston Martin will be ready for Saturday.
Off the track, another episode aroused curiosity in the pits of the historic street circuit of that Australian city. Is that the Formula 1 drivers have again been informed of this they cannot wear jewelry during races, prompting Lewis Hamilton to joke Friday that he had piercing which could not be removed. “Wearing jewelry such as piercings or metal neck chains is forbidden during the competition and can be checked before the start,” state the rules.
The decision was included ahead of this week’s Australian Grand Prix, in a statement released by new FIA race director Niels Wittich, who has held this role at Albert Park since the sacking of Michael Masi. But that’s not a new rule, but a simple reminder after several drivers were seen wearing jewelry while inside their cars. One of the drivers wearing these accessories is seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
“I have several piercing that few people know, e I just can’t take them off, “he joked. the British when asked about the ban. “But it’s the usual rule, so nothing new,” she added. The ban was introduced in 2005 as a safety measure to reduce the risk of injury to drivers when they have to get out of the car after an accident.