Ferrari buoyed by pace after Australian GP practice


Ferrari's Charles Leclerc during practice.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc during practice. , Photo courtesy: Reuters

Charles Leclerc topped the timesheets for Ferrari in second free practice at the Australian Grand Prix on 22 March, after Williams driver Alex Albon crashed his car in the first session at a familiar turn at Albert Park.

Leclerc posted a flying lap of one minute, 17.277 seconds on soft tires midway through the second session (FP2), which was 0.381 seconds faster than defending world champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull.

Dutchman Verstappen, who is trying for back-to-back wins in Australia and a third consecutive win this season, made a late start in the first session after damaging the floor of his car and was unable to lap as many laps as planned.

Still, Ferrari was excited by its pace ahead of Saturday's qualifying, having been well behind Red Bull's pace in the early races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Leclerc's teammate Carlos Sainz was third fastest in FP2 on his return to racing two weeks after appendicitis surgery.

“We are fast so we are enjoying it but we need to wait and see,” Leclerc, who finished third behind two Red Bull cars in Saudi Arabia, told reporters.

“Red Bull wasn't pushing yet (today). I think they're still ahead but we might have our best shot from the start of the season.”

Verstappen's teammate Sergio Pérez was eighth fastest in FP2 on a day when most cars were struggling for grip on the street circuit.

McLaren driver Lando Norris set the pace (1:18.564) in FP1, which was stopped in the final 20 minutes due to red flags following Albon's accident.

The England-born Thai driver clipped the barrier at turn six and took a heavy shunt, then careened into the opposite barrier and damaged both sides of his car, leaving debris on a long stretch of track.

This happened a year later when Albon crashed at the same turn on race-day, triggering one of three red flags.

Albon walked away from his car unharmed and apologized over the team radio.

He missed FP2 because his team was working on his car, and Williams, who did not have a spare chassis in Melbourne, could be without a driver for the remainder of the race weekend if they were unable to repair it.

Williams suffered another scare in FP2 when Logan Sargent, who had recorded the 13th fastest lap, slid off the track outside Turn 11.

It was a grim day for Mercedes, whose early-season troubles appear to have followed them to Australia.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton posted only the 18th fastest lap in FP2 after ninth fastest lap earlier.

Wolff later revealed that engineers had made a major set-up change to Hamilton's car to unlock performance, but said the move massively backfired.

Russell was sixth in FP2 and third in FP1, but he too struggled for control, with Hamilton slipping off the track in the opening session and complaining of vibration in his steering rack.

“Didn't feel good out there today,” Hamilton said.

“We made some big changes in FP2 and unfortunately, it made the car worse.”

Aston Martin's Lance Stroll was fourth in FP2, ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso.

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