Charles Leclerc recovered from a Q3 spin to take pole as Max Verstappen was left to rue a DRS failure in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix. 

Ferrari driver Leclerc span out at turn 14 on his first flying lap but produced an immense time with his next and only completed attempt, to ensure he will start from the front of the grid. 

All four of the Monegasque driver's Formula One victories have come after starting on pole. Some 28 of the past 31 winners at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya qualified on the front row.

Verstappen aborted his final lap after reporting a loss of power, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner confirming to Sky Sports that was due to a DRS issue. 

The Dutchman will consequently start from second, with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in third.

"I feel good. It was a difficult session, especially in Q3 because I made a mistake in the first run and then only had one lap," said Leclerc.

"But it went extremely well, I had a few moments but made it stick and very happy with pole position. It was a very good lap and the car was amazing too, so very happy.

"We've been struggling with tyres in the last few races compared to Red Bull, so Max is just behind. If we don't manage those tyres we will lose that advantage, so we need to get on top of it.

"I hope we can do a one-two. It will be great for the team and we will give it our all."

Verstappen acknowledged he may not have been able to beat Leclerc's time but still felt second was a good return for the team.

"It's always difficult to tell, I couldn't do my final run. Either the DRS didn't open or I just lost power," he said.

"It's a bit of a shame, but overall to be on the front row here looking at the whole weekend here, it's a good achievement, but I'd have liked to go for that final run.

"Hopefully, our car will be a bit kinder on the tyres again, but it's difficult to tell at the moment."

Sainz added: "I think everything is possible tomorrow. We are definitely going to try our best to get ahead at the start and lead from there, but it wasn't the ideal qualifying because I couldn't set a good lap on the used tyre."

George Russell was fourth and Lewis Hamilton qualified sixth as Mercedes' record run of nine straight poles in Barcelona came to an end.

Mick Schumacher will start 10th after making it through to Q3 for the first time in his career, while home favourite Fernando Alonso was eliminated in Q1 alongside the two controversially remodelled Aston Martins.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:18.750
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.323s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.416s
4. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.643s
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.670s
6. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.762s
7. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +0.858s
8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +0.932s
9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.547s
10. Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1.618s

The drivers' and constructors' championships both heating up as Formula One makes its seasonal return to Europe seems fitting. 

After legs in the Middle East, Australia and North America, Red Bull are comprehensively in the fight against Ferrari heading into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

With consecutive race wins at the Emilia Romagna GP and Miami GP following DNFs in Bahrain and Australia, Max Verstappen has closed the gap to standings leader Charles Leclerc to 19 points.

After coming perilously close to such an error at Imola, a single mistake or DNF for Leclerc and a full points haul for Verstappen could see momentum in the drivers' championship completely shift.

Barcelona is a happy hunting ground for Verstappen, who claimed victory there in 2016 in only his first drive for Red Bull.

It could continue if the reigning world champion secures pole position, having converted 14 career poles into 10 race victories, the best rate of any driver in F1 history.

Meanwhile, with Sergio Perez also contributing with solid driving and good race pace on Sunday, Red Bull have cut the gap in the constructors' standings to only six points.

Only in Monaco have the team collected more points than in Spain, with 332 compared to 312, but that could change this weekend.

With a fifth consecutive top-four finish, Perez could equal his best such run of results, recorded between Turkey and Qatar last season.

Ferrari set for upgrades

The gravity of Red Bull's resurgence could arguably be crystallised in the likelihood Ferrari will have upgrades installed for this weekend after only tinkering and researching on race weekends to this point.

Leclerc will be looking to lead from the front, with all four of his race wins in F1 coming from pole position.

Carlos Sainz will also be hoping for a strong finish at his home grand prix, where he has accumulated the most points (40) in his career alongside Monaco.

Can Mercedes challenge?

While they might not be a championship contender in either the drivers' or constructors' standings, Mercedes have at least shown improved performance to potentially challenge for podiums and race wins.

The Silver Arrows come into this contest having taken the past nine pole positions in Barcelona, and they will likely need to make it another to challenge on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton is still waiting to surpass Michael Schumacher for the most consecutive seasons with a race win.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 104
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 85
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 66
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 59 
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 53

Constructors

1. Ferrari 157
2. Red Bull 151
3. Mercedes 95
4. McLaren 46
5. Alfa Romeo 31

Charles Leclerc thought he was going to catch Max Verstappen towards the end of the Miami Grand Prix before settling for second place. 

Ferrari driver Leclerc qualified on pole but was overtaken by Verstappen – who started third – on lap nine and was almost eight seconds behind when a safety car was deployed with 16 laps remaining. 

Leclerc was initially able to keep pace with the reigning Formula One champion after the restart but was unable to find a way past the Red Bull even with DRS enabled. 

The Dutchman pulled out the fastest lap to get away from the championship leader, whose lead was consequently cut to 19 points. 

"It was a very difficult race physically. We struggled quite a bit on the medium tyres in the first stint and got overtaken. It made our race a bit more difficult from that moment onwards," said Leclerc. 

"On the hard we were very competitive and towards the end I thought I could get Max at one point, but they had the advantage in terms of pace. 

"We need to keep pushing. Upgrades will be important, and I hope now we can do a step up from the next race onwards. It has been an exciting beginning to the season and that's what we like to see." 

Verstappen acknowledged he had to dig deep in order to follow up his success at Imola with another victory. 

"It was an incredible grand prix. Very physical as well, but I think we kept it exciting until the end," said Verstappen. 

"I am really happy with winning here in Miami, it was an incredible Sunday for us." 

Carlos Sainz kept Sergio Perez at bay after the restart following the safety car to get back on the podium after retiring early in the previous two races. 

He had to battle through the pain barrier to achieve it, because he was still feeling the effects of a crash in practice. 

"I have been better. Obviously after the crash on Friday, I had a little bit of neck pain going into the race, but I had to manage it and I fought through it," said Sainz. 

"Especially with Checo [Perez] at the end on the medium tyres he was very difficult to keep behind, but we managed to keep the volume, which is a decent result.  

"It wasn't easy at all. It has been a tough race with the tyres and the heat, the car was sliding a lot, and we got what we deserved, I think, which is a decent P3, and we can build it up from here." 

Max Verstappen sealed his second straight Formula One win by getting the better of Charles Leclerc at the maiden Miami Grand Prix. 

Reigning champion Verstappen – who started in third – got past Carlos Sainz and pole-sitter Leclerc in the early stages and never looked back. 

It was not entirely plain sailing for the Red Bull driver, with a safety car deployed after Lando Norris collided with Pierre Gasly seeing his seven-second advantage evaporate. 

Leclerc was on Verstappen's tail thereafter, but the Dutchman got out of DRS range by setting the fastest lap and cut the Monegasque's championship lead to 19 points. 

Verstappen got away well at lights out and dived down the outside of Sainz at Turn One, while DRS helped him reel in Leclerc by lap nine. 

Leclerc was unable to retaliate with the Ferrari lacking pace on the straights, and Verstappen gradually established a lead of almost eight seconds. 

The collision between Norris and Gasly, which forced both drivers to retire, initially brought out a virtual safety car on lap 41 of 57, but that was quickly upgraded to a full safety car. 

Neither Verstappen nor Leclerc were able to get into the pits quick enough for fresh tyres, but the Ferrari man was seemingly energised by having the Red Bull back in his sights. 

However, after failing to make a move, Leclerc started to lose time and Verstappen took the chequered flag in relative comfort.

Charles Leclerc knows there is work still to do, but his Miami Grand Prix qualifying debut went entirely to plan as Ferrari's main man claimed pole position and was joined on the front row by Carlos Sainz.

Leclerc was able to secure pole for the third time in five races this season despite complaining he had not run his best lap on Saturday.

The Scuderia superstar profited from a late error from Max Verstappen, who had to settle for third, also letting through Sainz – back on form following his practice crash on Friday.

It puts Ferrari in a great position for a third win of the season, as many as they had managed in their previous three years combined, with Leclerc converting his previous two 2022 poles. All of his four career victories have come after qualifying fastest.

Each of the past four races in the United States have been won by a different driver – none of them being Leclerc – with three of them starting from pole.

"The last weekend hadn't been great for me [at the Emilia Romagna GP]," Leclerc said. "I made a mistake in the race.

"But today went well. We are starting on pole and we need to finish the job tomorrow.

"Red Bull are extremely quick in the straight lines, we are quick in the corners, and it will be a tight challenge tomorrow. But hopefully we will come back on top."

Leclerc is right to be wary of the threat of the Red Bulls in third and fourth, as Verstappen still believes he is in a good position to contend.

"Of course, you want to be on pole," the world champion said, "but where we came from, we've done a really good job.

"We have to start making the weekends a little bit less difficult because, like this, it's always going to be tricky.

"We have a good chance tomorrow. The car is handling quite well, so I'm looking forward to it."

Mercedes had taken pole – and subsequently won – at each of the previous six new Formula One circuits, but George Russell failed to get out of Q2 while Lewis Hamilton made do with sixth.

 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:28.796
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.190secs
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.195s
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.240s
5. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +0.679s
6. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.829s
7. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.894s
8. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.954s
9. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1.136s
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1.880s

Formula One's ever-expanding presence in the United States will come to the fore as it returns to Florida for the first time in over 60 years with the Miami Grand Prix this weekend.

Bruce McLaren claimed the first of four Grand Prix wins at Sebring in 1959, before the United States GP moved to Riverside for 1960 and then Watkins Glen until 1980.

Last time out at Imola, Ferrari suffered their first bad weekend of the season, with Red Bull's one-two compounding Carlos Sainz crashing out on the opening lap and Charles Leclerc spinning after going over a sausage kerb, before finishing in sixth.

With DNFs in Imola and Melbourne, Sainz had not retired in his previous 24 races and will be looking to recover at a track that could suit this year's Ferrari package.

Even after Imola though, Ferrari still lead in both the driver's and constructor's championships, with respective 27 and 11-point leads.

Following his wins in Bahrain and Australia, Charles Leclerc could equal Ferrari's win tally in the previous seasons combined, with all three coming in 2019.

Though the Monegasque driver converted his pole position into a win at Albert Park, only four of his 11 career wins have come from pole position.

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen has been much more clinical in that regard, converting his 14 pole positions into 10 race victories.

Verstappen was the last winner in the United States, taking the top step at COTA last year in Austin.

Mercedes bring upgrades

Although George Russell sits fourth in the driver's championship, Ferrari and Red Bull have had the two best packages on the grid so far this season.

Mercedes have struggled to match them for pace and performance as they come to terms with the car's particularly aggressive porpoising coming into braking zones.

They are hoping upgrades could revive Lewis Hamilton's season and the USA has traditionally been a happy hunting ground, with six of his 18 wins in North America coming there.

Can Red Bull consolidate?

Defending champion Max Verstappen won at Imola in what was an assured drive, reminding the paddock that Red Bull are capable of coming up with a strong package this season.

Sergio Perez has also been in solid form to open the season, securing back-to-back second-place finishes for the first time in his career in Melbourne and Imola.

Anything less than another strong performance will undo the progress they made, however.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 86
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 59
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 54
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 49 
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 38

Constructors

1. Ferrari 124
2. Red Bull 113
3. Mercedes 77
4. McLaren 46
5. Alfa Romeo 25

Charles Leclerc acknowledged he was "too greedy and paid the price" as he span out from third and finished sixth at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

Despite qualifying second behind Max Verstappen following Saturday's sprint race, Leclerc slid down to fourth on the opening lap as Sergio Perez and Lando Norris found a way past him. 

Although he was able to overtake Norris, Perez's exemplary defence kept him at bay and he was unable to get close enough when the track was finally deemed dry enough for DRS to be enabled. 

With the front two out of reach, Leclerc opted to switch to soft tyres and chase the fastest lap to deny Verstappen the additional point. 

However, an error at the Variante Alta saw him hit the barriers and forced him to pit again. 

Leclerc was ninth when he returned to the track but managed to climb back up to sixth, meaning his championship lead was cut from 45 points to 27. 

"It's a big shame. Whatever happened before the spin, these are details and it's part of racing. The spin shouldn't have happened today," Leclerc said on Sky Sports. 

"P3 was the best I could do. We didn't have the pace for much more and I was too greedy and paid the price for it and lost potential seven potential points compared to the third place I was in. It is a shame, it's seven points that will for sure be valuable at the end of the campaign, but this shouldn't happen again. 

"For sure, Red Bull seem to be more competitive than the first three races. We had the upper hand in Bahrain and Australia, then they had it here and in Jeddah. 

"It is very, very close and I think it will be that way for the rest of the season. It's a big mistake but the consequence considering the mistake could've been much bigger. It's only seven points today but it could cost more the next time, so I need to be careful." 

Ferrari got zero points through Carlos Sainz, who got stuck in the gravel following contact with Daniel Ricciardo at the first chicane on the opening lap. 

Sainz said: "It was very bad, definitely. A tough moment. 

"It's not at all the way I wanted to go out in front of the fans. Turn two can be bad, but there are always these tough moments in the life of the sportsman and you have to go through them. 

"As long as I keep working hard, the good times will come." 

Ferrari's tyre strategy could be key to preventing Max Verstappen from cutting into Charles Leclerc's championship lead after Red Bull's reigning world champion triumphed in the sprint at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Having been passed by Leclerc at the start, pole-sitter Verstappen ensured he will start Sunday's 63-lap race first on the grid after overtaking Leclerc on the penultimate lap of the 21-lap sprint.

Leclerc and the raucous home Ferrari fans were denied a victory to cheer as his right front tyre grained in the closing laps, Verstappen taking advantage by sweeping around the outside into Tamburello.

It meant Verstappen collected eight points while Leclerc took seven to extend his championship lead to 40 points, with Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz his closest challenger after finishing fourth behind Red Bull's Sergio Perez in third.

Ferrari, like most of the grid, were on the soft tyres for the sprint, but Leclerc is unsure what compound they will initially select on Sunday after his fast start resulted in that critical degradation.

He told Sky Sports: "I pushed hard at the beginning to try not to be too vulnerable with Max having the DRS behind and I felt like I paid the price of doing that at the end of the race.

"It felt also like they had maybe something more today and he kept it until the end of the race and overtook me when it mattered.

"We'll work on ourselves for tomorrow and try to maximise our package and hopefully the same start as today without the degradation that we had at the end.

"I think with today's data it will help us make the right decision for tomorrow, but whether we will go for the hard compound or not I'm not sure yet."

Only three drivers went with the medium compound for the sprint, including the Haas drivers of Kevin Magnussen (eighth) and Mick Schumacher (10th), both of whom had impressive pace in the final laps.

And Verstappen conceded he may not enjoy the same fortune on Sunday with the harder compounds set to play a more prominent role.

"The start was very bad. I don't know exactly what happened or why it was so bad, just too much wheelspin," he said at the post-race presentation.

"After that we had to stay calm. It initially looked like Charles was having a bit more pace but I think he ran out of tyres and we could close the gap and go for the move into turn 2.

"I know tomorrow it might be again a bit different, but for sure today it worked out for us to be on this compound, so I'm very happy to have a clean sprint race in the end.

"I'm happy about today, but I know it might be different tomorrow with those other tyre compounds coming into play."

Max Verstappen recovered from a slow start to Saturday's sprint race at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix to prevail and ensure he will start Sunday's race in first.

The Tifosi at Imola are hoping for a weekend-long celebration amid Ferrari's resurgence, led by Charles Leclerc, in 2022.

He was on course to give them something to cheer in the sprint, getting past pole-sitter Verstappen and, for most of the 21 laps, looking set to claim the maximum eight points.

But Leclerc's front right tyre grained in the final laps as Verstappen closed quickly in an impressive Red Bull, the reigning world champion retaking the lead on the penultimate lap to claim victory.

Leclerc extended his championship lead to 40 points as Mercedes' George Russell finished outside the eight points places on another dismal day for the Silver Arrows, while Ferrari's Carlos Sainz moved into second in the drivers' standing as he took fourth behind Red Bull's Sergio Perez.

An abundance of wheelspin at the start saw Verstappen surrender top spot to Leclerc and he was not close to the Ferrari at a safety car restart following a collision between Pierre Gasly and Zhou Guanyu.

But, as Leclerc's right front faded, Verstappen struck a blow for Red Bull as he got himself within a second at the DRS zone on the start-finish straight and swept around the outside of the Ferrari into the Tamburello chicane.

Perez got himself up from seventh to third while Sainz improved from 10th to fourth after his crash in qualifying, with the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo claiming fifth and sixth.

The final points places went to Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas and Haas' Kevin Magnussen, with Russell and Lewis Hamilton non-factors who will start 11th and 14th respectively.

Charles Leclerc will always receive huge support in Italy as long as he turns out in the red of Ferrari, but this week at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix might just be extra special.

Leclerc leads the Formula One drivers' championship after a stunning start to the new season, winning in Bahrain and Australia either side of a second-placed finish in Saudi Arabia.

The Monegasque is a massive 34 points clear of nearest challenger George Russell, but there are added points on offer this weekend with the return of the sprint race.

Leclerc should not be daunted, though, for this is a potentially record-breaking start to the year.

Having recorded the fastest lap at each of the first three grands prix, Leclerc could become the first ever driver to achieve four in a row from the start of an F1 season.

Kimi Raikkonen in 2008, then of Ferrari, was the last driver to set four fastest laps in four races at any stage of the year.

On this form, perhaps Leclerc will simply see the sprint race as something else he can conquer. Australia saw his first career Grand Slam, following up pole position with the fastest lap and a victory while leading from start to finish. Each of his four wins to date have come from pole.

Ferrari will be looking to move ahead of Williams for wins at Imola, with their joint-record eight so far contributing to a team-high 27 in Italy.

If Leclerc does not take the top step of the podium, the Scuderia will hope Carlos Sainz can get back on track, having retired in Melbourne following a team-record 24 consecutive finishes to start his Ferrari career.

Hamilton's time to shine?

At odds with Leclerc's joy, this has been a year to forget so far for perennial contender Lewis Hamilton, back in fifth with a single podium and no wins to his name.

But the sprint race is where he comes to life, having last year made up six places across the three Saturday events – level with Esteban Ocon for the most of any driver.

And even with Mercedes badly lacking the pace that put them on pole in the past two races at Imola, Hamilton has continued to show his class behind the wheel this year.

Only Yuki Tsunoda (six) has made up more places over the first laps of races this season than Hamilton's four.

Should he somehow manage to get a fastest lap out of his ailing Silver Arrow, Hamilton would become the first driver to have three in a row at Imola since Michael Schumacher between 2003 and 2005.

Frustration for Max

Defending champion Max Verstappen won at Imola in 2021 but could be forgiven for arriving in Italy in a downbeat mood having failed to finish two of three races so far this year, retiring in Australia.

With Sergio Perez also failing to finish once, Red Bull have had three such disappointing performances through three grands prix, having only had six cars fail to see the checkered flag in 22 races last season.

Should they finally get their act together, Red Bull could also make history with a fastest lap. They remain tied with Lotus on 76 for the most ever in F1.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 71
2. George Russell (Mercedes) 37
3. Carlo Sainz (Ferrari) 33
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 30
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 28

Constructors

1. Ferrari 104
2. Mercedes 65
3. Red Bull 55
4. McLaren 24
5. Alpine 22

Max Verstappen says Red Bull are "already miles behind" after the reigning world champion suffered a second DNF of the 2022 Formula One season at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Dutchman had sat second throughout the race at Albert Park and had closed the gap on eventual race winner and championship rival Charles Leclerc amid a safety car deployment.

But a mechanical failure saw him forced to retire once again after he also failed to see out the season opener in Bahrain, with the Ferrari of Leclerc leading home from Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez and Mercedes' George Russell.

It is the second time in three races Verstappen has been blighted by problems beyond his control, and he bemoaned that he cannot think about defending his crown right now.

"We're already miles behind," he stated. "I don't want to think about the title fight, I just want to finish races.

"It's frustrating and unacceptable. These kinds of things if you want to fight for the title cannot happen."

Team principal Christian Horner voiced his own disappointment to Sky Sports afterwards too, adding: "We don't know what the issue is yet. I don't think it is engine related.

"I think it might be a fuel issue but we need to get the car back and look at exactly what has happened.

"[It's] desperately frustrating. We didn't have the pace to race Charles today. They were in a league of their own but frustrating not to bag those points."

One beneficiary of Verstappen's exit was Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, with the seven-time world champion completing a second-row lockout for the Silver Arrows after his struggles this year.

"We definitely didn't expect to be third and fourth," the Briton added to Sky Sports. "George did a great job today. We'll take these points and keep pushing.

"I couldn't fight for third as the engine kept overheating. I had to back off. We bagged as many points as we could for the team and that's great."

Charles Leclerc saluted his team's work across the Australian Grand Prix, as the Ferrari driver claimed his second win of the 2022 Formula One season in Melbourne.

The Monegasque led from pole throughout to claim victory in the third race of the year, driving a masterfully composed race out in front at Albert Park.

With presumptive title rival Max Verstappen forced into a DNF behind him with another mechanical failure, Leclerc has now opened up a 46-point gap on the reigning world champion.

Even before then, Leclerc had looked comfortable in the lead, and he was quick to pay tribute to his crew back in the Ferrari garage for helping him take his game up a level.

"It's the first win where we have controlled the gap," he stated. "Honestly, what a car today. Of course, I did a good job all weekend, but it was not possible without the car.

"Especially in the race pace, we were extremely strong. [The] tyres felt great - from the first lap to the last lap, we were managing the tyres extremely well. I am just so happy."

Leclerc was forced to navigate both physical and virtual safety car restarts throughout, and almost lost his place to Verstappen when the former came in midway through the race.

"It was very difficult, especially the safety car restart," he added. "I thought it was going to be difficult to keep the first position, but then we managed to do so.

"We are only in the third race, so it is difficult to think about the championship, but we have a very strong car, a very reliable car.

"That makes me smile after the last two years, which have been difficult for the team and myself, so it is great to be back in this position."

Red Bull's Sergio Perez came home second to capitalise on team-mate Verstappen's latest car woes, and the Mexican was muted on the missed chance to lock out the rest of the podium.

"That race was a bit tricky," he added. "We were a bit unlucky losing positions with the safety cars which we recovered later. It would've been great to have a double podium, but we lost Max."

Mercedes' George Russell was the biggest beneficiary of both the safety car and Verstappen's withdrawal, with the Briton edging team-mate Lewis Hamilton for his first podium of the year.

"We have got to be in it to win it and capitalise on others' misfortune," he added. "Obviously we got lucky today twice, but you have got to take it.

"We are never to give up. We have got to keep fighting. This weekend we were a long way behind our rivals but here we are standing on the podium."

Charles Leclerc extended his championship lead by winning the Australian Grand Prix and Max Verstappen retired for the second time in three races on Sunday.

Ferrari driver Leclerc led from start to finish at Albert Park to secure his second victory of the season, with Sergio Perez finishing second and George Russell third.

World champion Verstappen pulled over on lap 39 of 58, while Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz - who started the day second in the driver standings - spun off early in the race after starting back in ninth spot.

Leclerc got off to a good start and Lewis Hamilton moved up from fifth to third behind world champion Verstappen.

The safety car was deployed when Sainz found himself in the gravel after losing control on lap three, with Leclerc extending his advantage as Perez used the DRS to overtake Hamilton.

Verstappen pitted for hard tyres on lap 19 and the safety car was out again when Sebastian Vettel retired, giving Russell the opportunity to pit and remain in third place.

Leclerc fended off Verstappen when the race restarted and that was as close as the Dutchman came to taking the lead before he pulled over due to another issue with his Red Bull.

Monegasque Leclerc was untroubled, easing to a second win in three races and put the icing on the cake by clocking the fastest lap.

Leclerc finished over 20 seconds ahead of Perez, with Russell securing a podium spot and Hamilton crossing the line in fourth spot.

Max Verstappen admits he is still finding it a "struggle" to drive his Red Bull after being pipped to pole for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix by Charles Leclerc.

Championship leader Leclerc outpaced Verstappen with his final lap of a dramatic qualifying session in Melbourne on Saturday to ensure he will start at the top of the grid.

The Ferrari driver, who has finished first and second in the opening two races of 2022, posted 1:17.868 late on in Q3 to finish 0.286s ahead of Verstappen.

"It feels great and very happy to be starting on pole," Leclerc said. "Again, we were quite surprised by our pace in qualifying, so we will see what happens.

"Overall, I'm very happy because it's a track where I've always struggled in the past and I've struggled this weekend.

"You probably couldn't see from outside because we were quite fast, but I was struggling quite a lot with mistakes, being inconsistent.

"I really worked on that to try to put a good lap together in Q3. I knew it was just all about putting it together and I managed to do it in Q3, so I'm very happy."

Verstappen was edged out by Leclerc in a thrilling Saudi Arabian Grand Prix two weeks ago and is third in the drivers' standings, with Carlos Sainz occupying second place.

Leclerc's Ferrari team-mate Sainz will start Sunday's race down in ninth, however, after being caught by red flags that were brought out following a crash for Fernando Alonso.

Red Bull's Verstappen will therefore have a chance to climb the standings this weekend, but the Dutchman is not entirely pleased with how the weekend has gone thus far.

"I would have hoped to start first, but we have to accept where we finish, but the whole weekend has been a bit tricky for me," he said.

"I've never really found a stable grip whether it's front or rear and that's just not nice. For me, that's really been the case all year.

"I've never found a comfortable balance where I could attack corners, especially in qualifying and that's a big limitation – it's something very new for me in the last three years.

"Of course, I'm talking like I'm P18, but I think we have a lot of potential in the car we're not showing and I think that's a bit of a shame.

"But I expect it to be tight [on Sunday]. Maybe Ferrari will find something, but I hope not and hopefully we can have a good battle again."

 

Despite his complaints, it is Verstappen's first front row start at Albert Park as he seeks just a second podium finish in six appearances Down Under.

Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez finished third in qualifying, though that will be reviewed as he is under investigation.

That is due to the Mexican failing to slow for double waved flags after Lance Stroll inadvertently turned into Nicholas Latifi, with both drivers blaming each other for the crash.

Perez, who could only finish four in Jeddah last time out after claiming pole – the first Mexican to ever do so – was more upbeat than Verstappen.

"It felt good. Q1, Q2 things were going good. With all the red flags, it's always very hard to keep the momentum going," he said.

"I regret a bit the decision to go into Q3 with our strategy on the tyres, but I think P3 is a decent start for tomorrow."

Elsewhere in Saturday's qualifying session, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, who has taken a record eight poles in Australia, finished fifth, narrowly behind McLaren's Lando Norris.

Ferrari star Charles Leclerc insisted rivals Red Bull hold the advantage heading into the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Leclerc's Scuderia have opened up a 40-point lead in the constructors' championship after two races, with the Monegasque driver and Red Bull's Max Verstappen claiming one win apiece across Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Ferrari pair Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are also first and second in the drivers' championship, but the former is expecting a tough challenge at the redeveloped Albert Park in Melbourne.

Formula One returns to Australia for the first time in two years, with the track modified to make it much faster than it used to be, which Leclerc feels will not work in Ferrari's favour.

"Overall the track characteristics here are not fitting very well with our [car], but everything is to play for," Leclerc said.

"I still think we will be in the mix – it will still be very close."

Leclerc boasts a 12-point lead over team-mate Sainz in the drivers' standings, having secured victory in Bahrain and second in Jeddah, and reigning champion Verstappen sits a further eight back.

But Leclerc reiterated that Red Bull will be the favourites on Sunday, given Verstappen's team appear the leaders on straights and Albert Park has removed a chicane while widening some corners.

"I think the old one would have suited us better," he added. "But it is the way it is and we will try to maximise everything as always, and hopefully Imola [after the Australian GP] will be a track that suits us a little bit better.

"It is not like it is going to be a big gap. If we do the perfect job, everything is possible."

Sainz echoed Leclerc's sentiments as he labelled Red Bull the favourites.

"Our car has been strong in all the circuits we have been to so far, but it's true in Jeddah, with more straight-line [speed], the Red Bull looked like the better car and [had] the better balance in terms of top speed and corner speed," Sainz said. 

"So, given how long the straights have become here, maybe they are a bit more up for it. But I think we can still do a good job."

While Ferrari appear concerned with the modifications in Melbourne, DRS strategy is also expected to play a significant role in the third race if the opening two are anything to go by.

Leclerc has attempted to utilise the DRS overtaking aid in both those races, letting Verstappen through before the detection points and then benefiting in overtaking zones, and he expects a similar tactical battle to follow again.

"We have seen in the past two races this strategy with DRS, and I am pretty sure we will see it even more here, because basically all the straights have a DRS zone, so overtaking will be a thing and clever racing can make a big difference here," he said.

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