Charles Leclerc fastest in Australia as Lewis Hamilton struggles

By Sports Desk March 22, 2024

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc saw off Max Verstappen in practice for the Australian Grand Prix – as Lewis Hamilton claimed “something was wrong” with his Mercedes after he finished only 18th.

Verstappen is bidding to match his record of 10 consecutive wins at this weekend’s race in Melbourne.

But Leclerc could pose a threat to the all-conquering Dutchman, following an impressive practice lap that put him nearly four-tenths clear.

Leclerc’s Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz – back in his cockpit following British teenager Ollie Bearman’s stand-in drive in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago – ended the running in third, with Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso fourth and fifth, respectively, for Aston Martin.

George Russell took sixth for Mercedes, 0.674 seconds behind Leclerc, but team-mate Hamilton finished ahead of only Haas’ Kevin Magnussen on a troubling day for the seven-time world champion.

Hamilton, 39, ran off the road in the first running at a sun-cooked Albert Park, and his struggles continued into the day’s concluding session, with a best lap that put him 1.5 sec off the pace and nearly a second behind Russell.

“What times are people doing?” Hamilton asked over the radio. After he was informed of leader Leclerc’s pace, he replied, “Yeah, something is wrong.”

Only 19 drivers took part in the second session following Alex Albon’s high-speed crash in the opening session.

The London-born Thai driver lost control of his Williams on the exit of Turn 6 before smashing into the wall on the inside of the track and rebounding across the circuit.

Albon’s right-front wheel tore off his machine under impact, with debris from his Williams littering the track.

Albon came to a standstill and was able to get out of his cockpit. “Sorry,” he said over the radio before he was taken away in the medical car.

“Muchos debris,” said Lando Norris. “Is he alright? It looked pretty large.”

Albon, 27, was taken to the medical centre for precautionary checks as the session was red-flagged to clear his destroyed machine.

Williams said he would not participate in the second practice due to the damage to his car, and it is uncertain if he will be able to take part in the remainder of the weekend with spare parts limited to the British team.

Elsewhere, home favourite Oscar Piastri finished seventh, two positions ahead of Norris in the other McLaren who had topped the time charts earlier in the day in front of a record 124,000-strong crowd.

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    Max Verstappen is still the favourite to win the Formula One world title, but Lando Norris is more confident that the Red Bull driver can be caught.

    Verstappen is in the hunt for his fourth straight world championship crown, and leads the drivers' standings with five race wins to his name in 2024.

    However, only 31 points separate the Dutchman, who is on 169, and second-placed Charles Leclerc, while McLaren's Norris sits third with 113 following his victory in Miami last month.

    Mercedes, meanwhile, have come back into contention in recent races, with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton impressing in qualifying, albeit they have been unable to translate that into a victory as of yet.

    But with more contenders, Norris feels the field is opening up.

    "There is more chance and possibilities now, especially if Mercedes are in the fight; more chance of having a bigger swing of points." he said, as per BBC Sport, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

    "A bad weekend for Max was third but it could be fifth or sixth.

    "And if you can be the guy who wins, within one weekend you can turn quite a lot of points around fairly quickly. If it goes like that, there is a higher chance."

    Norris conceded, though, that Verstappen is still at the very top of his game.

    He added: "Max's bad weekend is never going to be a bad weekend. It's still going to be a good amount of points. He is just strong in all areas. It is rare he makes mistakes or messes up qualifying.

    "But with more pressure you never know how that changes, and always with pressure it is always easier to make mistakes."

    In the world of Mercedes, Hamilton has urged the team's fans to give backing to Russell, who has faced accusations of the team favouring him, given his team-mate is set to join Ferrari next season.

    "I think they know if you look over the years, we've always been a strong team. We've always worked really hard together," Hamilton told reporters.

    "I think we need support, not negativity, and I wasn't actually aware that George was experiencing negativity.

    "George has done nothing but his best every single weekend and is delivering for the team, so he can't be faulted at all.

    "Of course, there can always be things done better within the team, and that comes through conversation, through communication, and that's something that we are consistently working on.

    "But we're all in the same boat. We're all working hard together. We want to finish on a high and feel that we owe that to our long-term relationship that we've had."

  • Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely

    Max Verstappen is still the favourite to win the Formula One world title, but Lando Norris is more confident that the Red Bull driver can be caught.

    Verstappen is in the hunt for his fourth straight world championship crown, and leads the drivers' standings with five race wins to his name in 2024.

    However, only 31 points separate the Dutchman, who is on 169, and second-placed Charles Leclerc, while McLaren's Norris sits third with 113 following his victory in Miami last month.

    Mercedes, meanwhile, have come back into contention in recent races, with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton impressing in qualifying, albeit they have been unable to translate that into a victory as of yet.

    But with more contenders, Norris feels the field is opening up.

    "There is more chance and possibilities now, especially if Mercedes are in the fight; more chance of having a bigger swing of points." he said, as per BBC Sport, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

    "A bad weekend for Max was third but it could be fifth or sixth.

    "And if you can be the guy who wins, within one weekend you can turn quite a lot of points around fairly quickly. If it goes like that, there is a higher chance."

    Norris conceded, though, that Verstappen is still at the very top of his game.

    He added: "Max's bad weekend is never going to be a bad weekend. It's still going to be a good amount of points. He is just strong in all areas. It is rare he makes mistakes or messes up qualifying.

    "But with more pressure you never know how that changes, and always with pressure it is always easier to make mistakes."

    In the world of Mercedes, Hamilton has urged the team's fans to give backing to Russell, who has faced accusations of the team favouring him, given his team-mate is set to join Ferrari next season.

    "I think they know if you look over the years, we've always been a strong team. We've always worked really hard together," Hamilton told reporters.

    "I think we need support, not negativity, and I wasn't actually aware that George was experiencing negativity.

    "George has done nothing but his best every single weekend and is delivering for the team, so he can't be faulted at all.

    "Of course, there can always be things done better within the team, and that comes through conversation, through communication, and that's something that we are consistently working on.

    "But we're all in the same boat. We're all working hard together. We want to finish on a high and feel that we owe that to our long-term relationship that we've had."

  • We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix incident We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix incident

    Sergio Perez has apologised following a second successive retirement at the Canada Grand Prix which left him 87 points behind Red Bull team-mate, Max Vertsappen.

    The 34-year-old remained fifth overall in the world championship and a point behind Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who was one of five drivers that failed to finish the race. 

    In difficult conditions in Montreal, the Mexican started 16th but hopes of climbing up the pecking order soon faded after damaging his car's front wing on the opening lap when he made contact with Alpine's Pierre Gasly.

    He then crashed into the barriers late in the day after losing control on a damp kerb at turn six, hobbling back to the pits with a broken rear wing. 

    "I'm very sorry for my team, I let them down today. But we will come back no doubt. There’s a very long way to go," Perez said on social media.

    His final incident cost him a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Barcelona, with the stewards punishing him for a breach of the safety rules that require a driver to stop if the car is unsafe.

    "The incident was on me, I touched the wet part into turn six and I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t touch the brakes," Perez said on Sunday.

    "It has been a very tough couple of weekends, we will regroup, keep our heads down and learn from the weekend. We identified a couple of issues after qualifying and they meant we would have qualified a lot higher.

    "Hopefully we can be back to our form in Spain and get back to the level we were at earlier in the season. I am confident in that, there are good tracks coming for us."

    Perez recently signed a new two-year deal with Red Bull, ending speculation that the world champions will sign free agent Sainz ahead of the new season. 

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