F1

Charles Leclerc fastest in Australia as Lewis Hamilton struggles

Leclerc could pose a threat to the all-conquering Max Verstappen, who hopes to hit 10 consecutive wins at this weekend’s race in Melbourne.

Charles Leclerc finished fastest in the second practice session (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)
Charles Leclerc Charles Leclerc finished fastest in the second practice session (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP) (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)

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.”

Later, Hamilton said: “It didn’t feel great out there today. We began the day on the front foot and in first practice, the car generally felt good. The first run was actually the best the car has felt so far this year.

“To continue our learning, we made some big changes into FP2 and unfortunately, that made the car worse. We will be working hard overnight to make improvements ahead of tomorrow.”

Lewis Hamilton finished last but one in second practice in Australia (Scott Barbour/AP)
Lewis Hamilton Lewis Hamilton finished last but one in second practice in Australia (Scott Barbour/AP) (Scott Barbour/AP)

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.

Following irreparable damage to his car, Williams said Albon would take over team-mate Logan Sargeant’s machine, sidelining the American for the remainder of the event.

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.