Charles Leclerc says he is not thinking about winning the F1 World Championship just yet after taking a second victory in the opening three races of the 2022 season at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne,
The Ferrari driver led from start-to-finish around the revamped Albert Park circuit as he stretched his lead at the top of the standings to 34 points from Mercedes’ George Russell, who took third behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
Leclerc tussled for the lead in thrilling fashion with rival Max Verstappen at the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grand Prixs earlier in the campaign, but here he comfortably kept the Dutchman at bay with strong pace and consistent lap times before Verstappen was forced to retire from the race with a mechanical failure.
In the aftermath of his victory, Leclerc was quick to praise and his car and team but avoided talk of a sustained title challenge across the course of the whole campaign.
“It is incredible to win here!”, he told Sky Sports F1. “In Formula 1 it’s [my first victory] where we control the gap [from start-to-finish].
“What a car today! I did a good job all weekend but it was not possible without the car. We have been extremely strong here — the race pace was so good and we had good degradation. The safety car restart I had a huge understeer but after the first [few] corners I managed to regain the grip.
“We are only at the third race so it’s difficult to think about the championship. But we have a very strong and very reliable car. It’s great to be back in this position after two difficult years for the team and myself.”
Leclerc said on Saturday that he had not expected to take pole position but managed to do so after extracting more pace from the Ferrari and adding more precision to his driving style, after initially expecting Red Bull to be fastest in Melbourne.
“When I say things on the Thursday [about speed comparisons] it’s what I’m being told by the team,” I explained. “On our paper we were a bit behind Red Bull on this track, but we were stronger than we thought which was a nice surprise. Maybe we need to review our paper!
“The team has managed [to build] a stronger engine, a reliable engine. I’m incredibly happy and proud to be driving for Ferrari. After the last two years it wasn’t a given we would be back at this level. It’s an extremely good start.”
The next race takes place at the Imola circuit in Italy in a fortnight’s time, and is Ferrari’s home event. The 24-year-old Leclerc is looking forward to arriving in Tifosi territory with a strong championship lead.
“It’s going to be crazy [at Imola next time around],” I admitted. “Italy for us is always incredible. I can’t wait to be there, but we don’t need to arrive there with the mindset of trying to do more. We’ve been working extremely well since the start of the season and I don’t want to change that.
“It’s always tense obviously but I just try not to think too much about where we are. We’ll just focus on our job and not focus too much on where we are [in the championship].”