(L to R): Max Verstappen, Red Bull; Charles Leclerc, Ferrari; Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2022

Sainz’s setback leaves Leclerc vulnerable to dual-pronged Red Bull attack

2022 Australian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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For the second time in three races at the start of the 2022 season, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen will occupy the front row of the grid together.

However, Sunday’s race will also be the first time this season where two Red Bulls will line up in the first three places on the grid. As much as Leclerc will be feeling confident in his Ferrari after taking pole by almost three tenths of a second – a huge gap by 2022 standards thus far – he will likely miss his team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr during the 58 laps around Albert Park as he faces what could be his third race in a row under prolonged attack from the world champion.

“It would have been easier for us to have both cars in the front,” admitted Leclerc after qualifying. “But it’s the way it is and and we’ll try to maximise it anyway.”

After arguably his most promising Friday and Saturday morning of the young season so far, Sainz did not hide is frustration at only being able to take ninth on the grid.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2022
Sainz’s starting position is compromised
With a race winning Ferrari starting down in the midfield, Sainz’s progress could prove the acid test of both the new 2022 technical regulations and the heavy modifications to the Albert Park circuit. If he avoids trouble at the start, Sainz will almost certainly progress through the field over the course of the race.

This year, with cars that are easily to follow, a much faster circuit and multiple DRS zones, the Ferrari will have far greater opportunities than ever before to pick off cars ahead on track – even if Sainz is remaining cautious.

“I’ll obviously try to recover as much as possible, but without the fourth DRS zone the circuit hasn’t changed that much from the old one and it will be tricky to overtake,” said Sainz.

While one Ferrari driver plays catch up, the other will likely be staring at the mirrors rather frequently during tomorrow’s race. With Perez among the top names in the speed trap rankings around all three sectors demonstrating the top speed potential of the Red Bull, Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekies knows Leclerc is in for a long day on Sunday.

“The threat is maximum tomorrow with Red Bull,” said Mekies. “They have been as fast as us all weekend – sometimes they have been faster in some situations, sometimes we have been faster.

“So it’s going to be as intense as one can imagine – not only between Max and Charles, but I’m sure also with Sergio and hopefully Carlos will be getting back in the fight. So there could be a lot of surprise tomorrow. It can go either way based on how the race goes.”

Lando Norris, McLaren, Albert Park, 2022
The removal of one DRS zone will make passing harder
And the race could develop in all manner of ways tomorrow, thanks, in part, to the elimination of the Q2 tyre rule for this season. For a second race weekend in a row, the soft tyre may not make an appearance at all in the race. Pirelli head of motorsport Mario Isola is confident teams will again prefer the medium and hard compounds.

“What we have seen so far in qualifying shows that it was the right choice to come here with two steps between the soft and the medium compounds, which has enabled the performance gaps between hard, medium and soft to be about equal,” Isola explained.

“Tomorrow should be a one-stop strategy using medium and hard, but as we saw today, the action here can be quite unpredictable.”

The most obvious route to the finish would be to start on the medium compound and switch to the hards to complete the sole stop, much as Verstappen and Leclerc – and indeed all of the top eight finishers – did in Saudi Arabia. But as Perez’s unfortunately-timed pit stop in Jeddah showed, there’s a risk of being caught out by a sudden Safety Car in a one-stop race, which could encourage some to extend the first stint as long as possible.

That Safety Car risk is especially high at a street circuit like Albert Park and likely even more so with the new cars and higher speeds around the course. As Lando Norris noted on Friday, it’s “pretty easy to make mistakes” in the 2022 cars and with cars potentially running closer together than ever before in Melbourne, all it takes is one poorly judged move or mistake to transform the race.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2022
The presence of Perez gives Red Bull strength in numbers
That brings Sergio Perez into play for Red Bull. If the fight at the front does indeed turn out to be between this season’s two race winners, then Perez could become a key weapon for his team. By running an alternate strategy to the Ferrari and his team mate, Red Bull could maximise their chances of benefiting from a sudden paradigm shift or simply making the most of Ferrari’s inability to cover off two different strategies at once with Sainz making his way through the field.

This could all become moot if Verstappen – or indeed Perez – has the raw race pace to just pass Leclerc on track and hold onto the lead. The world champion has been battling with the balance of his RB18 all weekend, but he appears confident that the car will be more consistent in its handling in a race situation.

“Normally in the race, the car stabilises a bit more, and it’s not so peaky, compared to finding the grip in qualifying,” said Verstappen. “So, it naturally should be a little bit better. And I think my long run yesterday look quite good in terms of how I felt. So hopefully, it will be the same tomorrow.”

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Charles LeclercFerrari1’18.8811’18.606 (-0.275)1’17.868 (-0.738)
2Max VerstappenRed Bull1’18.5801’18.611 (+0.031)1’18.154 (-0.457)
3Sergio PerezRed Bull1’18.8341’18.340 (-0.494)1’18.240 (-0.100)
4Lando NorrisMcLaren1’19.2801’19.066 (-0.214)1’18.703 (-0.363)
5Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’19.4011’19.106 (-0.295)1’18.825 (-0.281)
6George RussellMercedes1’19.4051’19.076 (-0.329)1’18.933 (-0.143)
7Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’19.6651’19.130 (-0.535)1’19.032 (-0.098)
8Esteban OconAlpine1’19.6051’19.136 (-0.469)1’19.061 (-0.075)
9Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’18.9831’18.469 (-0.514)1’19.408 (+0.939)
10Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’19.1921’18.815 (-0.377)
11Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’19.5801’19.226 (-0.354)
12Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo1’19.2511’19.410 (+0.159)
13Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’19.7421’19.424 (-0.318)
14Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo1’19.9101’20.155 (+0.245)
15Mick SchumacherHaas1’20.1041’20.465 (+0.361)
16Alexander AlbonWilliams1’20.135
17Kevin MagnussenHaas1’20.254
18Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’21.149
19Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’21.372
20Lance StrollAston Martin

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Charles Leclerc26.740 (1)17.786 (5)33.342 (1)
Max Verstappen26.762 (2)17.782 (4)33.497 (3)
Sergio Perez26.845 (3)17.760 (2)33.480 (2)
Lando Norris27.047 (9)17.971 (8)33.665 (4)
Lewis Hamilton26.975 (7)18.000 (12)33.810 (6)
George Russell27.033 (8)17.985 (10)33.846 (9)
Daniel Ricciardo27.074 (10)17.981 (9)33.823 (7)
Esteban Ocon26.960 (6)17.919 (7)33.921 (10)
Carlos Sainz Jnr26.929 (5)17.772 (3)33.687 (5)
Fernando Alonso26.856 (4)17.753 (1)34.020 (11)
Pierre Gasly27.254 (13)18.049 (14)33.823 (7)
Valtteri Bottas27.129 (12)17.990 (11)34.039 (12)
Yuki Tsunoda27.079 (11)18.044 (13)34.247 (16)
Zhou Guanyu27.625 (17)18.112 (15)34.081 (13)
Mick Schumacher27.352 (14)18.258 (19)34.236 (15)
Kevin Magnussen27.822 (18)18.237 (18)34.097 (14)
Sebastian Vettel27.994 (19)18.148 (16)35.007 (18)
Nicholas Latifi27.536 (16)18.192 (17)35.461 (19)
Lance Stroll35.103 (20)20.806 (20)42.088 (20)
Alexander Albon27.401 (15)17.888 (6)34.582 (17)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Sergio PerezRed BullRed Bull322.6 (200.5)
2Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault322.2 (200.2)-0.4
3Max VerstappenRed BullRed Bull320.6 (199.2)-2.0
4Esteban OconAlpineRenault320.5 (199.1)-2.1
5Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes319.5 (198.5)-3.1
6Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes318.0 (197.6)-4.6
7Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriRed Bull317.9 (197.5)-4.7
8Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedes317.7 (197.4)-4.9
9George RussellMercedesMercedes316.9 (196.9)-5.7
10Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrari316.4 (196.6)-6.2
11Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriRed Bull316.0 (196.4)-6.6
12Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari316.0 (196.4)-6.6
13Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes315.2 (195.9)-7.4
14Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes315.1 (195.8)-7.5
15Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrari314.4 (195.4)-8.2
16Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari314.1 (195.2)-8.5
17Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari314.0 (195.1)-8.6
18Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari313.9 (195.0)-8.7
19Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes313.1 (194.6)-9.5
20Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes311.8 (193.7)-10.8

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Over to you

Will Red Bull deny Leclerc a win as they did last time? Where will Sainz and Fernando Alonso ended up from the fifth row of the grid?

Share your views on the Australian Grand Prix in the comments.

2022 Australian Grand Prix

Browse all 2022 Australian Grand Prix articles

Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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14 comments on “Sainz’s setback leaves Leclerc vulnerable to dual-pronged Red Bull attack”

  1. I see Perez on Hards tommorow …

    1. The Dolphins
      10th April 2022, 1:00

      Even if he was on pole that would be his car’s strategy

  2. Why is your order in “Qualifying Times” different to the grid positions? You have many timings wrong, and people in Q3 that did not get to Q3. E.G Hamilton starts 5th.

    1. That’s a bit better, thanks, still some odd Q3 times tho

    2. Why is your order in “Qualifying Times” different to the grid positions? You have many timings wrong, and people in Q3 that did not get to Q3

      I think Will is correcting his homework right now :)

    3. @biker56 Apologies – I left an error in which I thought I’d corrected, it’s sorted now.

      1. @keithcollantine That’s cool – You guys are doing a great job most of the time, it stands out when you appear fallible…
        BTW, the comment section of the site seems very much friendlier and better informed today, for some reason. If you’re somehow responsible for that, well done, and keep it up.
        In fact, just a simple WELL DONE! from me. :)

  3. I wondered why the photographers made them crouch for the photo….
    But looking at the pictures, you can tell the sun really messes up with the lighting!

    1. Yeah , not very professional.

    2. The low sun angle nearly messed up Q3 too.

  4. Fascinating grid. The Spanish duo will be eager to move forward, who knows what the McLarens and Mercs will do, but the decisive tactical question is: when will a wall jump out and hit Latifi?

  5. I don’t think Charles has much to worry about – with Stroll and Latifi on the grid for tomorrow, there is a very high chance of a safety car. And it’s not like Sainz didn’t have pace, I fully expect him to be at the sharp end, possibly even ahead of Perez, by time the first stops are done.

  6. Sainz’s role in closing the RBR strategy window will be crucial to Leclerc’s potential win. Ferrari need to make him start on the C2 tyre and extend his stint while making places on the grid. 5 places to make with the pace advantage Ferrari is not easy work but this is where Sainz should start earning his money.

    Leclerc only need to cover Verstappen even if that will cost him the win to Perez. Perez winning with Leclerc finishing 2nd and Verstappen 3rd will be more painful to RBR than Ferrari.

  7. The Dolphins
    9th April 2022, 23:37

    Sainz’s progress could prove the acid test of both the new 2022 technical regulations and the heavy modifications to the Albert Park circuit.

    This was exactly my thought for Alonso but should be even more applicable for Sainz. New formula, 3 DRS zones, a new high speed section, the Ferrari donkey in the back of one, the wily fox in the other. Should be an exciting race tomorrow!

Comments are closed.