Australian GP: Charles Leclerc tops Max Verstappen in Practice Two as Mercedes woes persist
Ferrari the team to beat at Australian GP as Charles Leclerc makes it a Friday practice double in red as he outpaces Max Verstappen in P2; Alpine impress, both Mercedes cars outside the top-10 in painful start to weekend; Watch Saturday qualifying live on Sky F1 at 7am
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 08/04/22 9:16am
Charles Leclerc capped off another encouraging day for Ferrari by setting the pace ahead of Max Verstappen in Australian GP second practice, with Mercedes further down the field in a miserable start to their weekend.
Leclerc, the championship leader, and Verstappen, the world champion, have gone head-to-head in two gripping races to start the season and they continued their battle on the opening day of practice in Melbourne - although Ferrari do appear a step faster than closest rivals Red Bull.
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After Carlos Sainz topped the first session, Leclerc doubled up by speeding away in second practice with a 1:18.978, two-tenths quicker than Verstappen, who cut a frustrated figure and could not hook up a complete lap.
"Ferrari look a bit untouchable," said Sky Sports F1's Paul Di Resta.
Sainz was third for 2022's early leaders, ahead of surprise package Fernando Alonso in the Alpine and the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
Alpine, mixing it at the front, also had Esteban Ocon in sixth.
Those are the positions you would normally expect Mercedes, but the world champions are still floundering and well off the pace.
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished way down in 11th and 13th respectively in P2, over a second adrift of Leclerc's benchmark.
Sebastian Vettel also endured a frustrating day on his F1 return after a Covid enforced absence. After grinding to a halt in first practice, the four-time world champion didn't get out on track at all in his Aston Martin in the second session.
There was, however, a more encouraging day for the Mercedes-powered McLaren.
The Woking team showed flashes of pace throughout both Friday practices, and they finished the day in eighth and 10th through Lando Norris and home hero Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari a step ahead, and what is going on with Mercedes?
F1's return to Albert Park for the first time since 2019 saw some early-2022 trends continue; Ferrari and Red Bull, Leclerc and Verstappen, look set to battle it out again at the front, while Mercedes are still struggling.
Ferrari and Red Bull, taking the first real chance to upgrade their cars on a flyaway did just that with small updates, but Mercedes were one of only two teams not to make improvements.
And the results on the opening day in Melbourne were ominous.
While Ferrari in particular could effortlessly hook up fast laps, even while porpoising, Mercedes car was neither smooth nor fast, with Hamilton and Russell left downbeat after the session.
"Nothing you change on the car makes a difference at the moment, that's the difficult thing," said Hamilton.
"You get in very optimistic, and you make changes, and then it doesn't seem to be wanting to improve. It's just a tricky car."
Mercedes hope for a resolution later this month, although this weekend may well be a touch painful.
While in a much better position than Merc, Red Bull may also be concerned - seemingly a bit further away from Ferrari than the opening two rounds despite the Scuderia's assertion that this track suits them the least.
"Red Bull have got some work to do," said Di Resta.
"They're definitely not comfortable and Max is on the edge trying to scrape out lap time."
The action continues on Saturday morning, with final practice live on Sky Sports F1 at 4am before qualifying at 7am.
Australian GP Practice Two Timesheet
|1) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||1:18.978|
|2) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+0.245|
|3) Carlos Sainz||Ferrari||+0.398|
|4) Fernando Alonso||Alpine||+0.559|
|5) Sergio Perez||Red Bull||+0.680|
|6) Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+0.864|
|7) Valterri Bottas||Alfa Romeo||+1.077|
|8) Pierre Gasly||Alpha Tauri||+1.122|
|9) Lando Norris||McLaren||+1.164|
|10) Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||+1.225|
|11) George Russell||Mercedes||+1.234|
|12) Yuki Tsunoda||Alpha Tauri||+1.446|
|13) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+1.543|
|14) Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+1.633|
|15) Guanyu Zhao||Alfa Romeo||+2.085|
|16) Kevin Magnussen||Haas||+2.213|
|17) Alex Albon||Williams||+2.934|
|18) Mick Schumacher||Haas||+2.996|
|19) Nicholas Latifi||Williams||+3.329|
|20) Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||No time set|