Max Verstappen suffered a brutal blow to the championship, retiring late from the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday as Charles Leclerc rode home to take his second win of the year.
Verstappen was racing in second on lap 39 when he abruptly parked his car on the outside of turn 2, reporting that he could smell “strange fluid”.
“Everything fell into place,” he added.
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Leclerc was already pulling away in sunny Albert Park, but the retirement gave the Ferrari driver a pole-to-flag victory that extended his championship lead and put him 46 points ahead of Verstappen.
Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed a solid finish in the points, completing a faultless race to go home in sixth – one place above his grid position.
The Aussie stayed close to team-mate Lando Norris throughout the race but lost time behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen after a second safety car period. He eventually maintained a comfortable gap to Norris, with the pair heading home in fifth and sixth for a solid McLaren points gain.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez finished second, while Mercedes’ George Russell took advantage of a timely pit stop at a second safety car to move up to third.
Lewis Hamilton was not so lucky, dropping places after the safety car to finish fourth.
He later told his team, “You put me in a really difficult position.”
Verstappen is now behind both Mercedes in the drivers’ standings, while Red Bull was unable to immediately explain why the Dutchman took a second retirement for the season.
Sky F1 pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz said: “They can’t really say, it’s too early, but Red Bull have to investigate, tear the car apart.
“But it may not be until he returns to Milton Keynes that they will know which part of the car has lost its senses.”
Earlier, after a slow start, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz lost control at Turn 9 on lap two and stuck his car in the gravel, forcing the safety car out.
“He had a miserable, miserable weekend,” Martin Brundle said in commentary for Sainz, who gambled starting the race on hard tyres.
There was a second safety car on lap 22 when Sebastian Vettel ended a shocking weekend with a spin and crashed into the wall on the exit of turn 4.
TOP 10 RANKING
1) Charles Leclerc
2) Sergio Perez
3) George Russell
4) Lewis Hamilton
5) Lando Norris
6) Daniel Ricardo
7) Esteban Ocon
8) Valtteri Bottas
9) Pierre Gasly
10) Alex Albon
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MERCEDES STAR CALLS A CONTROVERSIAL APPEAL
Mercedes star George Russell has challenged the late decision to reduce the number of DRS zones at the Albert Park track.
Alpine has lobbied the FIA for the removal of the third of four DRS zones with Fernando Alonso reportedly leading the charge for safety reasons.
Russell, however, said DRS could have improved safety on the section of track in question.
“DRS definitely improves (the rebound of the car),” Russell said before the race.
“It’s kind of ironic that he was taken out for safety reasons but taking him out makes the rebounds worse for half the teams on the grid.
“I didn’t see any issues and we had tracks (like in Saudi Arabia) where we had the DRS open in a much tighter corner around the last corner and there’s no issue.
“I don’t really know where that came from.”
TOTAL CHAOS IN RICCIARDO’S “PHENOMENAL” ARRIVAL
Daniel Ricciardo arrived at Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix amid chaotic scenes of cheering fans who wanted their moment with the local favorite.
Ricciardo arrived at Melbourne Walk just before 10am and took around 30 minutes to complete the approximately 70m stretch to the paddock.
It was by choice, as the Aussie stopped to sign virtually every signature and take every selfie, among those lining the path. Others who couldn’t reach the Australian sought elevation by any means possible, with some fans screaming wildly as they were hoisted onto the shoulders of others.
As he answered fan requests, iconic Australian tracks such as Land Down Under and You’re The Voice blared in the background.
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