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Charles Leclerc took a dominant victory in the Australian Grand Prix to move into a commanding position in the World Championship.

The Ferrari driver was in total control of the race when his main rival Max Verstappen retired with a technical failure on his Red Bull at two-thirds distance.

Verstappen is 46 points – almost two clear wins – behind Leclerc after just three races of the season, in two of which the Red Bull has failed to finish.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was second after winning battles with Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Remarkably, in the context of Mercedes’ disappointing start to the season, Russell is second in the drivers’ championship at this early stage and Mercedes second in the constructors’ chase.

Red Bull are still trying to get to the bottom of their problems. Helmut Marko, the professor who helps to run the team has been quoted by the Orf TV channel as saying that there was a fuel issue and maybe the fuel tank broke.

They will need to get the car back to Milton Keynes to do some forensic analysis on it but we know Max Verstappen complained of smelling something funny, which is never a good sign when you are a Formula One driver hurtling around Albert Park at 200 mph.

Huge disappointment for Red Bull – they know they have a very fast car but reliability is a real problem for them.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the car performs in Australia, the track can sometimes be quite dusty.”

Ricciardo said it was particularly hard to take when the 2020 event — at the pandemic’s global start — was called off while thousands of spectators lined up outside the gates to enter the Albert Park circuit.

“It was pretty heartbreaking and that’s from a selfish point of view as a driver,” Ricciardo said.

“But for everyone that was here expecting to see a race, too. So very happy we’re back.”

Ricciardo has had a poor start to the season, finishing 14th in the F1 season opener in Bahrain on March 20 in a race won by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and failing to finish a week later when Verstappen won.

In Saudi Arabia, Ricciardo moved up from 14th to ninth, and appeared set to score his first points of the year. But after being overtaken by his teammate Lando Norris, Ricciardo’s engine cut out with fewer than 15 laps to go.

In Australia, Ricciardo finished second in 2014 before his car was disqualified for breaking fuel flow laws. His best valid finish is fourth, but he’s failed to finish two of his past three races in Melbourne, which has lost its season-opener status.

“Honestly, now that we’ve missed it for a couple of years, I’m just kind of thankful that it’s on the calendar,” he said.

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“Right now, it doesn’t really bother me where it is. As long as we’ve got an Aussie Grand Prix then I’m happy.”

Red Bull, which made its debut here in 2005, will be seeking its 75th series pole position. Both Verstappen and fellow team driver Sergio Pérez made their F1 debuts on the Albert Park track —Verstappen’s first start was in the 2015 race for Toro Rosso, four years after Pérez had finished seventh on debut with Sauber, only to be disqualified for a technical infringement.

Lewis Hamilton has raced 13 times in Australia and won the event in 2008 and 2015. He also has eight poles — including the last six — and nine podium finishes here. He finished second behind Valtteri Bottas when the Australian race was last held in 2019, with Verstappen rounding out the podium in third.

This season, Hamilton finished third at Bahrain and 10th in Saudi Arabia after his comeback in the latter race was halted by pit-lane confusion. The Mercedes driver maintained his pre-season stance that his team is a “long way away” from returning to the front

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