Charles Leclerc beats Max Verstappen in second practice at Australian GP

Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc competes during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir

Charles Leclerc clocked a best lap round the Albert Park circuit of one minute 17.277 seconds, 0.381 clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who won in Melbourne last year from pole. Picture: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Published Mar 22, 2024


Ferrari's Charles Leclerc went quickest ahead of world champion Max Verstappen in second practice at the Australian Grand Prix on Friday, with Carlos Sainz third barely two weeks after surgery.

Leclerc clocked a best lap round the Albert Park circuit of one minute 17.277 seconds, 0.381 clear of Red Bull's Verstappen, who won in Melbourne last year from pole.

Verstappen ran over a kerb late in first practice and damaged the floor of his car, meaning the team were still working on the issue when the second session started.

The Dutchman eventually emerged as the last driver out after missing 22 minutes and he struggled initially to make inroads on medium tyres as others switched to softs.

Costly tyre change

But when he made the tyre change he began flying to narrowly miss topping the timesheets.

The Red Bull ace won the first two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but they were overshadowed by turmoil within the team camp.

The 26-year-old is hoping to put the off-track distractions behind him with records on the line in Melbourne.

Verstappen is chasing a 10th consecutive victory to match his own record set last year, while Red Bull are attempting to score a third straight 1-2 finish for the first time in the team's history.

Third in second practice was a remarkable achievement for Ferrari's Sainz, who underwent appendicitis-related surgery and missed the last race in Saudi Arabia.

There was concern about how his body would fare in Australia, but he appears to have put any doubts to bed.

The Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso were fourth and fifth ahead of George Russell of Mercedes.

Russell's teammate, the seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, could only finish 18th, some 1.5secs behind Leclerc. He was heard on the team radio saying "something's wrong”.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri was seventh ahead of Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull and Lando Norris, who was fastest in opening practice.

RB driver Yuki Tsunoda rounded out the top 10, which was covered by less than one second.

Albon smash

Under blue skies, Valtteri Bottas and Perez led the way out of the pits as the lights went green, with the Red Bull driver setting the pace.

But he was quickly bettered by Alonso and a host of others.

The times kept coming down with Stroll on top at the halfway mark.

Leclerc then took control and Verstappen began ominously climbing the leaderboard when he switched to softs, but the Dutchman was unable to better his rival.

In an eventful first practice, Williams' Alex Albon smashed into the wall at turn 8.

It caused heavy damage on the right side of his car and left debris littering the track. Albon was uninjured but did not compete in FP2 as Williams assessed the carnage.

There were several other mishaps in a reminder of the dangers of a track that witnessed multiple crashes last year, with just 12 drivers completing the race.