Leclerc led throughout to convert pole position into his fourth career win and make it two victories from the first three races of the season to strengthen his position at the top of the championship, while Verstappen stopped on track after running in second.

Aside from a poor Safety Car restart which left Leclerc vulnerable to an attack from Verstappen mid-way through the race, the Ferrari driver was able to cover off his main rival and ease clear on his way to finishing a comfortable 20s clear of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez

George Russell scored his first podium for Mercedes in third place after benefitting by pitting under a Safety Car which enabled him to leapfrog Perez and teammate Lewis Hamilton

Perez was eventually able to get by but Russell held on to seal third ahead of Hamilton, who appeared frustrated in the closing stages as he radioed in to tell his Mercedes team: “you guys put me in a really difficult position”. 

The result moves Leclerc into a 34-point lead over Russell at the top of the championship after the first three rounds. 

Behind the much-improved Mercedes, Lando Norris headed out McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo in a distant fifth. The pair shadowed each other closely throughout and were separated by just 0.434s at the end of 58 laps. 

Esteban Ocon finished seventh for Alpine, while Valtteri Bottas recovered to eighth place to claim more points for Alfa Romeo. 

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly took ninth ahead of Alex Albon, who completed the top-10 to score Williams’ first point of the season after the Anglo-Thai driver left it until the penultimate lap to make his mandatory pit stop. 

More reliability woe for Verstappen 

It has not been the start to his title defence that Verstappen would have been wanting as further suspected power unit reliability problems forced the reigning world champion into his second DNF from the opening three races. 

Verstappen pulled over while running in second place at Turn 2 on Lap 39 after reporting to his team over the radio that he could “smell some weird fluid” coming from his Red Bull.

Red Bull made a number of changes to Verstappen’s car under parc ferme conditions ahead of the race, suggesting the team already had some reliability concerns. 

Focus will now turn to getting to the bottom of the issue that caused Verstappen’s second retirement of the season, as the Dutchman lost further ground to early championship leader Leclerc. 

Disasters for Vettel and Sainz 

Carlos Sainz was the first retirement of the day when he spun into the gravel after the Turn 9/10 chicane on just the second lap, following an awful start that had seen him drop from ninth to 14th having struggled to fire up his hard tyres. 

The Spaniard looked to be in the fight for his maiden pole position in qualifying but was left ninth on the grid having seen his first run of Q3 curtailed by a red flag, before a starter issue meant he was late heading out for his second and final run. 

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel compounded a miserable return to F1 after missing the opening two rounds with COVID-19 as he crashed into the wall at Turn 4 22 laps into the race. 

It came after Vettel missed most of Friday’s running because of engine trouble, before a crash in final practice left his Aston Martin team with a big repair job that meant he could only complete one flying lap in qualifying.