The Ferrari driver led throughout the returning Melbourne event, which was disrupted by two safety cars – after which Leclerc dropped Verstappen each time, despite coming under heavy pressure from the Dutchman at the second restart.

Sergio Perez finished second ahead of George Russell, who was a big gainer under the second safety car, but had to hold off a charging Lewis Hamilton to the flag.

At the start, Verstappen looked to get a fractionally better start than Leclerc, but the polesitter was able to sweep across his front row rival and defend the inside line on the run to Turn 1, where behind Hamilton jumped Perez, who had been looking to follow Verstappen's line to the outside.

Leclerc pulled a 0.6-second lead by the end of lap one of 58, with the top two exchanging fastest sectors over the next lap before the race was neutralised by the safety car's appearance.

Carlos Sainz had started on the hard tyres but got a very poor launch off the line in ninth and tumbled down the pack, with the Spaniard starting to fight back on lap two when he lost the rear of his Ferrari after overtaking Mick Schumacher's Haas into the fast left kink of Turn 9.

Sainz's correction took him across the grass on the inside but he spun on the slippery surface, shooting sideways back across the track at the exit of Turn 10 – just in front of Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu – and ending up in the gravel on the far side where he became beached.

The virtual safety car was briefly activated before the full safety car was called for, which stayed out until the restart at the start of lap seven where Leclerc was easily able to maintain his advantage over Verstappen despite his car porpoising badly on full tanks at the end of each straight.

The top two eased clear of Hamilton and Perez – the only drivers able to stay in the 1m23s bracket, with Leclerc gaining enough fractions in each sector of the two laps that followed the race resuming to be out of Verstappen's DRS threat by the time the system was activated.