Sainz wins chaotic Australian GP as Verstappen streak ends with retirement

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Sainz wins chaotic Australian GP as Verstappen streak ends with retirement

Carlos Sainz led Charles Leclerc as Ferrari sealed a one-two at the Australian Grand Prix following the early retirement of world championship leader Max Verstappen.

Verstappen was attempting to equal his own record 10-race winning streak as he started from pole position in Melbourne, but completed only three laps before the brakes on his Red Bull caught fire and forced him out of the contest.

Sainz, returning to action having missed the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after undergoing appendix surgery little more than two weeks earlier, took full advantage of the opportunity as he calmly controlled the race from the front to stay clear of Leclerc.

The Spaniard, who ended Verstappen’s record streak in Singapore last year, is the only driver other than the Dutchman to have won any of the last 21 F1 races.

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Max Verstappen limps back into the garage and is out of the Australian Grand Prix as smoke pours out of his Red Bull!

Lando Norris took third to claim his first podium of the season ahead of McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri, while Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was unable to apply pressure to the leaders as he took fifth.

Fernando Alonso benefitted from pitting under a virtual safety car caused by the retirement of Lewis Hamilton on lap 17 to take sixth, while the Brit’s team-mate George Russell completed a double DNF for Mercedes by crashing out on the penultimate lap when chasing the Aston Martin.

The incident that saw Russell crash out remained under investigation after the race, with both he and Alonso called to the stewards amid suggestions Mercedes felt the Aston Martin driver ‘brake-tested’ the Brit.

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Carlos Sainz produces an incredible performance to win the Australian Grand Prix for a Ferrari 1-2, while George Russell crashes out on the final lap for a Mercedes double DNF

Lance Stroll took seventh behind his team-mate, as Yuki Tsunoda completed an impressive weekend by claiming eighth for RB.

Haas duo Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen completed the top 10, scoring crucial Constructors’ Championship points for the team.

Australian GP result: Top 10

1) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) Lando Norris, McLaren
4) Oscar Piastri, McLaren
5) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
6) Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin
7) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
8) Yuki Tsunoda, RB
9) Nico Hulkenberg, Haas
10) Kevin Magnussen, Haas

Verstappen, seeking a fourth successive drivers’ title, remains top of the standings but leads Leclerc, who claimed an extra point for setting the fastest lap of the race, by just four points, with Perez a further point back in third.

Sainz is 11 points back from Verstappen in fourth, but would likely be the world championship leader had it not been for his absence from round two in Jeddah. Ferrari have closed to within four points of Red Bull at the top of the constructors’ standings.

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Lewis Hamilton reports an engine failure and retires from a chaotic Australian Grand Prix

Sainz completes remarkable return from surgery

Sainz had arrived in Melbourne unsure of whether he would be able to complete the weekend having spent much of the time in bed recovering since having an appendectomy.

The 29-year-old got through Friday practice before ramping up his performance to take second on the grid on Saturday, but how he would fare over the full 58-lap race distance remained in question.

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Sainz sensationally overtakes Verstappen to take the lead in Melbourne

He ultimately showed no ill-effects, pouncing to overtake Verstappen on the second lap as the Dutchman’s developing brake issue left the Red Bull vulnerable.

From there, Sainz’s victory never looked in doubt, as he eased clear of Lando Norris, before continuing to build his lead once team-mate Leclerc had leapfrogged the McLaren during the first round of pit stops.

Sainz was able to run the longest of the leaders on the first stint, which gave him the advantage of having fresher tyres from there on.

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Sainz and Frederic Vasseur celebrate Ferrari’s huge victory in Australia!

Leclerc, who claimed third in Saudi Arabia in Sainz’s absence, drove a solid race having started from fourth to seal Ferrari’s first one-two since the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix, but was unable to pressure his team-mate.

Sainz’s hugely impressive start to the season comes after Ferrari decided to replace him with Hamilton for the 2025 season, a decision that could come under scrutiny should the Spaniard maintain his sublime form.

His performances are swiftly establishing him as perhaps the prime free agent for the 2025 driver market, with Mercedes needing a replacement for Hamilton, and Perez’s Red Bull contract expiring.

Verstappen retirement gives rivals hope

The way Red Bull had dominated the opening two races as Verstappen led one-twos from Perez in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia had raised concerns the reigning constructors’ champions could go one better than last season when they won all but one of the 22 grands prix.

The fears of Red Bull’s rivals were only heightened when Verstappen put an unconvincing practice showing behind him to comfortably seal pole on Saturday.

All seemed well as the Dutchman got a clean start to hold the lead at the first corner, but Sainz stayed just within a second on the opening lap to remain within DRS range and striking zone.

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Verstappen explains what went wrong on his Red Bull after retiring from the Australian Grand Prix

It was at that point things suddenly went wrong for Verstappen, with signs of trouble first appearing as Sainz swept around the outside of the RB20 in the DRS zone on the approach to Turn 9 to take the lead.

It quickly became clear Verstappen had a major issue, as smoke started to emerge from the rear of his car, before he eventually slowed down and dropped through the field.

“What we can see so far from the data is that as soon as the lights went off the right-rear brake just stuck on,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1.

“It just caused the damage and it kept on increasing so it was also basically driving with the handbrake on.”

He, perhaps unwisely, brought the car all the way back to the pits as parts flew off amid mini explosions as the fire at the right rear of the car gathered intensity.

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says Verstappen’s frustration after his DNF in Australia was understandable and they will learn lessons from the brake issue

While Verstappen’s driving over the past two seasons has been near faultless, his remarkable dominance has been aided by brilliant Red Bull reliability, which has seen him go 43 races without a DNF, the last of which happened to come at the same circuit in 2022.

With Perez also unable to trouble Ferrari and McLaren, neutrals will hope the result signals that a more competitive title battle is ahead in the sport’s longest ever season of 24 races.

However, there is little doubt that Verstappen will start as favourite when the season resumes in two weeks’ time at the Japanese Grand Prix, at a Suzuka circuit that has been one of Red Bull’s best in recent years.

Mercedes’ poor start to 2024 reaches new low

While Red Bull’s disappointing afternoon may well turn out to be a blip, their once main rival Mercedes’ poor start to the season reached new depths.

Having made a surprise Q2 exit as he qualified 11th, Hamilton made some early progress on soft tyres, despite having questioned the decision to go with that compound over team radio on his way to the grid.

Any hopes of a recovery quickly disappeared though as Hamilton followed Verstappen out of the race when his power unit failed on lap 17.

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Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to look at whether Fernando Alonso caused Russell’s huge crash on the final lap

The retirement left the seven-time world champion with just eight points from the first three races of his final season with the team before next year’s switch to Ferrari, and ninth in the drivers’ standings.

Having qualified and finished ahead of Hamilton in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Russell once more was outperforming his team-mate in Melbourne and had put together another comparatively solid weekend as he chased Alonso for sixth in the final stages.

On fresher tyres, Russell was applying pressure to the Aston Martin when he rapidly closed on the approach to Turn 6, before locking up and making heavy contact with the barriers.

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Russell and Alonso give there accounts of Russell’s final-lap crash where the Aston Martin driver appeared to slow dramatically

Russell said in his post-race interview with Sky Sports F1: “I’m not going to accuse him of anything until we see further. I was right behind him for many, many laps. I was half a second behind him before the corner.

“Then, suddenly he slowed up dramatically and got back on the power. I wasn’t expecting it and he caught me by surprise. That part is on me. It’s interesting he’s been called by the stewards. I’m intrigued as to what they have to say.”

Whatever the outcome of the stewards investigation, Mercedes will leave Australia empty-handed and in an apparent contest with Aston Martin to be the fourth fastest team on the grid behind Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren.

What the top three said

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Sainz says after such a ‘tough start of the year’ you cannot imagine how proud I am for the win in Australia

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari – 1st: “It was a really good race. I felt really good out there.

“Of course a bit stiff and especially physically it wasn’t the easiest but I was lucky I was more or less on my own and I could manage my pace, my tyres, manage everything, and it wasn’t the toughest race of all.

“But very happy, very proud of the team, and happy to be in a one-two with Charles here. It shows that hard work pays off and life sometimes is crazy.

“What happened at the beginning of the year, then the podium in Bahrain, then the appendix, the comeback, the win…it’s a rollercoaster. But I loved it and I’m extremely happy.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari – 2nd: “It feels good mostly for the team of course. It’s amazing to know we can do that. Carlos had an incredible weekend to come back after his surgery. He’s done an amazing race.

“I struggled a bit more in the second stint with the first hard. I didn’t manage the tyres well But then the last stint was more positive. First and second was the best we could do.

“In the first stint we had to protect behind, so stopped a bit earlier and from that moment onwards Carlos was very fast and with my tyres I was struggling. I think as soon as we stopped at the first stop, it was clear. Carlos has done a better job all weekend and he definitely deserved that victory.”

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Lando Norris jokes he is considering getting his appendix removed after Sainz’ victory at the Australian Grand Prix!

Lando Norris, McLaren – 3rd: “It was a very good day for us. I’m very happy and proud of the team because P3 and P4 is a lot of points in the championship. So that’s the first thing.

“We missed out on Charles, I think our pace was a little bit better. He undercut us in the first stint so maybe a little bit of hope for second place, I think our pace was strong enough today.

“But Ferrari and Carlos did a very good job, so hats off to them, they’ve been fast all weekend. I felt good, I could manage the tyres very well today, it was a good step. Probably wasn’t expecting to be on the podium so I’m very happy.”

Australian GP Race Result

Driver Team Time
1) Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:20:26.843
2) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +2.366
3) Lando Norris McLaren +5.904
4) Oscar Piastri McLaren +35.770
5) Sergio Perez Red Bull +56.309
6) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +80.992
7) Lance Stroll Aston Martin +93.222
8) Yuki Tsunoda RB +95.601
9) Nico Hulkenberg Haas +104.553
10) Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 lap
11) Alex Albon Williams +1 lap
12) Daniel Ricciardo RB +1 lap
13) Pierre Gasly Alpine +1 lap
14) Valtteri Bottas Sauber +1 lap
15) Zhou Guanyu Sauber +1 lap
16) Esteban Ocon Alpine +1 lap
George Russell Mercedes Did Not Finish
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Did Not Finish
Max Verstappen Red Bull Did Not Finish

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