Sunday, March 24, 2024

Carlos Sainz wins Australian F1 Grand Prix to lead one-two finish for Ferrari

Carlos Sainz has won the Australian Grand Prix for Ferrari, delivering a consummate drive in Melbourne after world champion’s Max Verstappen’s race ended in a brake explosion after only four laps.

 The victory for Sainz was a remarkable comeback for the driver who is still recovering from having surgery for appendicitis and is out of contract for next season. 

Sainz drove brilliantly to beat his teammate Charles Leclerc into second at Albert Park, Ferrari’s first one-two since Bahrain in 2022. 

 McLaren’s Lando Norris was third and there was a superb result for his Australian teammate Oscar Piastri in fourth. Lewis Hamilton, who will replace Sainz at Ferrari next season, ended a difficult weekend retiring with an engine failure, while there was further woe for Mercedes when his teammate George Russell crashed out on the final lap. Sergio Pérez was fifth for Red Bull.

 Having started in second behind Verstappen, Sainz took full advantage with a controlled drive at the front of the field after the world champion’s nine-win run came to a fiery end after he was forced to retire from the lead, his right rear brake giving out in an explosion and flames.

 The Dutchman was clearly furious when he emerged from the car at being denied by a mechanical failure which had caused his first retirement since Australia 2022. “We can see that when the lights went off the right rear brake stuck on, it was basically driving with the handbrake on,” Verstappen said. 

The team has yet to offer any explanation of what caused the problem. For Sainz, this was an extraordinary win. The Spaniard underwent surgery for appendicitis only two weeks ago when he was forced to pull out of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. He is still not fully recovered, had lost several kilos of weight, could not complete the usual fitness preparation and simulator work pre-race, and admitted that coping with the intense G-forces at Albert Park after the operation was a unique challenge. “This is amazing.

 Life is a rollercoaster, life is amazing,” Sainz said. The win opens Sainz’s season with the confident and combative statement of intent the Spanish driver badly wanted. He is determined to make his case for a good seat next season and did so to striking effect in Melbourne. Sainz and the team will take great heart from such a competitive showing in race pace and for Ferrari to deliver with an operational calm control and assurance that was often lacking last season. 

Itt is the third win of Sainz’s career and his first in Australia. He was the only driver to deny Red Bull a win last season, with victory in Singapore, and the first to do so this year. He took his first win at the British Grand Prix in 2022. 

Verstappenn had held his lead into turn one from Sainz but on lap two with DRS enabled Sainz burst past the Dutchman for the lead at turn nine to the roars of an appreciative crowd. Verstappen said he had lost the back of the car and slid at turn seven and eight, opening the door for Sainz, and complained the car was “loose”. 

Hee clearly had an issue as worse followed when smoke began billowing from the back of the car that began going backwards through the field. “I have smoke, fire, fire, brake,” Verstappen told the team as he crawled to the pit on lap three. The right rear brake exploded in a cloud of smoke and dust on his way into the pits, then was in flames when he entered the pit box which lit his tyre up. The car was retired immediately. 

Withh the world champion out the race was wide open, Sainz leading from Norris and Leclerc, with Pérez in sixth. The opening pit stops began early on lap 10 when Leclerc pitted. Sainz however was looking entirely in control at the front of the field, happy with his rubber to stay out long and opening a solid gap of eight seconds on Norris, who having pitted was undercut by Piastri who moved up to fourth. Sainz pitted at the end of lap 16 just after which Hamilton suffered an engine failure on lap 17, pulling out of the race and triggering the virtual safety car to end what was a dismal weekend for the British driver.

 The Spaniard resumed a lap later in the lead and with much fresher tyres than Leclerc in second, as McLaren moved Piastri aside for Norris who was on fresher rubber on lap 29. On a circuit where tyre management is always vital, Sainz’s smooth and controlled style was paying enormous dividends. On newer rubber, he had opened a nine second lead on Leclerc by the time Ferrari pitted the Monegasque driver again on lap 34.

 Sainz pitted for the final time on lap 41, rejoining in the lead with a comfortable gap to Leclerc and the tyres to ease to the flag for a well-deserved victory completed under the VSC after Russell lost his rear and hit the wall coming up behind Fernando Alonso at turns six and seven. 

Alonsoo and Lance Stroll were sixth and seventh for Aston Martin. Yuki Tsunoda in eighth for RB and Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen ninth and 10th for Haas. For Daniel Ricciardo it was a home race to forget as the Australian could manage only 13th.

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