Formula 1 in Australia: Sainz wins, Verstappen’s winning streak breaks – Sport

Something can always happen in the high-speed sport of Formula 1, so Carlos Sainz couldn’t be entirely sure even on the final laps. When three of the 58 rounds of the Australian Grand Prix were still to be completed, the Spaniard actually reported tire problems on the pit radio. What kind of drama would now follow? After what had been such a great race for him up to that point? After the otherwise dominant reigning world champion Max Verstappen was eliminated surprisingly early? Sainz’s Ferrari continued to purr around Melbourne’s Albert Park Circuit. But there was still great excitement.

It wasn’t long before the end of the race when George Russell lost control of his Mercedes. The Englishman got too close to Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin before turn 6, which caused the downforce to break, Russell headed towards a pile of tires, landed in the gravel trap and turned sideways back on the track. The crash looked spectacular and completely demolished the car – luckily, according to initial information, Russell was uninjured. But the race was completed despite the virtual safety car phase.

And then, in fact, Sainz could be sure: after Great Britain in 2022 and Singapore in 2023, he won the third victory of his Formula 1 career in Melbourne 2024. And that was 15 days after an appendectomy. “Life can be a roller coaster,” he cheered while still in the car. That described his start to this year quite well. It was first announced that he would be replaced at Scuderia next season by seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and would therefore have to look for a new cockpit. Then he finished third at the start of the season in Bahrain, had to miss the operation in Saudi Arabia, spent a lot of time in the hospital – and now this victory, which was also a double success. The first for Ferrari since Bahrain 2022.

His teammate Charles Leclerc came second ahead of Lando Norris in the McLaren. Nico Hülkenberg, the only German regular driver, came ninth in the Haas. “The double victory shows that the hard work is paying off,” said Sainz before the award ceremony. “Life gets crazy sometimes.” Verstappen still leads the overall standings with 51 points, but Leclerc is catching up with 47 points. Third is Sergio Perez (46).

Instead of celebrating his tenth win of the season, Verstappen is out for the first time in two years

During the qualification it initially looked as if the front parking bays could both be occupied by red this time. Ferrari drove faster and more consistently. But in the third, decisive round, Red Bull really turned up the heat – and Verstappen clinched the 35th pole position of his Formula 1 career. His teammate Sergio Perez completed the lap third fastest, but was given a penalty to sixth place on the grid. Ferrari stayed in the front row thanks to Sainz’s successful drive. Amazingly, one has to say, considering the appendectomy. Leclerc moved up to fourth place on the grid due to the Perez penalty. “They thought they would beat us,” said Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko on Sky. “Then the disillusionment is even greater.”

For the third race of the season, everyone was warned that Verstappen’s winning streak would continue – and from the first few meters there were signs that it could come to that. Sainz tried to get past the Red Bull right at the start on the 39 degree asphalt. But the world champion was too fast and rushed away in his usual cool manner. Normally, the 26-year-old would have increased the gap lap after lap. But on the second lap Sainz was suddenly able to overtake. Oops!

There was nothing more that could be done: Max Verstappen had to park his smoking Red Bull at the garage early.

(Photo: Scott Barbour/Reuters)

But the Ferrari’s thrust wasn’t just due to the folded rear wing thanks to the so-called DRS mode to reduce air resistance. “I just lost the car, really strange,” Verstappen radioed to his engineers and reported further problems before it became clear on the fourth lap: the matter was serious. “It’s smoking, fire! Fire!” reported the Dutchman. There was smoke coming from its suspension on the right rear and soon a real cloud was trailing behind it, the RB20 became slower and slower, one competitor after another had the rare pleasure of driving past the otherwise superior car. The smoke became thicker.

When Verstappen turned into the pit lane at a snail’s pace, there was a mini-explosion including a flame. In front of his garage, the mechanics attacked the fire with fire extinguishers. Instead of celebrating his tenth win of the season, Verstappen dropped out. The last time he was canceled was two years ago – also in Melbourne in April 2022. Back then a fuel leak stopped him, now it was the brakes. This race was over for the defending champions before it had really begun. And Verstappen was angry. In an exchange with an engineer, he flipped the bird with his index finger and you didn’t have to be a professional lip reader to understand Verstappen’s interim conclusion: “Stupid!”

Seven-time world champion Hamilton is also out

This gave his competition rare chances of success. The Dominator was out – who would take his place for a day? The order was now: Sainz, Norris, Leclerc, Piastri. And the leader gave Ferrari hope: “Let’s open the gap now, the car feels really good.” The first ones changed the tires – and then there was the next failure without there being a crash. Again a world champion was involved.

Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes became slower and slower until, on the 17th lap, the driver chugged over to the right to park his car in a safe spot on the grass verge. The Englishman told his team that the cause was engine failure. The Silver Arrows had been dissatisfied all weekend. “This inconsistency in the car really confuses you,” revealed the seven-time world champion, who was only allowed eleventh place on the grid.

Hamilton’s failure triggered a virtual safety car. In other words: A certain lap time was set for all drivers, so the distance between them remained largely the same and overtaking was not allowed. Some people took advantage of this for a pit stop. Sainz continued to lead undeterred and after 28 of 58 laps he had gained a five-second lead over Leclerc. He occasionally lost positions when changing tires, but he made up for them with fresh tires – and Sainz didn’t endanger his lead with a short stopover. His lead was more than seven seconds when the Madrilenian came back. And the best Red Bull that day, driven by Sergio Perez, had nothing to do with any of this – he finished fifth.

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