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Sainz ‘almost couldn’t believe’ run to front row after surgery as Leclerc rues ‘very aggressive’ Q3 gamble

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Carlos Sainz has taken a moment to reflect after marking his return to the cockpit in style during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, having impressively sealed a place on the front row of the grid.

Sainz was forced to miss the last event in Saudi Arabia due to appendicitis and, despite undergoing surgery just a couple of weeks ago, he attempted a swift comeback for the third round of the season in Melbourne.

READ MORE: Verstappen surges to pole position for the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Sainz and Perez

After building up speed throughout practice, Sainz took the fight to Max Verstappen and Red Bull in qualifying, ultimately posting the second fastest time as he battled through “weird feelings” but “no pain”.

Speaking after qualifying and summarising his efforts to get behind the wheel again, Sainz said: “It’s been a tough couple of weeks, a lot of days in bed waiting for this moment to see if I could be here today.

“To make it to this weekend and then obviously to put it on the front row after leading through qualifying I was almost not believing it, especially after how tough it’s been.

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Qualifying Highlights: 2024 Australian Grand Prix

“But I’m very happy to be here, very happy to be challenging the Red Bulls this weekend. I was a bit rusty at the beginning yesterday but then I got up to speed and I could finally find the pace and I’m feeling good with the car.”

Asked how he’s feeling in the car, the Spaniard added: “I’m not going to lie I’m not in my most comfortable state when I’m driving out there, but I can get it done. And as far as I can get it done without pain… obviously a lot of discomfort and weird feelings, but no pain, so it allows me to push flat-out.”

READ MORE: Verstappen enjoys ‘unexpected’ pole in Australia as he predicts ‘very exciting’ race amid Ferrari threat

Sainz’s team mate, Charles Leclerc, had also been in contention for pole position but abandoned his final Q3 run amid balance issues and eventually took fifth, behind the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez and McLaren’s Lando Norris.

“I think the issue started unfortunately quite a bit earlier [than qualifying],” said Leclerc. “Already in FP3 I started losing the feeling, but I was quite confident I would find it back in qualifying and I did not.

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‘I didn’t do a good enough job’ admits Leclerc after scrappy session leaves him P5 on the grid

“The front, I struggled to rotate the car in the first two sectors, and then in the last run I decided to go very aggressive with the front wing and then I lost the rear massively.

“All in all, not a clean quali. I wasn’t really happy with the feeling of the car, but tomorrow it’s a long race. There are four DRS zones and from now on I’ll focus on that to try and maximise the result from where we start.”

FACTS AND STATS: Ricciardo’s first ever Q1 exit in Melbourne spoils the Australian’s homecoming

Pushed on whether he thinks he’s still in the fight with Red Bull tomorrow, the Monegasque commented: “First of all, I think they had more margin than what we thought, because from Turn 7 to Turn 9 today, when they went flat with the engine, it was much faster than what we expected.

“I think tomorrow they will have a very strong race pace. But we’ll focus on ourself, trying to maximise the points on our side is crucial. Today the car wasn’t deserving P5 and I didn’t do a good job enough.

“Tomorrow will be all about trying to come back. If Checo [Perez] is an opportunity to overtake, we need to do that. If not, we need to take maximum points.”

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