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Sainz storms to victory amid drama in Australia as Verstappen retires and Russell crashes out

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 on track

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz took the first non-Red Bull win of the season with an impressive display during Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, taking advantage of technical trouble for Max Verstappen in the opening laps that forced the reigning world champion to retire.

Bidding for a record-equalling 10th victory in a row, Verstappen converted his pole position advantage as the race got under way but soon reported issues behind the wheel, with a compromised second lap opening the door for Sainz to get a run on him and make a move for the lead.

READ MORE: ‘Life is crazy sometimes’ – Sainz overjoyed after ‘rollercoaster’ ride from hospital bed to Australian GP victory

From there, Verstappen’s brake-related woes got worse and, with plumes of smoke exiting the rear of his RB20, he pulled off the racing line to let the rest of the field overtake him before returning to the pits and retiring for the first time in two years.

Sainz went from strength to strength in Verstappen’s absence, building up a solid lead over Lando Norris, team mate Charles Leclerc and home favourite Oscar Piastri as the race developed, eventually taking the chequered flag for the third triumph of his F1 career.

Australia 2024

Race results

PositionTeam NameTimePoints
1SAI1:20:26.84325
2LEC+2.366s19
3NOR+5.904s15
4PIA+35.77s12
5PER+56.309s10
View Full Results

Leclerc completed an undercut on Norris in the early stages of the race to rise to a net second and back up Sainz for Ferrari’s first one-two finish since the 2022 opener, but the Briton nonetheless recorded a breakthrough maiden podium of the season for himself and McLaren.

Piastri also got the jump on Norris during the initial round of pit stops, only to be asked to move aside for his team mate and then lose some more time with an off-track excursion, leaving him in a lonely fourth at the finish, followed by the Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

George Russell had been pushing to complete a late move on Fernando Alonso for sixth position when he dramatically crashed out at the high-speed Turn 6/7 complex, causing extensive damage to his Mercedes and bringing out a Virtual Safety Car to the finish.

WATCH: Russell dramatically crashes out while chasing Alonso late on in Australia

The stewards later deemed that Alonso had played a “potentially dangerous” part in the incident, dropping the Spaniard from P6 to P8 with a post-race 20-second penalty. That decision moved team mate Lance Stroll up to sixth and RB’s Yuki Tsunoda to P7 – giving RB their first reward of the campaign – as Haas took a welcome clutch of points with Nico Hulkenberg in ninth and Kevin Magnussen in 10th.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull

Verstappen led away at the start but soon encountered technical problems

Williams’ decision to put Alex Albon in Logan Sargeant’s car did not quite result in points as he took 11th, followed by the other home driver in action, RB’s Daniel Ricciardo, and the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, who was hit with a five-second penalty for a pit exit breach.

Kick Sauber endured yet more pit stop problems on their way to 14th and 15th with Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu respectively, while Esteban Ocon was the final finisher in the other Alpine after Verstappen’s early retirement, Russell’s late crash and a mid-race engine issue for Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton was watching from the Mercedes garage when team mate Russell suffered his crash, with the latter – whose car was pitched on its side in the middle of the track after the left-front crumbled – quickly reporting over the radio that he was “okay”.

With the drivers aware of Russell’s condition, the celebrations started down at Ferrari as Sainz revelled in his journey from a hospital bed to the top step of the podium in just two weeks – shouting his trademark “smooth operator” line as he headed for parc ferme.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 in the

Sainz controlled a multiple-stop race to add to his wins in Singapore last year and Britain in 2022

AS IT HAPPENED

After an exciting qualifying hour, which saw Verstappen overcome a strong challenge from Sainz to bag pole position, the drivers and teams returned to Albert Park on Sunday for the 58-lap main event, the Australian Grand Prix, with plenty more anticipation in the air.

Unlike the first two rounds, only 19 of the 20 cars involved in the championship would make the start, following Williams’ decision to put Alex Albon in Logan Sargeant’s car in the wake of the Thai-British driver writing off his own chassis in FP1 and the team not having a spare to hand.

READ MORE: Verstappen explains 'really weird' cause of early retirement from Australian Grand Prix

Further disruption to the grid saw Perez pick up a three-place grid penalty for impeding Hulkenberg in qualifying, dropping him from third to sixth, while Zhou was moved from 19th and last to the pit lane after Kick Sauber modified his car under parc ferme conditions.

When the field lined up for the start, with Pirelli expecting a two-stop encounter, it was revealed that the majority of drivers had opted for medium tyres, while Alonso and Hulkenberg had gone for hards and Hamilton, Ricciardo and Zhou had gone bold on softs.

As the lights went out, with the track temperature hotter than it had been all weekend, pole-sitter Verstappen made a clean start to hold his advantage over Sainz, with Norris slotting into third from Leclerc, Piastri and Russell, who managed to slip past Perez.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull

Verstappen held the lead at the start, but it would not last for long...

But with DRS in play after just one lap, Sainz used the overtaking aid to close in on Verstappen and send the crowd wild with a move on the run between Turns 9 and 10 – taking advantage of a “really weird” moment for the reigning world champion earlier in the lap.

“The car is loose,” Verstappen added with a swear word on the following lap, before cameras picked up a huge amount of smoke coming from the rear of his Red Bull. “I have smoke, fire, fire, brake, my brake,” came the next panicked radio message.

READ MORE: FIA post-race press conference – Australia

Red Bull’s worst fears were confirmed when Verstappen slowed, tumbled down the order and came into the pits to retire his car, with the right-rear wheel hub visibly damaged and mechanics wheeling it back into the garage for a closer inspection.

Up front, Sainz now had a golden opportunity to convert his lead into the first non-Red Bull win of 2024, with Norris up to second ahead of Leclerc, Piastri, Russell and Perez, as Stroll, Tsunoda, Hamilton and Alonso rounded out the final points-paying positons.

With the lap charts yet to hit double figures, soft-tyre starters Hamilton, Ricciardo and Zhou all pitted to take on hards, with Russell the first of the front-runners to ditch mediums for hards and Bottas enduring yet another slow pit stop amid wheel nut issues.

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2024 Australian Grand Prix: Pole-sitter Verstappen leads away from Sainz on the race start at Albert Park

Sainz had built a solid three-second lead by Lap 10, when Leclerc and Piastri both pitted to swap to hards, while replays picked up Hamilton experiencing another moment as he ran wide at Turn 1 and took a trip over the grass before gathering the car and continuing on his way.

“You’re doing a mega job out there,” was the message to Sainz from the Ferrari pit wall as the Spaniard stretched out his first stint, with Norris following suit and data predictions suggesting that both Leclerc and Piastri were set to jump the Briton.

FACTS AND STATS: Ferrari make it 10 wins in Melbourne as Mercedes end 62-race scoring streak

Perez, Alonso, Hulkenberg and Gasly were the other four drivers yet to pit at the 15-lap mark, with the sole remaining Red Bull driver expressing his fears about tyre degradation over the radio amid the higher air and track temperatures.

At the end of Lap 15, Norris and Perez both decided that enough was enough as they completed the move from medium tyres to hards, with the former coming back out in fifth, having lost places to Leclerc and Piastri, and Perez rejoining in 10th, just ahead of Hamilton.

Sainz finally pitted from the lead on the 16th tour, swapping to hards and returning to the track a couple of seconds behind Alonso, just as Hamilton reported an engine failure and came to a halt at the side of the track, bringing out a Virtual Safety Car.

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (C) walks back to the garage after smoke billowing

Verstappen’s hopes of victory went up in smoke as he retired after just three laps

That played into the hands of Alonso, who managed to save around 10 seconds with a ‘cheap’ stop, meaning he re-emerged in fifth position on mediums, as Hulkenberg and Gasly also completed their first tyre changes – replays showing the latter’s team mate, Ocon, earlier losing time outside the Alpine garage after a visor tear off got stuck in a brake duct.

With Hamilton’s car safely removed and the track clear, the VSC was replaced by green flag conditions once more, leaving Sainz to continue his charge from team mate Leclerc, Piastri, Norris and Alonso, while Russell came under pressure from Perez.

Hamilton brands Melbourne weekend ‘a real struggle’ even before Lap 17 retirement

“That car is like a rocket ship,” lamented Russell over the radio when slipped by, leaving the only Mercedes in action seventh, from Stroll, Tsunoda and Albon, who was now in contention to score a point after taking over team mate Sargeant’s car.

Further back, Haas asked their drivers to play the team game again, with medium-shod Hulkenberg given clearance to pass hard-shod team mate Magnussen for 11th position – the German looking to emulate his run to the points in Saudi Arabia last time out.

Ricciardo was up to 13th after his back-of-the-grid start, with Gasly splitting the Kick Saubers of Zhou and Bottas following his long first stint and Ocon bringing up the rear thanks to his pit dramas – Hamilton and Verstappen now watching from the sidelines.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing walks

Verstappen was a spectator after his early retirement from proceedings

As the race moved over the halfway mark, McLaren instructed Piastri to move aside for team mate Norris amid their differing strategies, while Perez continued his charge by dispatching Alonso for fifth position on the run between Turns 8 and 9.

With Norris closing in on Leclerc and beginning to apply some pressure, the Monegasque reported that his tyres were “gone” and he duly pitted for fresh hard rubber on lap 35, coming back out in fourth place, just ahead of Perez and Alonso.

Perez was the next to stop on the following lap, dropping him to the tail-end of the points places, with Zhou pitting at a similar time and cameras picking up yet another slow stop for the Kick Sauber crew – team mate Bottas at least managing to swap tyres without trouble.

There was more drama elsewhere as Hulkenberg rejoined the track from another stop marginally in front of Albon, who expressed his frustration over the radio at the Haas driver’s robust defensive driving, and Piastri took a trip over the grass at the penultimate corner.

Piastri made his second stop shortly after that moment, putting him fifth from Russell, with Norris coming in a lap later and filtering out in fourth, between Leclerc and Alonso, and leader Sainz taking on a final set of fresh tyres one more tour after that.

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2024 Australian Grand Prix: Engine failure causes DNF for Hamilton in Melbourne

Piastri put his new rubber to good use as he cleared Alonso – who was just about to make his final stop – for fourth at the exit of Turn 11, after which he sat some nine seconds down on tam mate Norris, with Tsunoda repeating the trick on Gasly for P9 moments later.

As the final stops filtered through, Sainz led Leclerc by around five seconds, with Norris four seconds further back in third, Piastri now in no man’s land, Russell holding fifth from Perez and Alonso, Stroll up to eighth and Tsunoda and Hulkenberg holding the final points.

Russell stopped again with just over 10 laps remaining, allowing Perez and Alonso to slot ahead again, as replays confirmed the “really weird” moment Verstappen had been talking about before his retirement – the Dutchman running too deep at Turn 3.

With fresher tyres, Russell proceeded to close in rapidly on Alonso and attack him for sixth place, only to overdo it during the final lap and slide off the track at Turn 6 – his heavily-damaged car coming to a halt on its side on the racing line and bringing out another VSC.

Back at the front, Sainz crossed the line just under two-and-a-half seconds clear of Leclerc for a momentous Ferrari result, as Norris secured the final spot on the podium, comfortably clear of Piastri, Perez and Alonso.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: The car of George Russell of Great Britain and Mercedes is seen on

Russell pushed hard to catch Alonso but his efforts ended with a heavy crash

Stroll, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg and Magnussen all benefitted from Russell’s late crash, with RB taking their first points of the season and Haas topping up their tally, as Albon narrowly missed out in 11th after jumping into Sargeant’s cockpit.

While he delivered a steady rise from the very back of the grid, Ricciardo had to settle for 12th in the 10th Australian Grand Prix of his career, with Gasly 13th after picking up a five-second penalty for crossing the line at the exit of the pits.

After dramas in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Kick Sauber suffered more pit stop issues on both cars as Bottas and Zhou wound up 14th and 15th respectively, with the Finn also summoned to the stewards over an alleged breach of the International Sporting Code in the pit lane.

Ocon was the final finisher in 16th, with Verstappen and Hamilton sidelined by their earlier incidents and Russell being picked up by the Medical Car after his meeting with the wall on the final lap.

Post-race drama, meanwhile, saw Alonso handed a drive-through penalty – converted to a 20-second penalty added to his race time – after the stewards deemed that he had driven in an “extraordinary” manner while being chased by Russell, contributing to the Mercedes’ driver’s accident. Alonso was dropped from P6 to P8, pushing up Aston Martin team mate Stroll and RB’s Tsunoda.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 on track

The day belonged to Sainz and Ferrari at Albert Park with a commanding performance

Key quote

“It was a really good race; I felt really good out there,” said Sainz. “Of course, [I’m] a bit stiff, especially physically, it wasn’t the easiest, but I was lucky that I was more or less on my own and I could manage my pace, manage the tyres, manage everything. It wasn’t the toughest race of all, but yeah, very happy, very proud of the team.

“I’m happy to be in a one-two with Charles here. It shows that hard work pays off. Life sometimes is crazy, what happened at beginning of 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.”

What’s next

The next stop on the 2024 F1 calendar will be the Japanese Grand Prix, with the paddock heading to the Suzuka circuit from April 5-7. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can follow the action.

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