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F1 Review: Carlos Sainz Beats the Brakes Off Max Verstappen, Triumphs in F1 Return

Carlos Sainz pounced on Max Verstappen’s misfortune, passing the misfiring Red Bull early and winning Formula 1’s Rolex Australian Grand Prix on Sunday (March 24) comfortably over Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc. Verstappen retired from the race on lap 4, his current run of dominance snapped by a fiery stuck brake issue. 

Sainz, who missed the previous race in Saudi Arabia with appendicitis, was unchallenged after taking the lead on lap 2 and took the checkered under a virtual safety car after George Russell’s late crash. Leclerc’s second place finish, and fastest lap, gave Ferrari the maximum points day. McLaren’s duo of Lando Norris and Australian Oscar Piastri finished third and fourth. Sergio Perez took fifth, while Fernando Alonso’s sixth was converted to an eighth after a penalty for “potentially dangerous driving” while defending against Russell late in the race. Alonso’s teammate Lance Stroll assumed sixth, with Visa Cash App RB’s Yuki Tsunoda finishing seventh. The Haas duo of Nico Hulkeberg and Kevin Magnussen nabbed the final two points-paying positions. 

“It was a really good race,” Sainz said. “It felt really good out there. I was lucky I was more or less on my own and I could manage my pace, manage my tires and everything. I’m very happy, very proud of the team, very happy to be one-two with Charles here – it shows hard work pays off.”

In the driver standings, Verstappen’s 25-point lead shrunk to four, and now he leads Leclerc 51 to 47. Perez is third with 46, six points up on Sainz in fourth.

In the constructor standings, Verstappen’s troubles brought Red Bull back to the field. Red Bull leads Ferrari 97 to 93, with McLaren well back in third with 55, well ahead of struggling Mercedes in fourth with 26.

The Race

Verstappen zipped off the line, leaving front row partner Sainz to contend with the challenge from Norris while Verstappen led into turn 1 on a clean start. Russell picked off Perez, who was the recipient of a three-place grid penalty for impeding in qualifying, for sixth as the only change of position up front.

Sainz took the fight to Verstappen, using DRS to blast by the seemingly crippled Red Bull in turn 9 on lap 2. Verstappen later admitted on the radio that he made a mistake that led to the Sainz overtake. It was an omen of even bigger problems for Red Bull.

On lap 3, a stunning development as smoke began pouring from Verstappen’s Red Bull, and he slowed dramatically on lap 4 with his right rear brake on fire and dropping pieces on the track. Verstappen made it back to the pits and his race was done. His streak of finishing 43 straight races was history, and the door was wide open for a new winner to emerge. 

Meanwhile, Sainz had opened up a near two second lead on Norris by lap 6, with Leclerc right on the McLaren’s tail and Piastri breathing down Leclerc’s neck.  

Lewis Hamilton made an early stop on lap 8 to switch his soft tires for hard tires. Hamilton had questioned the team’s original tire choice before the race started. Russell pitted a lap later, exchanging his medium set for hards. It appeared that the hard tire was the only compound that could adequately handle the Melbourne surface. 

See also
Carlos Sainz Magnificent in Melbourne, Winning the Australian Grand Prix

Leclerc and Piastri both pitted on lap 10 for medium tires and both covered Russell’s attempt for the undercut, emerging well ahead of the Mercedes. Perez took third.

Sainz opened up a six-second lead on Norris by lap 13 and seemed to have the race under control, although it was very early. Given the fortune of Verstappen’s retirement, and his current lead, Sainz would be kicking himself if he didn’t win the race. 

Norris and Perez pitted for hard tires on lap 15, with Norris coming out behind Piastri, while Perez emerged in 10th. Alonso assumed second, 17 seconds behind Sainz. 

Sainz pitted for hard tires on lap 18 and maintained the lead, albeit a narrow one over Leclerc.

Hamilton, in 11th and chasing Perez in 10th, made his usual “that car is really fast” statement in regards to the Red Bull. Apparently, Hamilton will say any car is fast, except for a Mercedes. Moments later, on lap 17, Hamilton’s engine quit, and his weekend in Melbourne that started with him missing Q3 on Friday just got even worse. And just like that, drivers with 10 world championships between them were out of the race.

A virtual safety car was issued when Hamilton couldn’t make it back to pit lane, and Alonso took advantage to pit for medium tires and resumed in fifth.

Green flag racing resumed on lap 19, and Leclerc was told to hold his position and not attack Sainz. Ferrari had their minds set on a 1-2 finish and a leap back into the constructors’ championship. Sainz, with fresher tires and a pliant teammate, quickly opened up a 1.5-second lead by lap 22.

Perez got by Russell for sixth on lap 22 and began his attack on Alonso, who was a good five seconds ahead. 

On lap 24, the order was Sainz, Leclerc, Piastri, Norris, Alonso, Perez, Russell, Stroll, Tsunoda, and Alex Albon, who was in a Williams car with a chassis courtesy of his teammate Logan Sargeant

Perez had clipped two seconds off Alonso’s lead by lap 25, and would soon be in DRS range. Albon, desperately trying to hold on to points position in 10th, was under attack from Hulkenberg, whose Haas was on new tires. 

Sainz’s lead was nearing five seconds by lap 27 and Ferrari seemed to be in total control, with Sainz determined to cash in with a fast car and Verstappen’s uncharacteristic retirement.

Perez took over fifth with a pass on Alonso, who did not put up a fight as his battle was with the Mercedes of Russell.

On lap 29, McLaren asked Piastri to swap positions with the faster Norris. Piastri obliged, handing third to Norris, who set sail on a quest to break up the Ferrari party up front.

Albon pitted for hard tires on lap 29 with the apparent goal to make them last until the end in the hopes his Williams would be in the points.

Sainz’s lead was eight seconds by lap 32, while Norris was making little to no progress in his search for Leclerc. Sainz’s lead was such that even a moderate Ferrari error in the pits wouldn’t derail his victory hopes. But not wanting to leave anything to chance, Sainz continued to build his lead.

Leclerc noted that his tires were used up on lap 34, and Leclerc pitted soon after for hard tires. Leclerc came out in fourth, just ahead of Perez, who held just a slim lead over the attacking Alonso.

Norris assumed second and was 10 seconds behind Sainz, with Piastri three seconds behind Norris.

Perez dove in for hard tires and a slight front wing adjustment on lap 35, and came out in ninth. A podium was out of the question for Perez, but with Verstappen out, maximizing points was crucial for Red Bull, especially considering a Ferrari 1-2 finish.

Stroll made his final pit stop on lap 38 for hard tires and came out in ninth, and quickly overtook Gasly for eighth.

Piastri pitted on lap 40 for another set of hard tires and emerged behind Alonso, who still had to pit. Norris followed suit a lap later, and came out third behind Leclerc. 

Sainz came in on lap 41, and a quick 2.6 stop allowed him to come out well ahead of Leclerc. The win was a near certainty for the Spaniard, barring some sort of disaster.

Russell was in fifth and Mercedes was considering leaving him out until the end. Russell’s hard tires were fitted on lap 8, and on lap 44, Russell radioed the team with the message “Tires are feeling good.” Mercedes thought better of it, and Russell came in on lap 46 for another set of hard, and resumed three seconds behind Alonso in seventh.

Norris set a fastest lap on lap 46 and narrowed the gap to Leclerc to less than four seconds. Leclerc responded and steadily increased the gap, all but ensuring the Ferrari sweep. 

Russell was nearing DRS range to Alonso on lap 53, which was the only tight battle in the top 10. With Russell in the faster car, and Alonso’s reputation as likely the greatest defender in F1 history, it was sure to be an interesting battle. Russell reached DRS range on lap 55, but on lap 58, Russell lost control in turn 6, sliding through the gravel trap and hitting the wall, leaving his Mercedes on its side.  

The race ended with a virtual safety car and Ferrari achieving their first 1-2 finish since Bahrain in 2022, also a race from which Verstappen retired.  

The Good

Shout out to Verstappen’s “stuck brake” for giving fans something other than a Verstappen runaway in Australia. And on that note, how does a stuck brake happen? I’m no F1 mechanic nor technical director, but “stuck brake” sounds less like a mechanical issue and more like a “someone screwed up big time” issue. It’s also a good thing for Christian Horner, because now he has to answer questions about an entirely different subject than what he’s become accustomed to.

I would never wish mechanical failure on anyone in order to see a more competitive race. That is, except for the driver who’s won nine races in a row, and two of his three world championships in dominating fashion. So, when Verstappen pulled his damaged Red Bull into the pits on lap 4, who didn’t think we would finally witness, for the first time in a long time, a competitive race for the win? Unfortunately, we didn’t, as Sainz assumed the role of Verstappen and won with relative ease. 

Although it’s not quite as impressive as Ferrari’s 1-2, Haas’ 9-10 was a pretty big deal. It warms my heart to see Kevin Magnussen keeping cars behind him for his sake and not just for his teammate’s sake. It’s like they say in the F1 paddock: “No one runs a train quite like Kevin Magnussen.” 

The Bad

Aussie home boy and hero Daniel Ricciardo disappointed fans with a ho-hum 12th-place finish after starting 18th, finishing the race a full five spots below teammate Tsunoda in seventh. On the surface, a 12th appears respectable, but Ricciardo was a lap down, and his 12th was made possible by retirements from Verstappen, Hamilton, and Russell. Ricciardo’s hopes for a future Red Bull seat seem to be slipping away just as quickly as his talent.

After asking “could it get any worse for Alpine?” after the Saudi Arabian GP, Alpine answered emphatically with a “Not just yet, but we’re working on it” in Australia. Pierre Gasly finished 13th, while Esteban Ocon finished 16th, and given the retirements listed above, it actually would have been worse. This team is in shambles, last in the constructors standing with zero points.    

And the Mercedes’ double DNF? A disaster of a day for Mercedes came with a potential silver lining: this has to be the low point for the season for Mercedes, right? The team’s confidence is likely at a low point, not just because of the Australian results, but also because Toto Wolff basically threw in the towel a few days earlier when he said Mercedes has “no hope of catching Red Bull.” Well, head up Toto; you did catch one Red Bull. Granted, it wasn’t moving, and granted, neither of your cars were moving at the end. 

The Disappointing

You have to feel for American Logan Sargeant, who didn’t have a car to drive in Australia because he was ordered to give his chassis to Williams teammate Albon, who wrecked his car in Friday’s practice, and with no spare car. Williams made Sargeant the sacrificial lamb, as the team deemed Albon more likely to score points for the team. Well, Albon just missed out on the points with an 11th-place finish. So, Sargeants’s good will and team player attitude? All for naught. For Sargeant, it’s not a case of “YOLO;” this is a case of “YOMO.” As in, “You owe me one.”  

See also
Slipstream Saturdays: Williams Hedges Future For Short-Term Gain

Do you think Ferrari is regretting their decision not to retain Sainz in 2025? Ferrari has had a number of reasons to kick themselves over the years; this might be the reason for the biggest kick. Hamilton may be the second most talented driver on the grid, but not in a Mercedes. Sainz, in a Ferrari, appears to be the only driver that can remotely challenge Verstappen. He’s the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race in the last two seasons.

Let’s face it, Sainz in a Ferrari wasn’t going to win any world championships, but he would at least make Verstappen work for his world championships. But imagining Sainz moves to Mercedes to fill Hamilton’s seat, a Hamilton in a Ferrari vs Sainz in a Mercedes matchup could make for a very intriguing rivalry in 2025.  

It was quite possibly the most boring “grid walk” in Martin Brundle’s “grid walk” career. The “Eric Bana, Dude Perfect, Sam Worthington” trifecta featured the entertainment value of a pack of lozenges. Brundle should have, but didn’t, ask Bana if he was a Nico Hulkenberg fan. And the guys from Dude Perfect could have been impostors for all I, or anyone, knows. Worthington, dressed as someone who is definitely in the process of writing a manifesto, incorrectly informed Brundle that Red Bull hadn’t won in Australia in a “long time,” even though Verstappen was victorious last year. 

Brundle did snag the effervescent Ricciardo at the end to somewhat salvage the walk, but Brundle could have hit a home run if he’d only noticed Sir Jackie Stewart just a few feet away. Great Scott, Martin, talk to the “Flying Scot.”

The Driver

This one’s easy: Sainz seized an opportunity presented to him and ran with it all the way to the finish line. Sainz walked right through the huge door that Verstappen opened for him and slammed it shut with authority.

The Results (Rolex Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit)

POSNODRIVERCARLAPSTIME/RETIREDPTS
155Carlos SainzFERRARI581:20:26.84325
216Charles LeclercFERRARI58+2.366s19
34Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES58+5.904s15
481Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES58+35.770s12
511Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT58+56.309s10
618Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES58+93.222s8
722Yuki TsunodaRB HONDA RBPT58+95.601s6
814Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES58+100.992s4
927Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI58+104.553s2
1020Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI57+1 lap1
1123Alex AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES57+1 lap0
123Daniel RicciardoRB HONDA RBPT57+1 lap0
1310Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT57+1 lap0
1477Valtteri BottasKICK SAUBER FERRARI57+1 lap0
1524Zhou GuanyuKICK SAUBER FERRARI57+1 lap0
1631Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT57+1 lap0
1763George RussellMERCEDES56DNF0
NC44Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES15DNF0
NC1Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT3DNF0

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Brian

I’m sorry if I do not understand F1 hyperness about rules but the issue on the last lap that end with Russell on his side did not appear to be anything directly with the car in front of him to warrant a penalty. Maybe because I do NASCAR it sure seemed like there was A LOT of space between the cars when Russell lost it into the corner.
It just seems overly officiated that there was a penalty for slowing down too much. What is that? It would be logical if Russell was either just a few meters away or hit the back of the car but there was several if not dozens of meters between the cars on the replays above.

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