F1 Takeaways: Carlos Sainz capitalizes as Max Verstappen’s Australian GP goes up in smoke

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz of Spain sprays champagne after winning the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park, in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 24, 2024. (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)

Who could sleep after an Australian Grand Prix like that following a smooth return for Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.

After missing the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix two weeks ago following emergency surgery for appendicitis, Sainz was back on track and on the top of the podium Sunday.

Sainz scored the victory, the third of his career, after qualifying second and passing pole-sitter Max Verstappen on the second lap as the three-time reigning world champion began experiencing problems handling his car.

Those woes only increased as plumes of smoke emerged from the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull and brake issues forced him to retire from the race. A dramatic end for Verstappen’s nine-race winning streak dating back to Japan last September.

That didn’t lead to an open free-for-all for the win as Sainz was in complete control to the end. It looked like he would need to nurse his tires due to graining issues, however, a final lap crash from Mercedes driver George Russell brought out the virtual safety car and allowed Sainz to cruise across the finish line.

Sainz’s teammate Charles Leclerc finished second to make it a 1-2 finish for Ferrari on a practically perfect day for the Scuderia.

With Lewis Hamilton set to take over Sainz’s seat at Ferrari next season, the Spanish driver’s stock price just went up as he’s set to become a highly coveted free agent.


Red Bull’s Sergio Perez finished second behind Verstappen during the season’s first two races and whiffed a golden opportunity to step up to the plate with his teammate bowing out early.

Perez had already set himself back during qualifying after receiving a three-place grid penalty for impeding Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg which turned his P3 qualifying spot into a P6 start. A visor tear-off also apparently got stuck under his car’s floor and hindered performance. Perez was nowhere near the mix for the victory finishing fifth, 20.539 seconds behind McLaren driver Oscar Piastri (and 56.309 seconds back of race-winner Sainz).

Sure, other teams would be over the moon with a P5 result, but Red Bull isn’t like other teams where expectations to deliver are high, especially when the first two races of the season showed they’re a notch above the rest of the field.

Red Bull remains in first place in the constructors’ championship, but its advantage has been trimmed to just four points ahead of Ferrari. Four points separate Verstappen and Leclerc in the drivers’ standings as well.

Perez is also a free agent at year’s end and cue up the Sainz-to-Red-Bull rumours, as things could get spicy.


McLaren still has some catching up if it hopes to score a victory this season. Despite Lando Norris and Piastri swapping fastest laps during the race’s late stages, the McLarens didn’t pose a serious enough threat and couldn’t catch the Ferraris to finish third and fourth place, respectively. They didn’t even get to hold on to the bonus point as Leclerc snagged the fastest lap from them near the end.

Norris earned his 14th podium and snapped a tie with Nick Heidfeld for a dubious mark as he’s now the F1 driver with the most podiums without a win.

Days when Verstappen’s Red Bull fails are about as rare as a total eclipse and last year’s most improved team still has more ground to gain to even reach its longtime rival Ferrari.


Verstappen wasn’t the only driver with a DNF as Hamilton experienced engine failure to cap a dreadful weekend. If Mercedes had high hopes at the start, those aspirations also went up in smoke as neither of its drivers crossed the finish line.

Russell, who was thankfully all right, was in the midst of a battle with Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso for sixth place when his crash happened. Alonso was deemed at fault and received a 20-second post-race time penalty as stewards found his “potentially dangerous” driving had caused Russell to crash.

Alonso was having a fine race up until that point and the penalty dropped him from two spots down to eighth to fall behind teammate Lance Stroll and RB’s Yuki Tsunoda. The loss of two points also prevented Aston Martin (25 total points) from leapfrogging Mercedes (26) in fourth place in the constructors’ standings.


• Haas scored its first double-points finish since Austria in July 2022 with Hulkenberg crossing the line ninth ahead of teammate Kevin Magnussen in 10th. For Hulkenberg, it’s the first time he scored points in consecutive races since he drove for Renault in 2019. Things are trending In the right direction for the American team.

• You have to feel for Williams driver Logan Sargeant, who had to give up his car to Alex Albon after his teammate damaged his own ride beyond repair during practice and no backup chassis was available. Still, if you’re in charge of Williams and looking for your first point(s) of the season, you’d make the switch with more faith in the veteran Albon than the sophomore Sargeant, who has one career point to his name. It didn’t work out as planned with Albon falling back of the Haas cars and settling for a second straight 11th place — i.e. once again one spot outside the points. Close, but close only counts in horseshoes.

• The RB battle intensified between Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo as both are also vying for Perez’s seat on the older sibling Red Bull squad. Tsunoda scored his first points of the season and vaulted RB into sixth in the constructors’ standings. Meanwhile, the homecoming dream turned into a nightmare for Ricciardo. The Perth native had a lap time deleted during qualifying for exceeding track limits as he didn’t make it out of Q1 and started 18th on the grid. Ricciardo managed to move up to 12th in the end — though one should take into account Verstappen and Hamilton’s retirements, Russell’s crash and both Saubers having problematic pit stops (again). Not quite the accomplishment but kudos for getting past the Alpines, I guess. Never mind thinking about possibly getting Perez’s seat, Ricciardo needs to be worried about keeping the one he currently has.

• Alpine did win on X with this one.

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