Sainz wins Australian GP after Verstappen retires early with engine fire

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

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz ended Red Bull’s Formula 1 winning streak Sunday when the Spaniard took advantage of Max Verstappen’s early retirement to win the Australian Grand Prix just two weeks after missing the previous race in Saudi Arabia due to an emergency appendectomy.

Sainz, who started on the front row alongside Verstappen, kept his place into turn one, but passed the Dutchman on lap two at turn nine for the lead and took control once his rival retired two laps later with a fiery mechanical failure.

Verstappen had won the first two F1 races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and was on a nine-race winning streak.

Sainz finished ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc for Ferrari’s first 1-2 result since the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix, with McLaren’s Lando Norris finishing in third for his first podium at Albert Park.

His teammate, Australian Oscar Piastri, was fourth.

Sainz, who will be replaced by Lewis Hamilton at Ferrari from 2025, was thrilled to get his third career win against the odds, his first since last year’s Singapore Grand Prix.

“I felt really good out there,” he said. “Of course, (I felt) a bit stiff, especially physically. It wasn’t the easiest, but I was lucky that I was more or less on my own so I could just manage my pace, manage the tires, manage everything.

“Life sometimes is crazy, you know. What happened at the beginning of the year, then the podium in Bahrain, then appendix, the comeback, the win, it’s a roller coaster. But I loved it.”

Leclerc, on the podium for the second straight race, was encouraged by Ferrari’s pace, and its ability to take the fight to rival Red Bull during its period of dominance.

“We knew that pole position and the race win was possible because we had very good tire degradation, very good pace,” he said. “That is a very encouraging sign. However, if you look at the first three races, two out of the first three races, they (Red Bull) had the upper hand in the race, so we still have a lot of work to do.”

Norris said it wasn’t a surprise that he was able to earn his first podium since Brazil last year.

“I think when you take a Red Bull out of it, I would say no,” he said. “I think our pace has been good all weekend. We put things together very nicely yesterday. We showed good long run, high-fuel pace on Friday, so I wouldn’t have said we had no chance.”

The race finished under the virtual safety car, ensuring there was no racing for most of the final lap, after Mercedes driver George Russell crashed on turn seven. Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez closed out the top five, and made up just one place from where he started in sixth, after he was handed a three-place grid penalty for impeding Nico Hülkenberg in qualifying.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso finished sixth on the road, but fell to eighth after the stewards gave him a 20-second time penalty and three penalty points on his license, for “potentially dangerous” driving in battling Russell on the final lap.

Alonso lifted off the throttle slightly more than 100 metres earlier than he had done going into turn six during the race, while Russell behind him lost control and crashed at the exit of the corner.

Russell’s teammate Lewis Hamilton also didn’t finish following a lap 17 engine failure for Mercedes’ first double non-finish since the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, ending its record of reliability.

Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda earned RB, the team formerly known as AlphaTauri, its first points of the season – with six points for seventh, having been elevated by Alonso’s penalty.

American team Haas earned its first double points finish since the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix, with Hülkenberg and teammate Kevin Magnussen closing out the top-10 in ninth and 10th, respectively.

Verstappen’s lead in the drivers’ standings has been reduced from 15 points to four, with Leclerc in second place. Verstappen has 51 points and Leclerc 47.

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