Motorsport: Carlos Sainz returns from surgery to win Australian F1 Grand Prix, Max Verstappen retires after car catches fire

  • 25/03/2024

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz won the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday in a triumphant return two weeks after appendicitis surgery, as Red Bull's world champion Max Verstappen suffered his first retirement in two years.

Sainz, the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race last season, held off teammate Charles Leclerc before a final-lap crash by Mercedes driver George Russell triggered a virtual safety car and eased the Spaniard's path to victory.

"It was a really good race. I felt really good out there," said Sainz, who missed the second race of the season in Saudi Arabia while recovering from surgery.

"Of course a bit stiff and 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, and it wasn't the toughest race of all.

"But very happy, very proud of the team, and happy to be in a one-two with Charles here."

Briton Lando Norris was third for McLaren, thwarting fourth-placed teammate Oscar Piastri's hopes of a first podium by a home driver at Australia's F1 race.

Carlos Sainz and Charles LeClerc celebrate their one-two finish in Melbourne.
Carlos Sainz and Charles LeClerc celebrate their one-two finish in Melbourne. Photo credit: Getty Images

Norris now has the most podiums (14) without a win in F1.

Leclerc recorded the fastest lap to cap a productive day for Ferrari, who are now just four points behind Red Bull in the constructors' championship.

Verstappen still leads the drivers championship after his wins in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Dutchman on 51 points ahead of Leclerc with 47.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez, who finished fifth, is one point further adrift of Leclerc, with Sainz leaping to fourth in the standings, 11 points behind Verstappen.

"We just didn't have the pace today. We didn't have the pace throughout the weekend," lamented Perez, adding that Ferrari would "absolutely" have won even if Verstappen went the distance.

Verstappen started on pole for the third time this season but retired on the fourth lap with a brake problem as flames leaped out of the right rear of his car.

It was his first DNF since retiring from Albert Park in the 2022 race and ended his run of nine successive race wins.

The 26-year-old said he was basically driving with the handbrake on from the start.

"That's why already it felt the car was really weird to drive in some corners. It was just very snappy," he added.

Red Bull have now suffered two defeats in 26 races dating back to the last round of 2022.

Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton was also forced to retire early with a power unit problem after starting 11th on the grid following his worst Melbourne qualifying since 2010.

His teammate Russell completed a dismal day for the Silver Arrows by skidding into gravel at turn six and crashing into the barrier to wreck his car and bring out the virtual safety car.

Stewards said Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso played a part in Russell's crash by slowing quickly as Russell was close behind.

Alonso, who finished sixth, was given a 20-second penalty which demoted him to eighth and was also handed three penalty points.

That lifted teammate Lance Stroll to sixth and Yuki Tsunoda to seventh, the Japanese driver delivering RB their first points of the season.

Ninth-placed Nico Hulkenberg and Haas teammate Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10.

Williams had only one driver in the race, with Alex Albon finishing 11th and out of the points in his teammate Logan Sargeant's car, the American ordered to make way after Albon wrecked his own car in Friday practice.