Home Sport Sainz just soaking it all in after Melbourne victory

Sainz just soaking it all in after Melbourne victory

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The Spaniard, who had appendicitis surgery two weeks ago, took the chequered flag 2.3 seconds ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, with McLaren’s Lando Norris a bold third.

Carlos Sainz of Ferrari celebrates on the podium after winning the Australian Grand Prix 2024 at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia 24 March 2024. Picture: EPA, JOEL CARRETT

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz surged to victory at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday to snap Red Bull’s winning start to the season after three-time world champion Max Verstappen sensationally failed to finish.

The Spaniard, who had appendicitis surgery two weeks ago, took the chequered flag 2.3 seconds ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, with McLaren’s Lando Norris a bold third.

It was his third grand prix win and first since Singapore last year.

“I’m happy to be in a one-two with Charles here. It shows that hard work pays off,” said Sainz, who missed the last race in Saudi Arabia and was bed-ridden for a week afterwards.

“It’s not only the last two weeks. It’s the whole start to the year in general, how the year started with the news of the non-renewal (of his contract next year).

“Then you get yourself fit. You get yourself ready for the start of the season, pushing flat-out.

“And then you get to Bahrain. You do a good podium. You say, ‘Okay, now the season is starting well and I can keep the momentum going’.

“And suddenly, boom! You’re missing a race in Jeddah and (having) the operation.”

Sainz said he was unsure whether he could recover in time to be back in the cockpit just two weeks later.

But he was determined to try and followed a strict recovery regime, spending time in a hyperbaric chamber twice a day and watching how long he exercised and what he ate.

“Obviously, (there were) a lot of unknowns. Am I going to be back fit? Am I going to be back feeling still good with the car?” he said.

“And then suddenly you come back and win. So, yes, life is a roller-coaster sometimes, but it can be really nice and good to you sometimes. (I’m) just letting it sink in and enjoying the moment.”

While Sainz celebrated, it was a disastrous day for pole-sitter Verstappen, who limped out with smoke billowing from his car after being passed by front-row partner Sainz on lap two.

The Dutchman blamed a brake issue for his first retirement in two years.

It was also a horror race for Lewis Hamilton in his inconsistent Mercedes, with the British seven-time world champion suffering engine failure on lap 17.

To add to Mercedes’ woes, teammate George Russell crashed heavily on the last lap with the car ending on its side.

Russell climbed out unscathed, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso faulted for “potentially dangerous” driving over the incident and slapped with a 20-second penalty.

But while Verstappen was favoured to win, the Ferraris had proved highly competitive in practice and qualifying on the fast and flowing Albert Park track.

Despite not being fully fit, Sainz, whose seat at Ferrari is to be taken by Hamilton next year, topped Q1 and Q2 to fire a warning shot.

Oscar Piastri in the other McLaren was fourth ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Alonso dropped to eighth after his penalty, with teammate Lance Stroll elevated to sixth and RB’s Yuki Tsunoda to seventh.

Haas pair Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10.

“It feels good mostly for the team, of course. First and second didn’t happen since Bahrain 2022,” said Leclerc. “Carlos has had an incredible weekend to come back from his surgery. He’s done an amazing race.”

Verstappen made a clean start and pulled clear of Sainz when the lights went out, with Norris holding on to third as they jostled for position.

But his lead didn’t last with Sainz opening his Drag Reduction System (DRS) on lap two to slice past before smoke started pouring out of the Red Bull and the Dutchman retired.

Sainz led from Norris and Leclerc before the first pit stops.

Sainz put on fresh rubber on lap 17 and had a lead of 2.6 seconds over Leclerc at the halfway mark, followed closely by Piastri and Norris.

With no Verstappen to contend with, the Spaniard gradually extended the gap as Norris passed Piastri to move into third.

Leclerc pitted again and he came back out in fifth on hards, but quickly surged back to second.

Sainz also pitted for a second time and retained his narrow lead to cruise home in front of 130,000 fans.

While Sainz has no seat yet for 2025, his teammate Leclerc said he was certain to be snapped up.

“He’s one of the highest rated drivers in the paddock, and he’s been extremely strong every time he has been in a Formula One car and has shown it multiple times,” Leclerc said.

“That’s why I’m not too worried about his future. I’m sure he will have many opportunities, and he will have to just make the best choice for his career.”

AFP

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