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HomeSportsFormula 1: A ‘Sainz’ational triumph at Australian Grand Prix

Formula 1: A ‘Sainz’ational triumph at Australian Grand Prix

Just a month before the start of the season, Carlos Sainz was left jobless for next year after Ferrari chose to replace him with Lewis Hamilton from 2025. Then, after outperforming his much-fancied teammate in the season opener in Bahrain to finish third behind the Red Bulls, the Spaniard found himself in a hospital bed in Saudi Arabia for an emergency appendicitis surgery that forced him to miss the second race of the season in Jeddah.

One couldn’t have asked for a more challenging start to the year where he is driving for his career. But the 29-year-old produced a sublime drive to win the Australian Grand Prix.

On a day when Max Verstappen retired from the race due to a rare technical failure in his Red Bull Racing machinery, the out-of-work Ferrari driver hogged the limelight.

Despite racing against time to get fit for the weekend, Sainz was on the pace immediately and out-qualified teammate Charles Leclerc, widely considered the best over a single lap, to put his car second on the grid for the race.

As Verstappen hit trouble immediately after the race started, Sainz was ready to pounce on his former teammate and take the lead. From there, the Spaniard controlled the race beautifully and never came under any threat from the pursuing pack. Ferrari celebrated a 1-2, and Leclerc came home second ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

There are legitimate reasons to call Formula One boring, as the sport has been in the era of Verstappen domination since 2022, and there is no doubt it is easy for the Dutchman as he has the best car in the paddock. However, the Australian GP also showed how good a job Verstappen has been doing to have the success he has had.

For the first time since 2022, Verstappen retired from the race due to a technical issue, and his absence showed how much he brings to Red Bull Racing as his teammate Sergio Perez, starting sixth, could only finish fifth and was nearly a minute behind the winner.

At a time when there are rumours about whether Verstappen will stay at Red Bull next year, the team got a reality check on what its star driver brings to the table, even in a car that is by far the fastest by more than three-tenths.

Has Hamilton made the right choice?

Even as Ferrari celebrated a 1-2, Mercedes had a horror of a race in which both drivers failed to score points. Lewis Hamilton got knocked out in the second round of qualifying and had to start 11th. His race was eventually cut short by an engine failure.

In the other car, George Russell was doing slightly better, running seventh before he crashed out on the last lap of the race as he battled Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin. With Mercedes in no shape or form in the first three rounds, has Hamilton timed his exit from the team that fetched him six world titles from 2014 to 2020 to perfection?

Alonso’s clever move

Two-time world champion Alonso, even at 42, is one of the fastest drivers on the current grid, capable of going toe-to-toe with anyone. While he is not the absolute fastest in qualifying, his relentless ability to be quick over a race distance and his tremendous racecraft allow him to maximise results on a Sunday.

In Melbourne, while trying to keep Russell at bay on the last lap, the Spaniard slowed early into the corner to get a better exit. However, Alonso’s actions went a bit too far this time as he slowed drastically before increasing his speed and then slowed again before the corner.

Russell lost a lot of downforce as he got too close to Alonso and spun out into the barriers. The stewards felt that irrespective of Russell’s crash, Alonso made an unusual manoeuvre and handed him a 20-second penalty that demoted him to eighth.

MotoGP

Meanwhile, on two wheels, the reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia had a weekend to forget in the second round at the Portuguese Grand Prix in Portimao. On Saturday, the Italian squandered a race-winning position in the Sprint Race as he ran wide and slipped to fourth. It got worse on Sunday during the main race, when he and Marc Marquez came together and crashed out of the race even as his title-rival Jorge Martin won comfortably ahead of pole-sitter Enea Bastianini. The win ensured Martin took an 18-point lead over KTM rider Brad Binder, with Bagnaia five points further behind in fourth. The race also saw reigning Moto2 champion Pedro Acosta get his maiden podium, finishing third in only his second race in the premier class.

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