Formula 1: Sainz storms to victory amid drama in Australia; Verstappen retires, Russell crashes out

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz raced to his first victory of the season with an impressive display during Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix,

Melbourne, March 24 (IANS) Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz raced to his first victory of the season with an impressive display during Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, taking advantage of technical trouble for Max Verstappen in the opening laps that forced the reigning world champion to retire.

Bidding for a record-equalling 10th victory in a row, Verstappen capitalised on his pole position advantage as the race got underway but soon reported issues behind the wheel, with a compromised second lap opening the door for Sainz to make a move for the lead.

From there, Verstappen’s brake-related woes got worse and, with plumes of smoke exiting the rear of his car, he pulled off the racing line to let the rest of the field overtake him before returning to the pits and retiring for the first time in two years.

Sainz went from strength to strength in Verstappen’s absence, building up a solid lead over Lando Norris, teammate Charles Leclerc, and home favourite Oscar Piastri, eventually taking the chequered flag for the third triumph of his F1 career.

Leclerc completed an undercut on Norris in the early stages of the race to rise to a net second and back up Sainz for Ferrari’s first one-two finish since the 2022 opener. Norris nonetheless recorded a breakthrough maiden podium of the season for himself and McLaren.

Piastri also got the jump on Norris during the initial round of pit stops, only to be asked to move aside for his teammate and then lose some more time with an off-track excursion, leaving him in a lonely fourth at the finish, followed by the Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

George Russell had been pushing to complete a late move on Fernando Alonso for sixth position when he dramatically crashed out at the high-speed Turn 6/7 complex, causing extensive damage to his Mercedes and bringing out a Virtual Safety Car to the finish.

The stewards later deemed that Alonso had played a “potentially dangerous” part in the incident, dropping the Spaniard from P6 to P8 with a post-race 20-second penalty, the Formula 1 published on its official website.

That decision moved his teammate Lance Stroll up to sixth and RB HOnda’s Yuki Tsunoda to P7 as Haas took a welcome clutch of points with Nico Hulkenberg in ninth and Kevin Magnussen in 10th.

Williams’ decision to put Alex Albon in Logan Sargeant’s car did not quite result in points as he took 11th, followed by the other home driver in action, RB’s Daniel Ricciardo, and the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, who was hit with a five-second penalty for a pit exit breach.

Sauber endured yet more pit stop problems on their way to 14th and 15th with Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu respectively, while Esteban Ocon was the final finisher in the other Alpine after Verstappen’s early retirement, Russell’s late crash and a mid-race engine issue for Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton was watching from the Mercedes garage when teammate Russell suffered his crash, with the latter – whose car was pitched on its side in the middle of the track after the left front crumbled – quickly reporting over the radio that he was “okay”.

With the drivers aware of Russell’s condition, the celebrations started down at Ferrari as Sainz revelled in his journey from a hospital bed to the top step of the podium in just two weeks – shouting his trademark “smooth operator” line as he headed for parc ferme.

–IANS/bsk/

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