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Sainz stuns with Australia GP win as Verstappen suffers rare fiery retirement

A first retirement in two years for Max Verstappen helped Carlos Sainz secure his third victory for Ferrari.

Verstappen Australia DNF smoke
To news overview © XPBimages

Carlos Sainz sensationally scored the third victory of his F1 career as Max Verstappen's 43-race finishing streak came to a fiery end in the Australian Grand Prix.

Just over a fortnight ago, Sainz had been forced to undergo an appendix operation that forced him out of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and although managing to return to the paddock on race day, he watched 18-year-old Oliver Bearman make a joyous debut.

Fit enough, but by his admission not 100 percent fit, Sainz clambered back into the cockpit of his Ferrari, and despite the strange feeling of his 'insides moving' given the extreme G-forces, the Spaniard managed to take the chequered flag.

From second on the grid, Sainz nabbed the lead on lap two from Verstappen, who then suffered a bizarre right-rear brake issue that sparked a fire as he pulled into his pit box at the end of lap three, and into retirement for the first time since the race at Melbourne's Albert Park two years ago.

Sainz, out of a job at Ferrari at the end of this season as Lewis Hamilton will replace him in 2025, then comfortably went on to claim the win, spearheading a Ferrari one-two with Charles Leclerc, the Scuderia's first since the opening race of 2022 in Bahrain.

McLaren duo Lando Norris and home hero Oscar Piastri made it a McLaren three-four, with Sergio Perez fifth in the lone Red Bull for the team's lowest points haul since that race at Sakhir two years ago.

The race ended dramatically, though, with Mercedes' George Russell crashing on the final lap as he hunted down Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, only to lose his car on the approach to turn seven, leading to him crashing into a barrier, and ending up at an awkward angle on his side, sparking a virtual safety car.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

The start and the opening lap were as smooth as Verstappen could have hoped for, with the Dutch driver engaging easily off the line to keep fellow front-row starter Sainz at bay.

Behind the leading duo, on a difficult weekend for Mercedes, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton made up one place apiece, with the former passing Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez for sixth, and the latter making a move on Fernando Alonso for 10th.

There was a tyre offset, however, between the two world champions as Hamilton was surprisingly on the softs, a situation he bemoaned on the grid, with Alonso on the hard.

With DRS activated after the opening lap from this season, Verstappen's race soon started to unravel as Sainz made an easy move along the sweeping curve between turns eight and nine, albeit complaining almost immediately that he "just lost the car, really weird".

On the following lap, Verstappen then radioed over with alarm in his voice that "****! The car is loose." It soon became apparent why as wisps of smoke started to appear from the rear of the RB20.

As Verstappen continued, the smoke grew in intensity, highlighting its location as the right-rear wheel, forcing him to slow and the rest of the field surge past.

Limping into the pit lane, the right-rear cake tin - a carbon-fibre brake shroud - exploded before catching fire. Pulling into his pit box, the fire took hold but was quickly dealt with before Verstappen was able to leap out of his car and into retirement for the first time in two years.

			© Red Bull Content Pool
	© Red Bull Content Pool

With Verstappen out, that allowed Sainz to slowly start to extend his lead over new second-place driver in Norris.

As the race took shape, Hamilton's worry about starting on the soft tyre soon came to fruition as he was forced to pit and switch to the hard tyre after six laps.

Surprisingly, despite starting on the medium Pirelli compound, Russell also switched to the hard rubber two laps later, followed by Leclerc and Piastri the following lap as they covered off the Briton.

Significantly, and even more surprisingly, McLaren and Red Bull waited a further five laps to bring in Norris and Perez, the latter having made his way up to third given those ahead of him had already pitted.

For Norris, the decision was a disaster as he dropped from second on the road to fourth, falling in behind Leclerc and team-mate Piastri.

On lap 17, Hamilton's weekend of woe, after bemoaning the performance of his W15 throughout, turned to misery as he became the second champion to retire due to an engine failure.

That sparked a virtual safety car, allowing Alonso to take advantage by switching from his hard tyres to the mediums, falling into a welcome fifth place.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Without the drama of last year's crash-fest, the race meandered on, leading to Sainz opening up a six-second lead over Leclerc by the halfway stage, lap 29 of 58.

By that stage, and on the lap previously, Piastri had eased aside for Norris after being asked to do so over the radio, much to the chagrin of the partisan home crowd, a record 132,106 for the event.

Norris, however, being on a different strategy to the Australian, had complained his tyres were starting to go running in the dirty air behind his team-mate.

Leclerc found himself in similar tyre trouble five laps later, resulting in him becoming the first of the top 10 to take on another set of fresh rubber, with the hards the choice to the chequered flag.

Perez followed suit after 35 laps, with Norris stretching his stint for another five laps, whilst Sainz pitted again after 41. With an easy 2.6s turnaround, the Spanish driver comfortably held onto his lead ahead of Leclerc.

From that point on, the race was a canter for Sainz, with Leclerc finishing 2.366s adrift, followed by Norris, Piastri, Perez, and then Alonso, who had been holding Russell at bay before the Briton's last-lap smash.

Russell's exit allowed Lance Stroll to claim seventh in his Aston Martin, followed by RB's Yuki Tsunoda, whilst there was double joy for Haas as Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen finished ninth and 10th.

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