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All Sainz day at Australian GP; Verstappen stopped

FERRARI’S Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr. overtakes Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on Sunday. | WILLIAM WEST/Agence France-Presse

MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz surged to victory at the Australian Grand Prix 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 and missed the last race, took the checkered flag 2.3 seconds ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, with McLaren’s Lando Norris a bold third.

It was Sainz’s third grand prix win and first since Singapore last year.

But 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.

“I have smoke, blue smoke, fire, fire,” the Dutchman said on the team radio before his first retirement in more than two years after what appeared to be a rear brake issue.

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.

Verstappen emphatically won the opening two GPs of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in a Red Bull 1-2 and was hot favorite to make it three from three.

He had been aiming to match his own record set last year of 10 consecutive wins — one more than Sebastian Vettel in 2013 — and was unbeaten in his last 18 starts from pole position.

But while Verstappen was favored 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 topped Q1 and Q2 to fire a warning shot before Verstappen pounced in Q3.

“P1 baby, P1 baby, it’s amazing. Life’s a rollercoaster at times, said Sainz, whose seat at Ferrari is to be taken by Hamilton next year.


Wasn’t easy physically

“Very happy, I felt really great out there. Of course, it wasn’t easy physically, but I was lucky I was more or less on my own out there and I could manage my pace.”

On a fine day, Oscar Piastri in the other McLaren was fourth ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull. Fernando Alonso was sixth ahead of Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll.

RB’s Yuki Tsunoda was eighth, with Haas pair Nico Hulkenburg and Kevin Magnussen rounding out the top 10.

“It feels good mostly for the team of course, first and second didn’t happen since Bahrain 2022,” Leclerc said.

“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 onto third as they jostled for position.

But his lead didn’t last with Sainz opening his DRS on lap two to slice past and take the lead.

“I just lost the car — really weird,” Verstappen said on the radio, before smoke started pouring out and headed to the pits and retirement.

The race took on a different characteristic with Sainz leading from Norris and Leclerc with Perez down in sixth.

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