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Carlos Sainz was beaming as he stood on the podium in Melbourne while Ferrari sang the Italian national anthem.

Just 16 days ago, the Spaniard underwent surgery after receiving an appendicitis diagnosis. He’s been recovering ever since, spending upward of a week in bed, and still wasn’t feeling 100 percent on Saturday when he qualified second for the Australian Grand Prix. But that starting position ended up being key when polesitter Max Verstappen endured a rare, race-ending mechanical issue, and Sainz went on to take first place.

The reigning world champion wasn’t the only driver whose day ended early. Lewis Hamilton faced a power unit failure, and George Russell crashed on the final lap while chasing down Fernando Alonso (who received a drive-through penalty — which was converted to 20 seconds — for driving in a “potentially dangerous” manner). With those power players out of the game, it left the door open to the bottom half of the grid to battle for points. RB and Haas are tied in points now after Yuki Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the top 10.

There’s plenty to unpack from the Australian Grand Prix — here are our biggest takeaways.

Ferrari returns to the top — but can it stay there?

What a comeback drive for Sainz.

This year has been “a rollercoaster” for the Spaniard. As he detailed during the post-race press conference, he found out his contract with Ferrari wouldn’t be renewed to securing a podium finish in Bahrain and missing Saudi Arabia after surgery due to appendicitis. He spent “long days in bed, not knowing if I was going to be back in time, and obviously a lot of unknowns. Am I going to be back fit? Am I going to be back feeling still good with a car?”

Sainz relied on the professionals to advise him on how to speed up his recovery, creating a plan with his team that included being in “hyperbaric chambers twice a day for one hour” and “programming my time in bed, my time to go for a walk, my time to eat, the kind of food that you have to have to recover,” among other things. Nine days ago, Sainz was still in bed recovering. “I was like, ‘This is not gonna happen.’ But I took the flight, and suddenly, when I landed in Australia, the feeling was a lot better. And every 24 hours, I was making a lot more progress than the first seven days, which is actually what all the doctors and all the professional people told me.”

The Spaniard felt confident with the first half of the race, as it was a similar number of laps to what he put into practice on Friday. But the second half? It “was a bit of an unknown.” Sainz knew he had the pace to challenge Verstappen. “I thought to myself with how powerful the DRS is around here, if I get myself within DRS range after lap one, we can put him a bit under pressure.”

And that’s what Sainz did. He zipped past Verstappen and built a gap. “It’s what we’ve said from the beginning. If you are there and you can put Red Bull under pressure, you can sometimes get it done, but you need to be there. And we need to be there more often if we want to win.”

The gap between Ferrari and Red Bull has narrowed to four points after the 1-2 finish from Sainz and Charles Leclerc (who also secured the fastest lap). Leclerc noted it was “a very encouraging sign” when the team saw they had better tire degradation and solid pace, and Ferrari knew pole position and the victory could be in reach after FP1.

“However, if you look the first three races, two out of the first three races (Red Bull) had the upper hand in the race, so we still have a lot of work to do,” Leclerc said. “But that’s exactly what we need to do as a team is whenever we have the opportunity to actually win a race, we need to take it, and this weekend, we did it.”


Ferrari is now just four points behind Red Bull in the constructors’ championship — and 38 ahead of third-place McLaren. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)

Red Bull’s bad luck weekend

It’s been quite some time since Red Bull faced a mechanical issue with its cars during a race, dating back to the 2022 season.

However, as Verstappen said after retiring from the Australian Grand Prix, “I knew that the day would come that, you know, you end up having a retirement, and unfortunately, that day was today.”

It started as soon as the lights went out. Verstappen said his “right rear brake basically stuck on,” and the temperature began rising. “It just works like a handbrake. But of course, I didn’t know that stuff was happening. It just felt the problem in other balance in the car was off.”

He began slowing down, and as Verstappen headed into the pits, dark smoke suddenly came from his car’s right rear area and caught on fire. That marked the end of his 43-race finishing streak that dated back to the 2022 Australian GP.

Meanwhile, Sergio Pérez started the race P6 after being dealt a three-place grid penalty and reckoned his race would’ve looked different if he hadn’t received the drop. He said, “We never managed to get in the window with the car.”

Pérez finished the race, but as Oscar Piastri noted in his interview with F1 TV, it was surprising how the Mexican driver wasn’t too quick. It turns out that Pérez picked up damage while gaining on Fernando Alonso. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said, “We went long on the first stint; his actual pace when he was coming through the field on the hard tire as he closed in on Fernando was strong and matching that of the leaders. And then literally, as he’s passed Fernando, he’s picked up a tear off underneath the floor, and it’s got lodged in an area that’s caused significant load loss, and literally, as he’s then passed Fernando, the car’s not working as it should.”

Horner said the tires started degrading at the end of the second stint as well.

It’ll be just under two weeks before F1 is in Japan, and Red Bull is expected to have upgrades when it gets to Suzuka. “Well, I mean, the color will be the same,” Verstappen said. “You will see.”

Mercedes’ woeful weekend Down Under

You know that scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean” where we first meet Captain Jack Sparrow? Where he pulls up to the dock on a leaky, sinking boat and steps onto land right as the boat finally disappears beneath the waves? Watching Mercedes get through the Australian GP this weekend felt like that.

Lewis Hamilton has struggled with the rear of the W15, and both balance and grip have proven elusive almost from corner to corner this season for the veteran. Comfort and confidence are not there for Hamilton as the team tries to get a handle on its new car. After FP3, Hamilton reported the car “felt great,” but “we didn’t really understand why.” Then he didn’t escape Q2 in qualifying. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The only bright spot for Mercedes was that George Russell didn’t seem to have the same extreme fluctuations in his car.

But the boat finally fell apart for Mercedes in the grand prix. Hamilton started on softs and reported his pace was “okay, nothing special” before his engine failed on Lap 17 without warning. At that point, Russell was Mercedes’ last chance at points. He crashed on the final lap, losing the car into Turn 6 and ending up in the wall. (The stewards gave Fernando Alonso a drive-through penalty — which was converted into 20 seconds — for his involvement in the incident.)

Hamilton was remarkably chill after the race, saying of Mercedes’ current form, “I’m trying to keep things in perspective. You know, it could be so much worse.” But in the next breath, he admitted the past three races have been “the worst start to the season I have ever had.”

By Mercedes’ lofty standards, set by Hamilton himself over the last ten years, it is hard to see how the season’s start could get much worse. Ferrari, whom they beat for P2 in the constructors’ championship last fall, are more than 60 points ahead. Mercedes couldn’t get their car set up right all weekend in Melbourne, and neither driver finished the grand prix. Based on race pace and the problems plaguing the W15, Mercedes is the fifth-best team in F1 right now — a wild thing to say after the last decade-plus. Its return to contention might be even further away than at the end of 2023.

“I think it’s tough on the spirit,” Hamilton said of the team’s start.

Mercedes' British driver George Russell skids through the gravels after a crash during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on March 24, 2024. (Photo by Paul Crock / AFP) /


George Russell’s race ended in a nasty-looking crash just before the checkered flag. (Paul Crock / AFP)

McLaren surprisingly hung with the Ferraris

Lando Norris did not feel that his podium finish was unexpected “when you take the Red Bull out of it.”

Compared to where McLaren was a year ago, the team found the right development path and got in the mix with the Ferraris on Sunday, something Norris said he didn’t expect. “I think our pace was not as good as Carlos but probably better than Charles. So, I think if I was being honest, we maybe missed out a little bit on an opportunity to be P2 today. But yeah, for us to say that is a good sign.”

Norris felt “we didn’t leave anything on the table,” but there were missed opportunities. For one, Leclerc pitted around the same time Norris planned to box to undercut the Ferrari, but instead, the team needed to change its strategy. The McLaren driver had to stay out longer than initially planned.

Between Norris securing a podium finish and Piastri coming in fourth, McLaren has a stronghold on P3 in the constructor standings with a combined 55 points — a healthy buffer to Aston Martin and Mercedes but 38 points behind second-place Ferrari. In the driver standings, Piastri has a one-point lead over Norris.

Yuki Tsunoda continues his run of good form

Alright, who had Tsunoda leaving Australia as the most impressive Red Bull driver? Put your hands down, phonies. The Australian GP was either Verstappen’s to run away with, Pérez’s to clean up with, or Daniel Ricciardo’s home race to shine in. Tsunoda wasn’t expected to lead the Red Bull narratives until his home race in Japan in two weeks.

Instead, here we are, talking about Tsunoda. We were going to anyway after he pulled off that impressive feat in qualifying — his P7 out-placed both the Aston Martins and Hamilton (not to mention Williams’ Alex Albon and both Haas cars, RB’s fiercest midfield rivals). Then Tsunoda backed it up in the grand prix, running an impeccable, clean race to finish P7 for his first points of the season. He was helped by Russell’s crash in front of him on the final lap and Alonso’s subsequent penalty, but he had to make some good moves to get in the points, including one in the exit of Turn 4 around Pierre Gasly for P9 earlier in the race.

For all the hype around Ricciardo, one of the most popular F1 drivers in years, Tsunoda has now out-finished him in six of the 10 grands prix they’ve raced as teammates. His one-lap speed has always been impressive, but we’re now seeing Tsunoda more consistently putting together solid weekends. For this weekend, it made him the standout Red Bull driver. For the rest of the season, it’s marking him as one of the stronger competitors in what’s shaping up to be a competitive midfield battle between RB, Haas and Williams.

Notebook

  • Two more slow pit stops from Sauber, which has been a continuous problem for the team during races this year. But it doesn’t come as a complete surprise now, given that team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi shed some light on the ongoing problem during Friday’s press conference. “We redesigned all the components from the hub, nuts, everything, in order to improve our pit stop, and we changed also the equipment. So we found that there is an issue with the design of a part, and we are redesigning the part, but of course, this takes time also for the production and everything.”
  • Haas also benefited from Russell’s crash, which squeezed Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen into the points. But hey, the fact that both Haas cars were in that position is a testament to how well they’ve run through the first three races — especially considering the low expectations after the team finished last in 2023 and changed leadership this winter. Both drivers scrapped hard with Albon all day for those points.
  • I (Pat) didn’t see a single kangaroo all weekend—0/10 race.

(Lead image of Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri:  Mark Thompson, MARTIN KEEP/AFP via Getty Images) 



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