Carlos Sainz Jr. completes a stunning comeback as Max Verstappen retires from F1 Australian GP

That sound you might hear?

Formula 1 drivers scheduling elective appendectomies.

Two weeks ago Carlos Sainz Jr. was sidelined, forced to miss the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix due to a bout with appendicitis. That opened the door for young Ollie Bearman to make his F1 debut, and the 18-year-old finished in the points.

But Sainz made it back for the Australian Grand Prix, and did not look like a driver who had undergone surgery just two weeks ago. Sainz was strong throughout the week, qualifying second on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s race. Despite the stress on his healing body associated with guiding an F1 car through twists and turns of the Albert Park Circuit through three practice sessions and qualifying, Sainz entered Sunday’s race with a shot at a win.

When the lights went out Sunday, Sainz kept the pressure on Max Verstappen immediately after the start. While the Red Bull driver managed to hold onto the lead after the first lap Sainz remained in striking distance, ready to pounce at the first opportunity. He passed Verstappen on Lap 2, and as the Red Bull driver retired shortly thereafter with a mechanical failure, and then drove away from the field in a dominant performance that Jolyon Palmer called “Verstappen-esque” on F1TV.

After climbing out of his car Sainz — looking somewhat labored — made his way to former Haas team boss Guenther Steiner, who was conducting the post-race interviews. “I felt really good out there … physically it wasn’t easy … very happy, very proud of the team,” said Sainz. “Life sometimes is crazy. What happened at the beginning of the year [with Sainz losing his seat to Lewis Hamilton for 2025], then the podium in Bahrain, then the appendix, the comeback, the win. It’s a roller coaster, but I loved it, and I’m extremely happy.

“I will recommend to other drivers that they take it [the appendix] out this winter.”

While Sainz was a massive part of the story for Ferrari, his was not the only chapter for the team on Sunday. Teammate Charles Leclerc, who started in fifth, worked his way up to second despite reporting some discomfort with the balance on his car throughout the Australian Grand Prix. Leclerc was put under pressure by Lando Norris in the closing stages, but held on to take second, as Ferrari locked out the front row for the first time since the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“It feels good for the team of course. First and second did not happen for the team since Bahrain 2022,” said Leclerc to Steiner after the race. “First and second was the best we could do.”

Red Bull remains the dominant team on the grid, and even with the 1-2 from Ferrari on Sunday the Bulls remain in first place in the Constructors’ Championship. But if any team looks poised to make the 2024 F1 season a true title fight, right now it looks like Ferrari is that outfit.

Ferrari tops our list of winners from the Australian Grand Prix. Here are some other winners, as well as some teams that will be looking to turn the page as quickly as possible.

Losers: Red Bull

Photo by Kym Illman/Getty Images

It has been a long time since Red Bull was listed in this category.

For the first time since last year’s Singapore Grand Prix Verstappen did not win a race, nor did Red bUll. However, he at least managed to finish fifth in Singapore.

Sunday in Melbourne was a much different story.

Verstappen started on pole and was able to hold the lead over Carlos Sainz Jr. for the first lap or so, but the Ferrari caught him on the second lap, blowing by Verstappen on the outside and rocketing into the lead. It was enough to make you think something was wrong with Verstappen’s RB20.

As it turns out, there was.

Verstappen first radioed into his team that he “…just lost the car, really weird.” Moments later he noted that the car was “loose.”

Then smoke could be seen at the back of Verstappen’s RB20, and it was clear something was fatally wrong with his car. He pulled into the pits, with his right rear wheel on fire.

His day was done on Lap 4.

Teammate Sergio Pérez forged on, hoping to salvage something for the team. But Pérez was facing an uphill fight, as noted earlier in the weekend. A three-place grid penalty saw the Red Bull driver chasing the Ferrari and McLaren duos at the start, and as hard as he tried, he could not make up those gaps.

Pérez finished in P5, right where he started.

So it will not be a perfect season for Red Bull, as any hope of the team sweeping the season is now dashed.

Verstappen summed up the day rather succinctly following his retirement:

They might just have to settle for a third-straight Constructors’ Championship as a consolation prize. Because despite Sunday’s disappointing results, they remain the team everyone else is chasing.

But the pack, led by Ferrari, might be closing in.

Winners: McLaren

F1 Grand Prix of Australia - Practice

Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

Were it not for the one-two finish from Ferrari, McLaren might have been the big story on Sunday.

Because behind Sainz and Leclerc finished the “Papaya Boys,” as Lando Norris finished third with teammate Oscar Piastri behind him in P4. The team entered the weekend sitting third in the Constructors’ Championship, just two points clear of Mercedes.

But with McLaren’s P3 and P4 and the struggles from the Silver Arrows on Sunday — more on them in a moment — McLaren pulled further ahead of Mercedes, and inched closer to Red Bull following Verstappen’s retirement. They now sit in third 28 points clear of fourth-place Aston Martin, and 29 points of a Mercedes team suddenly sitting in fifth.

“It was a very good day for us … P3 and P4 is a lot of points for us in the championship,” said Norris to Steiner after the race. “Ferrari and Carlos did a very good job, so hats off to them.

“It is still another step to Ferrari and Red Bull … so we need to catch up, but it is clear that we are getting closer.”

If you think about just how close McLaren is at the moment, and then recall where they were this time a season ago, what the team has accomplished over the last calendar year is stunning. Whether they eventually catch Red Bull and Ferrari this year or not remains to be seen, but one thing is clear.

McLaren is coming.

Losers: Kick Sauber

Sauber’s social media team won the week.

The race was a much different story.

As we noted earlier this week, Sauber absolutely crushed it with their content ahead of the first practice sessions on Friday. Whether it was the Baywatch-inspired video of Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu’s helmet — which featured Bottas on the back and Zhou unveiled while wearing a mullet wig and moustache — or Bottas’ Uber Carshare commercial, the content from the team and the drivers was incredible.

Then the race began.

The first problem was Zhou, who was forced to start from pit lane after the team made a switch with his front wing. Zhou’s front wing was damaged during qualifying, and the team was forced to switch to a new front wing. One slight problem, however, was that the team did not have a spare front wing with their current configuration. The only spare they had was with a previous configuration, and since that was technically a change, Zhou was forced to start from pit lane.

But as the race beegan, Bottas found himself inside the points in the early going. But having started the race on the medium tire — a compound which has seen a high level of degradation this week — the Finnish driver came in to pit early in the race.

And for the third-straight race, the team endured a brutally-long pit stop. There was a problem with the front left, and when Bottas was able to get back on track, he was all the way back in P18, almost 19 seconds behind the driver in P17.

His teammate.

But that was not the only poor pit stop from the team on Sunday. Because on Lap 36 it was Zhou who came in for a stop, but the pit stop lingered on as the team dealt with another issue, and by the time he rejoined the fight, he was at the back of the pack, running P17, 19 seconds behind Daniel Ricciardo.

It remains to be seen if the issue both drivers dealt Sunday with was the same the team dealt with in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, a cross-threaded nut. Following the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix the team indicated they would be investigating the issue, with Team Representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi noting “ … we faced an issue during the pit stop; it was similar to last week’s in Bahrain, not the fault of any of our mechanics but something that requires thorough investigation.”

In the F1TV commentary booth Jolyon Palmer summed it up perfectly.

“What a ridiculous situation for that team.”

When the checkered flag flew, Bottas was down in P15, with Zhou behind him in P16. Not where they want to be, and for the third race in a row, any slim chance of points was undone by an issue on pit lane.

This is an issue they need to get sorted, and fast.

Maybe they can get their social media team to help.

Winner: Yuki Tsunoda

F1 Grand Prix of Australia

Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images

How about a few words for Yuki Tsunoda?

For the third-straight race Tsunoda out-qualified teammate Daniel Ricciardo, starting the Australian Grand Prix up in P8. But could his race pace match what he showed over one lap on Saturday?

On this Sunday, it did. Tsunoda kept his head down and — absent one near brush with former teammate and dear friend Pierre Gasly — ran a patient race, finishing where he started, in eight place. He was then promoted to seventh place following a post-race penalty handed down to Alonso.

That result banked four — and then six after the penalty — critical points for Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, which first pulled them level with Haas with four points on the season. Now with the adjustment, the team has six points on the season, sitting alone in sixth place in the Constructors’ standings.

We will have more on the Tsunoda-Ricciardo situation early next week, but it is safe to say that at the moment, it is Advantage: Tsunoda.

Losers: Mercedes

Is it time to legitimately worry about Mercedes?

The results have not quite been there for the Silver Arrows so far this season, and the team entered the Australian Grand Prix sitting fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, two points behind third-place McLaren and 61 points behind Red Bull.

Even with Verstappen’s retirement, those gaps only grew on Sunday. And they leave Melbourne sitting not in fourth behind McLaren, but in fifth behind Aston Martin, who edged ahead of them by a single point on Sunday.

Both Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff seemed frustrated over the course of the week in Australia, with Hamilton expressing a lack of confidence in the W15 after Friday’s two practice sessions. Things got worse for the seven-time champion on Saturday, as Hamilton failed to advance to Q3 and started the Australian Grand Prix back in 11th place.

If Saturday was bad, Sunday was worse. Because Hamilton’s day ended shortly after it began. Verstappen was the first retirement of the day, but Hamilton joined him soon thereafter, with an engine failure of his own that cut his day short after just 16 laps.

As for teammate George Russell, he stayed in the fight for points, but most of his race was spent remarking at how much faster the cars around him were, most notably the RB20 of Sergio Pérez. He was running up in P5 in the later stages of the race, but came in for his second pit stop on Lap 45 and rejoined the fight in P7, almost three seconds behind Fernando Alonso.

Russell turned his sights on Alonso over the final laps of the race, and was within DRS range of Alonso as the laps ticked down. But then disaster struck for Russell on the final lap of the race. He closed right to the back of Alonso, but then as he went to make the move he endured a snap of oversteer, sliding into the gravel and then into the wall.

His day ended with his W15 stopped on the track and on its side, and Mercedes without a point to show for their efforts.

Japan cannot get here soon enough for the Silver Arrows.

Winners: Haas

If you think about it, July of 2022 feels like a lifetime ago.

That was the last time Haas accomplished what they did on Sunday in Melbourne.

In the Austrian Grand Prix back in July of 2022 Haas enjoyed a double-points finish, as Mick Schumacher finished up in sixth place, with Kevin Magnussen two spots behind him in P8.

Double points were on offer for Haas on Sunday.

For a while, it looked as if only a single point would be on offer, giving Haas a chance to double up their season total. In this year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Haas secured a hard-fought point when Nico Hülkenberg finished in tenth place. However, not everyone was happy with how Haas achieved that result, as Magnussen held off the chasing pack behind him, giving Hülkenberg a window to pit and rejoin the fight in position for a single points.

Magnussen racked up some penalties along the way, and his effort prompted Visa Cash App RB F1 Team to reportedly raise the issue with F1’s governing body.

Such tactics were not needed on this day, however.

In the closing stages it looked as if Hülkenberg would finish in P10 for the second-straight race, banking a single point for Haas. But Russell’s last-lap mistake opened the door for Magnussen, who was running in P11 behind his teammate. As the Virtual Safety Car was implemented, Magnussen slid up into P10, and Hülkenberg into P9.

Three big points for a team fighting in the midfield.

Given how close the midfield is right now, those could be three huge points come December.

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