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Ferrari takes first and second place at the Australian F1 Grand Prix, with Carlos Sainz emerging as the victor.
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Ferrari takes first and second place at the Australian F1 Grand Prix, with Carlos Sainz emerging as the victor.

Just nine days ago, Carlos Sainz was lying in bed recovering from an appendectomy and had no hopes of participating in the Australian Grand Prix. However, against all odds, he raced in Melbourne on Sunday and was met with cheers from the audience when he emerged from his car with a triumphant victory.

This was a significant accomplishment for Sainz, a driver who successfully returned to racing after undergoing surgery. He played a key role in Ferrari capturing their first one-two finish since 2022, which marked the end of Max Verstappen’s dominant winning streak. However, Sainz’s future in Formula One is still uncertain as he does not have a confirmed drive for the upcoming season.

At the start of the season, the 29-year-old received disappointing news when Ferrari decided to replace him with Lewis Hamilton in 2025. Despite this setback, he showed determination and achieved a podium finish at the season opener in Bahrain. However, his luck took a turn for the worse when he had to miss the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix due to appendicitis two weeks ago.

Following the procedure, he spent seven days in bed. When the Australian GP arrived on Friday, he and Ferrari were finally confident enough for him to get behind the wheel.

The 29-year-old’s readiness was far from ideal. Despite not being completely healed, he had lost weight and was unable to do his regular pre-race fitness and simulator training. He also acknowledged that dealing with the high G-forces at Albert Park after his operation was a difficult task.

On Saturday, during qualifications, he displayed a remarkable calmness despite being back in the car. He noticed that his body was experiencing a heightened sensitivity, stating that “everything inside feels like it’s moving more than usual.” This idea could easily cause discomfort even while sitting and having tea, let alone racing around one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule.

Carlos Sainz of Ferrari celebrates on the podium after the Australian F1 Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne

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However, he was not only situated on the race grid, but he was also the driver closest to Verstappen, starting in second place behind him. As expected, Verstappen quickly pulled ahead, leaving Sainz with the prospect of 58 laps of Verstappen’s domination. However, fate intervened and gave Sainz a fortunate opportunity later on in the race.

Verstappen had difficulty with a jammed brake, allowing Sainz to overtake him before smoke started emanating from the rear right tire of the reigning champion. Despite dominating for nine consecutive races, Verstappen’s luck finally ran out when the brake exploded as he made his way into the pit lane. Smoke, dust, and flames erupted, mirroring the frustration the Dutchman showed as he exited his car. Unfortunately, his race was cut short after just four laps, and Red Bull’s track record of reliability, which had held since the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2022, came to an end.

Sainz was able to capitalize on the opportunity and drove with confidence, while also being mindful of his stitches. Despite the challenging track conditions that put a strain on the tires, he skillfully navigated through the race with the finesse of an experienced angler. As he made his way back to the pits after crossing the finish line, he celebrated with his usual rendition of “smooth operator”, a well-earned tribute. “Being confined to bed for seven days is not ideal for an athlete, both physically and for muscle health,” he stated after the race.

He had made every effort to hasten the healing process by utilizing hyperbaric chambers twice daily and an Indiba device that administers electric currents to expedite tissue recovery. He followed a strict diet and schedule to regulate rest periods and appropriate exercises.

Max Verstappen retires from the race in the pits.

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In the end, everything was worth it. The person shared, “I was still in bed right before my flight to Australia. My abs were in so much pain, and I doubted if I could make it. But I pushed through and upon landing, I felt much better. Each day, I could feel myself getting better.”

What progress it was, such that once he was on track and had the lead, he was untouchable, comfortably taking the flag from his teammate Charles Leclerc in second and McLaren’s Lando Norris in third.

After exiting the cockpit, he seemed physically exhausted but was energized by the current situation and quickly went to embrace his Ferrari teammates. They had once again broken Red Bull’s dominance, with Sainz in the driver’s seat. Sainz was the only driver to defeat Red Bull in the last season, winning in Singapore, and since the Brazilian GP in November 2022. Verstappen may view him as a rebellious figure now as an inquiry launched into the burning remains of his back wheel.

Sainz is clearly showcasing his capabilities for a desirable seat in the upcoming season, shown through a standout performance and a car that even Hamilton may covet. This is in contrast to the seven-time champion, who had yet another disappointing weekend in a struggling Mercedes. Hamilton himself admitted that it was his worst start to a season yet when he retired due to an engine failure on lap 17.

Verstappen’s victory has not gone unnoticed by his teammate Sergio Pérez, who would eagerly take the opportunity to join Red Bull. Despite having the fastest car, the Mexican finished in fifth place, behind both Ferraris and both McLarens. However, he was not recovering from recent injuries.

With two wins already under his belt Verstappen still holds the world championship lead from Leclerc by four points and for all that the Ferrari was quick, he will expect to be on top again at the next round in Japan, but for now at least F1 could revel in proving it is hard to keep a good man down. “Life is crazy sometimes,” a grinning Sainz concluded. “What happened at the beginning of the year and the podium in Bahrain, then the appendix, the comeback, the win, a rollercoaster but I love it.”

On the final lap, Mercedes driver George Russell collided with the wall when he approached Fernando Alonso, who appeared to slow down at turns six and seven. After the race, the incident was investigated by the stewards and Alonso was penalized with a 20-second time addition for his potentially dangerous driving. This resulted in him dropping from sixth to eighth place.

Oscar Piastri finished in fourth place for McLaren, while Lance Stroll took sixth place for Aston Martin. Yuki Tsunoda came in seventh for RB, with Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen following in ninth and 10th place for Haas. Unfortunately, Daniel Ricciardo had a disappointing home race, finishing in 12th place.

Source: theguardian.com