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Four takeaways from the 2024 Australian GP: Sizzling Sainz, misery for Mercedes

The 2024 Australian Grand Prix came and went but not without leaving everyone on the edge of their seats from beginning to end.

From car failures to last-lap overtakes, Melbourne saw the highest of highs for some drivers and the lowest lows for others. 

For many this race reminded fans of what the sport was like pre-Red Bull dominance.

While Max Verstappen and Red Bull maintained their lead in the Drivers and Constructors Championships after race number three, this race may have just sparked a beacon of hope for fans around the world and reminded us all that anything is possible in Formula 1.  

Here, Planet Sport’s Monica De Los Angeles breaks down four takeaways from this year’s chaos-filled Australian Grand Prix. 

Verstappen’s early retirement set the race alight

Three-time world champion Verstappen saw his nine consecutive win streak dramatically broken after the brakes on his Red Bull caught fire and ended his race on lap three. 

What was expected to be another Red Bull win turned out to be a game-changing race as the fastest man on track was suddenly out of the running. 

As Verstappen began to pull ahead in the first lap of the race, Carlos Sainz in P2 fought hard to keep him from creating a gap between them until suddenly Verstappen began to slow down in pace, allowing Sainz to overtake on lap two. 

Soon after, Verstappen alerted his team that he had momentarily lost control of his car and he continued to lose velocity at an alarming rate, only to then have smoke billowing from the rear of his Red Bull. 

Verstappen shouted “fire!” over his team radio and the car was immediately brought into the pits to put out the fire and that was the end of the Australian Grand Prix for the Dutchman.  

“My right rear brake basically stuck on from when the lights went off,” Verstappen said. “The temperatures (in the car) just kept on increasing until the point that it caught fire. They (mechanics) could see what was going on but they don’t know what caused it.

“We had a lot of good races in a row, I knew that the day would come when you end up having a retirement and unfortunately that day was today.” 

This retirement allowed for other drivers to have a real battle for that first place trophy, rather than fight it out for second and third place alone. 

Luckily, the race didn’t disappoint in that department. 

Double DNF trouble for Mercedes  

In a shocking turn of events, Lewis Hamilton also had an early retirement from the race after a power unit failure made his race weekend go from bad to worse on lap 17. 

After getting knocked out in Q2 on Saturday, Hamilton was ready to give it his all come Sunday afternoon. 

With Verstappen out of the race, hope sparked in the hearts of fans around the world that the seven-time world champion could gain positions and make his way to the podium. 

However, any hope he had of scoring any points at all came crashing down on lap 17 when he radioed his team to report “engine failure” and the eight-time Australian Grand Prix pole-sitter pulled up on the inside of Turn 10 before jumping out of the Mercedes and heading back to the paddock.  

“I didn’t feel [the power unit failing], it just went in one go,” said Hamilton afterwards. “I didn’t feel it coming. Definitely frustrating because it was so early in the race, it was open to be able to progress forwards and on a different strategy to everyone. But these things happen.” 

Hamilton, who has taken a podium in one of the first three races of the year in every season since his F1 debut in 2007 (apart from 2009), finished seventh and ninth in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and this DNF has only added fuel to the fire of his bad season start.  

"It's the worst start to a season I've ever had,” Lewis said after his return to the paddock. 

After several disappointing seasons with poor car performance at Mercedes, Hamilton is set to make his exit after 11 years with the team and move to Ferrari in 2025. 

In these first three races, Hamilton has yet to outqualify or finish a race ahead of teammate George Russell, emphasizing his less than impressive start.

Regardless, after Hamilton’s early retirement, all hopes were placed on Russell to bring home some much-needed points.  

All signs pointed to a smooth finish in seventh for Russell until a battle for sixth ensued with Fernando Alonso in the final lap of the race, resulting in a dramatic crash. 

After getting close towards the Turn 6/7 complex, Russell lost control of his Mercedes and hit the barriers, with the W15 then ricocheting back onto the track and ending up on its side.  

While strapped into his car in the middle of the track, Russell’s panicked shouts could be heard over the radio,  

“Red flag! Red flag! Red flag! I’m in the middle of the track! Red flag! Red flag! Red! Red! Red! Red! Red! I’m in the middle! Red! F*cking hell!”  

Thankfully he managed to emerge unharmed from the collision and Alonso was given a 20-second time penalty for his role in the accident, as the stewards said telemetry from Alonso's car showed that the Aston Martin had "lifted slightly more than 100m earlier than he ever had going into turn six" and ruled this as an “unusual maneuver”. 

Despite this, the double DNF was a heartbreaking sight for Mercedes fans everywhere as we await to see if this season will turn around for them. 

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Bottom-field teams make their point 

While many were focused on the fight for the top five, a surprising new addition to the top 10 came in the form of the two Haas’ finishing in the points for the first time since the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix. 

Nico Hulkenberg started from 16th on the grid and ran a long first stint, pitting on lap 17 for medium tyres during a Virtual Safety Car for Hamilton’s suspended Mercedes. 

He came out in 12th and passed Kevin Magnussen, before coming in on lap 36 for hard tyres. 

The German jumped Alex Albon in the Williams at the pit stop exit to hold 10th place, which became ninth after Russell’s late crash. 

His team-mate Magnussen had similar luck after starting in 14th on medium tyres, switching to hard tyres on lap seven, and pitting again on lap 34 for another set of the hard compound. 

The Dane overtook Albon during the final stint to take 11th place, which became 10th following Russell’s exit. 

Both team-mates shared their elation over their first double points finish of the season: 

“The first VSC helped me and I overtook a car at each of my stops at the pit exit and that really made my race, that together with the VSC and our teamwork – so I’m really happy,” said Hulkenburg.  

“We got both cars in the points with great teamwork once again. The VSC didn’t help me, but on the flipside, it helped Nico so we could get him back into the battle and it’s fantastic to get three points here. It’s very encouraging and it’s a different way to go racing,” echoed Magnussen.  

To add to the surprising points contenders this weekend, Yuki Tsunoda in the RB also had an exceptional race that resulted in his eight place finish, once again outperforming team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.  

Team principal Laurent Mekies said: "Yuki executed a fast and well-controlled race to top the whole midfield group and got us our first points of the season. 

"He did not put a foot wrong all weekend, and with calm and determination got faster session after session." 

What we saw was two teams, who were at the very bottom of the grid the whole of last season, already make their way into the midfield with points only three races into the season. 

They’ve outperformed Williams, Alpine, and Stake (formerly Alfa Romeo) all of whom were controlling the midfield last year. 

Whether this remains the case this season is yet to be seen but performances like the ones from this weekend will keep us all on our toes.  

Phenomenal drive from Carlos Sainz 

After all the chaos of this race, Sainz crossed the finish line to take home first place at Albert Park, marking his third career win and first of 2024. This makes Sainz the only other race-winner in the last 20 races alongside Verstappen. 

Two weeks ago, Sainz was undergoing emergency appendix surgery and today he is a three-time race winner. 

Following his surgery and subsequent absence from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Sainz returned to the paddock with impressive pace in practice - and even more so in qualifying, which landed him a front row start next to Verstappen. 

Similarly to his last win in Singapore back in September, Sainz’s win in Australia breaks Verstappen’s winning streak. 

READ MORE: Carlos Sainz's great drive sparks speculation: Where will he drive next season?

After overtaking Verstappen on lap two, Sainz was able to hold a cool lead and build a gap between himself and Lando Norris up to second ahead of Leclerc, Oscar Piastri, Russell and Sergio Perez, with a solid three-second lead by the 10th lap. 

On Lap 16 he pitted and exchanged his medium compound tyres for a set of hard compounds to nurse for a long stint, returning to the track a couple of seconds behind Alonso. 

Hamilton’s engine failure created a Virtual Safety Car that allowed Alonso a chance to pit and save some time in order to come out in fifth and Sainz regained his position as race-leader. 

Most drivers were running a two-stop strategy in the race in which many went in for their second set at around lap 35 which created yet another driver shuffle in which Sainz was once again able to land back on top, with Leclerc close behind and the McLarens running third and fourth. 

While the back of the grid wrestled and battled for positions, the top five stayed much the same in the last 15 laps with Sainz maintaining a comfortable lead and Leclerc working to keep the McLarens at bay. 

In the end, Sainz was able to cross the finish line 2.3 seconds ahead of his team-mate and secured a 1-2 finish for Ferrari, their first since Bahrain 2022.  

While coming up on the last corner of the race, Sainz went on his team radio to request Leclerc close the gap between them to “celebrate this one together” in a heartwarming moment for the Tifosi around the world. 

Norris crossed the line to take home the last podium spot and his team-mate Piastri close behind. 

Fans of the “Carlando” bromance had their wishes fulfilled at seeing the two former team-mates on the podium again after their joyous 1-2 in Singapore last year - and Norris even congratulated his friend on social media with a picture of them pointing at Sainz’s bandaged surgery wound, saying: “Gonna go get my appendix removed. Apparently you do it and you win a race soooooo…congrats Carlitos.”  

Speaking to the media after his incredible win, Sainz said: “I’m happy to be in a one-two with Charles here. It shows that hard work pays off. Life sometimes is crazy, what happened at the beginning of the year, then the podium in Bahrain, then the appendix, the comeback, the win... it’s a rollercoaster but I loved it and I’m extremely happy.” 

Sainz, whose seat at Ferrari will be filled by Hamilton next year, said “I’m still jobless next year!” when asked if he thought his performance in this race would have an impact on next year’s drive. 

Christian Horner, whose Red Bull team are rumored to be an option for Sainz, also commented on his performance, saying “sometimes you’ve got to look outside the pool as well…you’ve had a very fast unemployed driver win today”.  

Nevertheless, after this phenomenal drive it’s clear that Sainz has once again come back with nothing short of a mission this season - and he wasn’t about to let his appendix ruin his chances of success this season. 

Taking home a race win, leading a Ferrari 1-2, and securing driver of the day for a second time this season, Sainz continues to impress fans and the rest of the paddock in what we can only hope is an upwards trajectory for the Spaniard.

Check out Planet Sport Bet’s markets for the 2024 Formula 1 season here.

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