Dream result for Ferrari as Sainz returns with race victory down under

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Ferrari's Carlos Sainz has enjoyed a dream return to racing in Australia after appendix surgery just 2 weeks ago. The Spaniard led the race since Verstappen's early retirement while his Ferrari team mate Leclerc finished second. Lando Norris finished third for home team McLaren.

The Australian Grand Prix kicked off with a somewhat subdued start as there were hardly and position changes at the start. Even Lewis Hamilton, who started on the soft tyre versus the medium compound for everybody ahead of him, was unable to make more than a single position.

After the first lap though DRS got enabled and Sainz seemed very comfortable to follow Verstappen. In fact, by the time the leading duo ended up on the back straight, Sainz easily punched into the lead as Verstappen reported "I just lose the car, really weird". Another half a lap later his right rear started smoking after which he was forced to slow down and pit to retire from the race with a fire on his rear brake.

Soon after the first pitstops started. Ricciardo was first to do so in lap 5, followed by Zhou and then Hamilton and Magnussen on lap 7. All of them switched their softs to hard tyres. For them this wasn't a great surprise but one lap later Russell and Stroll were already pitted for a change of medium to hard as well. As Sainz requested to extend his first stint while recording the fastest lap up to that point, Piastri followed Leclerc into the pits. The duo returned to the track with Leclerc still in front and they soon cleared Hulkenberg and Gasly, starting their chase to 4th placed Alonso.

By lap 13 only Sainz, Norris, Perez, Alonso, Hulkenberg and Gasly had not pitted. The pace of Leclerc and Piastri though was nearly 2 seconds a lap quicker than Alonso and 1.5s quicker than Sainz.

When Sainz pitted on lap 16, Alonso with Leclerc on his back inherited the lead. The Spaniard was given some much needed breathing time when a brief VSC period was installed to remove Hamilton's car from the track. Hamilton had experienced a very sudden engine stop on the back straight and had calmly taken his time to stop his car right at a marshall post.

Aston Martin made great use of the VSC to pit Alonso, switching him from his mediums from the start to a another scrubbed set of mediums, enabling the Spaniard to rejoin the track in 5th, 5s behind Norris and 5s ahead of Russell - with the latter busy trying to hold off Perez. Magnussen also pitted, exchanging his hards from the start to fresh mediums. Contrary to those flawless stops, Ocon endured a very slow pitstop and fell back to last.

Halfway into the race Perez moved into 5th after easily closing the gap to Alonso and passing the Spaniard at the first attempt on the back straight. Alonso at the time was running at a similar pace to Russell in 7th but at least a second a lap slower than the Ferraris and McLarens ahead of him. Curiously Perez reduced the pace somewhat after getting by Alonso, enabling the Aston Martin to stick along, handily benefiting from the DRS effect.

After Haas had ordered Magnussen to let Hulkenberg past, McLaren also asked Piastri to let Norris past. The latter's tyres were 5 laps younger while at Haas, Hulkenberg had 10 laps younger mediums versus the hards on Magnussen's car.

In front Sainz distanced Leclerc again while Norris came up closing in the second placed Ferrari. After the Monegasque started to complain about his tyres he was pitted on lap 35, rejoining the track only just ahead of the Perez - Alonso combo. Leclerc was sure not to get past but Perez and Alonso were clearly hindered. The next lap Perez pitted and took on fresh hard tyres to continue his race in 9th place.

At Stake Sauber the pitstop problems increased with Zhou this time stuck in the box. Earlier this race Bottas was also reminded of the equipment issues that his team has been struggling with since the very first race of the season.

The McLaren duo were then pitted on laps 40 and 41, crucially after Piastri went through the grass at Turn 13 and lost 4 seconds. Ferrari reacted by pitting Sainz. The Spaniard maintained his lead, returning to the track 5.5s ahead of Leclerc. Norris followed another 5s further down. Piastri was 4th after he passed Alonso. The Aston Martin driver appeared to be driving on ice in that last lap before he pitted to change for scubbed hard tyres to complete the last 15 laps.

When George Russell pitted another two laps later everybody had done their stops. Russell looked eager to get back 6th position from Alonso and edged closer to the Aston Martin by at least half a second a lap. After then hanging about at 1.2s Russell got DRS 6 laps from the end and increased the pressure.

As Alonso kept his cool, Russell wanted a little bit too much and slid off into the gravel in Turn 6 and ended up on the side of the car in the middle of the track as a wheel got stuck under the car. It was not such a serious accident but it forced the rest to finish the race under VSC while Russell confirmed to be OK.

When Sainz crossed the finish line to underline his strong start to the season with a win he was also voted "Driver of the day". Thanks to Verstappen's retirement this ended up in a perfect weekend for Ferrari with the top two steps on the podium and fastest lap for Leclerc. McLaren enjoyed a solid "home" race as the second best team here in Melbourne.


155Carlos SainzFerrari581:20:26.84325
216Charles LeclercFerrari58+2.366s19
34Lando NorrisMclaren Mercedes58+5.904s15
481Oscar PiastriMclaren Mercedes58+35.770s12
511Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing Honda Rbpt58+56.309s10
614Fernando AlonsoAston Martin Aramco Mercedes58+80.992s8
718Lance StrollAston Martin Aramco Mercedes58+93.222s6
822Yuki TsunodaRb Honda Rbpt58+95.601s4
927Nico HulkenbergHaas Ferrari58+104.553s2
1020Kevin MagnussenHaas Ferrari57+1 lap1
1123Alexander AlbonWilliams Mercedes57+1 lap0
123Daniel RicciardoRb Honda Rbpt57+1 lap0
1310Pierre GaslyAlpine Renault57+1 lap0
1477Valtteri BottasKick Sauber Ferrari57+1 lap0
1524Zhou GuanyuKick Sauber Ferrari57+1 lap0
1631Esteban OconAlpine Renault57+1 lap0
1763George RussellMercedes56DNF0
NC44Lewis HamiltonMercedes15DNF0
NC1Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing Honda Rbpt3DNF0

Note - Leclerc scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.