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Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
8:21 AM 24th March 2024
sports

Sainz Leads Ferrari 1-2 In Oz

 
The third Grand Prix of this year’s Formula 1 season was held in Melbourne, Australia, today, and following the event, which was staged on a temporary circuit around the city’s scenic Albert Park and began at 3pm local time (4am back in the UK), it was Carlos Sainz who proved to be a highly popular winner on his return from appendicitis surgery. His Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc made it a 1-2 finish, with an early brake issue forcing Max Verstappen’s first retirement since the Australian race two years ago.

Carlos Sainz ignored his post-operative pain to claim an impressive win
Carlos Sainz ignored his post-operative pain to claim an impressive win
On the offtrack news front, and as if there hasn’t been enough controversy within the Formula 1 world of late, in an unprecedented move, the Brazilian former Ferrari driver, Felipe Massa, has filed a lawsuit in London’s High Court against the sport’s FIA governing body, Formula One Management, and Bernie Ecclestone in relation to the 2008 Singapore “crashgate” scandal. Massa lost out to Sir Lewis Hamilton in that year’s Drivers’ Championship by just a single point, but this was after controversy at the Singapore round, where Nelson Piquet Jnr had followed instructions from his Renault outfit to deliberately crash and trigger a safety car intervention. This then affected the outcome of the race and helped his team-mate Fernando Alonso to win, with Hamilton second.

2024 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix

1 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 1hr20m26.843s
2 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +2.366s
3 Lando Norris (McLaren) +5.904s
4 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +35.770s
5 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) +56.309s
6 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +1m20.992s
7 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1m33.222s
8 Yuki Tsunoda (RB) +1m35.601s
9 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) +1m44.553s
10 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
11 Alex Albon (Williams) Lapped
12 Daniel Ricciardo (RB) Lapped
13 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) Lapped
14 Valtteri Bottas (Sauber) Lapped
15 Zhou Guanyu (Sauber) Lapped
16 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) Lapped
17 George Russell (Mercedes) Retired
18 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) Retired
19 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) Retired
Massa’s argument is that last year, Ecclestone claimed that the FIA had sufficient evidence of wrongdoing at the time for the Singapore result to be voided from the world championship and that the governing body breached its own regulations by failing to promptly investigate the Piquet incident, adding that, had it done so, he would have been the champion and not Hamilton. As such, Massa is seemingly claiming damages of £64m for his significant financial losses incurred through not being declared the 2008 world champion due to the FIA’s delayed investigation into the fixing of the Singapore race result. To his credit, Massa and his legal team have for some time done their utmost to seek an amicable out-of-court resolution, but when this was not forthcoming, they felt no alternative but to lodge this lawsuit. We can but see what follows in due course.

With everyone returning from Saudi Arabia to their respective home bases for a while before making the long journey to Australia ahead of this weekend’s round, it was hoped that this would help to calm the controversy surrounding the Red Bull team, but sadly, this was not to be the case. The suspended female member of staff, who had accused the team principal and CEO, Christian Horner, of inappropriate and controlling behaviour towards her, is understood to be appealing against Red Bull’s decision to clear Horner of any wrongdoing following a detailed investigation by one of the UK’s leading KC lawyers. If the Red Bull GmbH parent company again reaches the same conclusion as initially, this would leave the employee having to instigate legal action if she chooses to do so. It also seems that she has notified the FIA about what she perceives to be breaches by Horner of its Anti-Harrassment and Non-Discrimination policies.

Essentially, the accuser finds herself in the middle of an unpleasant power struggle at Red Bull, which involves Horner, its longtime motorsport advisor Helmut Marko, and lead driver Verstappen, plus his father Jos and his manager Raymond Vermeulen. Horner has repeatedly called, albeit unsuccessfully, for the media focus to move back to racing matters following the conclusion of the investigation and continued to lead the team, with Marko also remaining in his post despite suggesting in Saudi Arabia that he was in danger of being suspended following a probe into how alleged confidential information had been leaked via anonymous emails. It’s all a heady mix when you also throw in the differing views of the two owners of global Red Bull, with 51% owned by Thailand’s Chalerm Yoovidhya and the other 49% by Austrian-based Red Bull GmbH.

Excited but unfazed, Bearman put in a stunning performance, qualifying 11th and reaching the chequered flag in seventh place, beating the likes of more illustrious fellow Brits ...
Horner insists that his relationship with Verstappen Jnr  is at least fine, and the latter has a contract with the team until the end of the 2028 season. However, it includes an exit clause that allows the Dutch multiple champion to leave if Marko does, and this has left both Mercedes and Aston Martin monitoring developments closely in case F1’s hottest property becomes available. Such a notion would have been considered far-fetched only a short while ago, but not any more. In any event, Horner has added that, if anyone within the team wants to leave, he would not use a piece of paper to try to force him or her to stay. Meanwhile, Red Bull GmbH is not at all happy about how recent developments and alleged leaks of confidential information have been played out very publicly in the media and is very much seeking for calm to be restored both at the global level and within its highly successful F1 team.

While still on the subject of allegations and investigations, on Wednesday the FIA announced that it had found no evidence of wrongdoing with regard to two complaints made against the body’s current President, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, by a whistleblower in respect of claimed events in Saudi Arabia and Las Vegas last year. However, on the same day, Susie Wolff, the current managing director of the female-only single-seater F1 Academy racing championship and wife of Toto Wolff, the Mercedes F1 team principal and part owner, revealed that she has filed a criminal complaint in the French courts against the FIA after it had questioned late last year whether she may have shared confidential Formula One Management information with her husband.

Alex Albon crashed in FP1, but was then handed his team-mate’s car
Alex Albon crashed in FP1, but was then handed his team-mate’s car
Turning to more positive matters, in life it’s always important to have dreams and aspirations and this was epitomised in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago for 18-year-old Oliver “Ollie” Bearman from Chelmsford, Essex, when he was suddenly handed a last-minute opportunity to make his Formula 1 debut and fully grasped it with both hands in very impressive fashion. It was also such a good news story for Formula 1 at a time when many of the opposite kinds were prevailing. F1 and the racing championships just below it are often criticised as sporting avenues only open to those with rich parents or other major financial backers, and this is true to a fair degree, but every budding Formula 1 driver still has to have exceptional racing talent to get anywhere near the pinnacle of world motorsport.

Bearman’s father, David, is a wealthy businessman who has worked hard to earn his success in the insurance world and has supported his son’s racing aspirations while keeping him very grounded as he started to get noticed in European championships. Ollie then had to convince his mother, Terri, that he should give up on his private school education in the UK and go to live in Modena, Italy, just north of Ferrari’s Maranello HQ as part of its famous Driver Academy. Interestingly, this has left him with an unusual accent for someone from Essex, which he attributes to spending so much time these days surrounded by Italians.

The fact that the following three rounds will be in China, the USA, and Italy simply shows how international the championship really is. ...
As one of the three current reserve drivers for the Ferrari F1 team, Ollie was in the right place at the right time when Sainz fell ill in Saudi Arabia and required immediate surgery for appendicitis on the day before the Grand Prix. Excited but unfazed, Bearman put in a stunning performance, qualifying 11th and reaching the chequered flag in seventh place, beating the likes of more illustrious fellow Brits Lando Norris and Hamilton and ending up just one position behind George Russell.

Sainz’s operation was a success, and, despite understandably still feeling rather sore, the Spaniard returned to the Saudi F1 paddock the following day to watch the race while remaining determined to recover and be back behind the wheel of his Ferrari in Australia. The plan was that Sainz would test how he felt during Friday practice in Melbourne and, only if he felt in need of a further recovery period, would he stand down and open the door for Bearman to return. Fortunately, the latter was at Albert Park racing back in Formula 2 anyway and would be instantly available if required following his exciting first taste of competing in F1.

Looking ahead, the Ferrari team principal, Fred Vasseur, has already warned Bearman not to expect a race drive in a red car any time soon, with Leclerc and Hamilton set to be their pairing for at least 2025 and 2026. Likewise, Haas has suggested it may decide to stick with its current line-up of Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg next season. As a result, Bearman may need to focus on his F2 season while looking elsewhere for any potential F1 berth next year. Such is the nature of Formula 1 despite a weekend when Ollie had rightly made worldwide headlines, and of course, New Zealand’s highly talented young Liam Lawson, who deputised so impressively for the injured Daniel Ricciardo last season, is also currently still left on the sidelines, waiting for a race seat opportunity to materialise.

Second placed Charles Leclerc made it an excellent day for Ferrari (
Second placed Charles Leclerc made it an excellent day for Ferrari (
Mercedes headed to Australia in search of answers to the problems that have plagued its new car during the opening two races of the season, but, with Red Bull and Ferrari clearly the two leading teams for now at least, the former multiple title winners based at Brackley were not confident about finding an early solution. Meanwhile, over in the McLaren camp, team principal Andrea Stella was busy emphasising how he was making sure that his two drivers would be allowed sufficient time to focus on their ontrack performances and also have some relaxation time, as well as undertaking an acceptable number of sponsor, fan, and media appearances throughout the weekend. Norris is universally popular wherever F1 heads, and Oscar Piastri was equally in the spotlight in Melbourne due to being both Australian and from the city.

Come Friday’s opening free practice session, it was Norris who topped the timesheets, with Verstappen and Russell the best of the rest. The running was interrupted, though, after Alex Albon had lost control of his Williams at Turn 7 and had a hefty shunt, significantly damaging the car. With the outfit not having a spare chassis in Australia due to production delays and Albon’s car being beyond repair until back at their UK base, team principal James Vowles made a difficult and contentious, if understandable, decision to give Albon the car of his team-mate, Logan Sargeant.

There was a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement around the jam-packed circuit as the grid formed for the start of the Grand Prix...
The reasoning behind this was that Albon has proven to consistently be the quicker of the two drivers, and, with the Melbourne race having a reputation for a high attrition rate, it would represent a potentially valuable opportunity for the team to achieve a crucial points finish. It was tough on the American Sargeant though to have gone all the way to Australia and not then be allowed to race through no fault of his own, but he’s a team player and fully understood the decision. Meanwhile, Ferrari enjoyed the second practice session as Leclerc and Sainz sandwiched Verstappen at the top of the timing screens, but Mercedes was far less happy, with Russell slipping to sixth and a clearly dejected Hamilton only last but one among the 19 runners. In yesterday’s final practice period, it was again Leclerc, Verstappen, and Sainz who led the way.

The qualifying hour began at 4pm local time yesterday afternoon, and Sainz defied his post-operative discomfort to go fastest in the first and second parts of the knockout process. However, Verstappen delivered when it mattered in the top-ten shootout segment with two stunning laps. This left Sainz, Sergio Pérez in the other Red Bull, and Norris to claim the three remaining starting slots on the front two rows of today’s grid, but Pérez was subsequently to receive a three-place penalty for impeding the Haas of Hülkenberg in Q1. This promoted Leclerc to join Norris on the second row. Mercedes’ woes continued though, with seventh placed Russell a massive 0.8 seconds off the pace of Verstappen and Hamilton even more so and set to start only 11th.

Home hero Oscar Piastri finished fourth for McLaren
Home hero Oscar Piastri finished fourth for McLaren
There was a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement around the jam-packed circuit as the grid formed for the start of the Grand Prix, and when the pack sprinted off towards Turn 1, we had a clean start as Verstappen led Sainz, Norris, and Leclerc. However, the reigning champion’s car was suffering from a right rear brake issue that was stuck on from the very beginning, and on the second lap, Sainz usurped him for the lead. Worse was soon to follow, though, as the overheating brake problem forced the Dutch driver’s retirement, with flames licking the damaged right rear of his RB20.

There were a few anxious moments until it was confirmed that Russell was OK, even if his car wasn’t...
The preferred strategy for most drivers was a two-stop race, with medium compound tyres followed by two sets of hards and, as the opening series of stops progressed, Hamilton’s Mercedes, which had started on soft tyres, ground to a halt on lap 17 with engine failure and his retirement triggered a brief Virtual Safety Car period. When racing resumed, the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc remained out front, with the McLarens of Piastri and Norris just to their rear and the remaining Red Bull of Pérez climbing to fifth position. McLaren then made a tactical switch to move Norris ahead of Piastri, which made sense even if it didn’t go down too well with the latter’s home support.

Following the second round of stops for further sets of hard tyres, the pair of Ferraris maintained their advantage over the McLaren duo, but third-placed Norris was certainly keeping Sainz and Leclerc under pressure. As the race neared its conclusion, sixth-placed Alonso was fully occupied, keeping the pursuing Russell at bay before the latter had a big off on the final lap, which led to the Grand Prix ending under Virtual Safety Car conditions. There were a few anxious moments until it was confirmed that Russell was OK, even if his car wasn’t, and everyone’s attention could then shift back to enjoying Sainz’s victory as the likeable Spaniard somewhat gingerly eased himself out of his car. Ferrari’s 1-2 joy was completed, with Leclerc also gaining the extra point for the fastest lap of the race. McLaren also enjoyed its 3-4 result, as did Haas its 9-10, although Mercedes faced a double retirement and Williams’ Albon just failed to achieve the desired points scoring finish after ending up 11th.

Next up on this year’s Formula 1 globetrotting itinerary is Japan in a fortnight’s time. The fact that the following three rounds will be in China, the USA, and Italy simply shows how international the championship really is. With so many air miles being clocked up back and forth, it’s clear that there is still more progress to be made regarding ongoing attempts to reduce the environmental impact such travel causes through improvements to the calendar, not to mention the cost and wear and tear on all those involved. Japan is a country passionate about Formula 1, though, and its old-school figure-of-eight Suzuka circuit is embedded in the sport’s history and a challenge that all racing drivers simply love.



2024 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship

1 Max Verstappen 51
2 Charles Leclerc 47
3 Sergio Pérez 46


Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship

1 Red Bull 97
2 Ferrari 93
3 McLaren 55