The UK’s National Health Service offers clear, insightful information for patients in their care undergoing treatment for all kinds of medical conditions.

For those everyday folk who require an appendectomy – a common procedure to remove the appendix – the NHS offers patients and their loved ones an idea of how long they can expect their recovery to take.

“You should be able to return to normal activities in a couple of weeks,” says the NHS. “Although you may need to avoid more strenuous activities for four to six weeks after open surgery.”

But Carlos Sainz Jnr is not an everyday human being. As a Formula 1 driver, he is one of just 20 superhumans entrusted to pilot the quickest racing cars on the planet. And as a Ferrari driver, he is one of only two who have the privilege of racing for the sport’s most prestigious team.

But even with his elite level of physical fitness the idea of Sainz returning to the grid two weeks after having surgery and performing at his usual level was one even he dismissed.

“It’s not like I’ll be 100% for it, because obviously I’ve been 10 days in bed, not ten days training, going to the simulator and preparing for a normal weekend,” he said.

Something was amiss with Verstappen’s car from the start

“But if I’m fit to race and don’t have any pain or any bad symptoms, I can still put together a strong weekend and the target will be to challenge the Red Bulls.”

After two days of running at the stunning Albert Park circuit in downtown Melbourne city in which he gradually built himself up session-by-session, Sainz had sensationally backed up his words by putting his car on the front row alongside Max Verstappen, being the closest driver to the world champion. At the same circuit where the pair had raced in Formula 1 for the first time as Toro Rosso team mates nine years earlier, Sainz now had to take the fight to Verstappen during Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen led the grid away on the formation lap from pole position for the third consecutive race day in 2024. Behind him, every driver down to tenth-placed Fernando Alonso started on medium compound tyres – the entire field expecting the battle with their own tyres to prove just as challenging throughout the evening as the one they would have against their rivals on track.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The previous year at Albert Park, Verstappen had suffered a rare defeat in the race to the first corner. He did not allow history to repeat in 2024, however. The Red Bull sprung off the grid and into the lead as Sainz had to settle into second behind him. Third-placed Lando Norris held that position as the leaders snaked through the first sector with Charles Leclerc and Melbourne’s own Oscar Piastri retaining their places behind.

Start, Albert Park, 2024
Verstappen looked on course for a routine win at turn two

Like his team mate successfully managed in the season-opener in Bahrain, Sainz managed to keep Verstappen’s lead under a second by the end of the first lap, allowing him to use DRS on lap two. But even though he wouldn’t be able to use it until they reached the long back straight along Lakeside Drive, Sainz closed from eight tenths out of turn two to just two tenths out of turn three as Verstappen took an unusually poor line through the tight right-hander.

Although he wasn’t to know it, Verstappen’s race was effectively already ending. A problem with his right-rear brake meant it had been dragging since the moment the lights had gone out, slowly self-immolating itself. Not that Sainz behind either knew nor cared, especially as he got a run on the Red Bull along the back straight and swept through into the lead on the way into turn nine.

Eventually, at the end of the third lap, the evidence of Verstappen’s combusting calliper was clear for all to see. He was forced to back off out of the fast chicane and suffer the torment of 18 cars passing him one-by-one until he pulled into the pitlane to retire – his right-rear exploding as he did so. For only the second time in the last 21 grands prix, Max Verstappen would not be taking the chequered flag first.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2024
As in 2022, technical trouble struck Verstappen in Melbourne

Sainz led by just under two seconds from Norris, with Leclerc and Piastri within a second of the second-placed McLaren. Although tyre management was going to be critical with the softer compounds provided for the weekend, Ferrari and McLaren were now locked in a head-to-head battle for a preciously rare race win.

Although as leader, he would typically have priority to pit first, Sainz was happy with his mediums and eager to extend his lead. Instead, Leclerc and Piastri were the first in to switch to hard tyres at the end of lap nine, emerging behind Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly. Crucially, Leclerc cleared Gasly along Lakeside Drive before picking off Hulkenberg into the next corner of turn 11, meaning he lost a total of just two seconds behind the midfield cars.

That free air allowed Leclerc to push at over a second a lap quicker than Norris ahead, meaning he would jump ahead of the McLaren when he and Perez eventually pitted at the end of lap 14. Piastri also moved ahead of his team mate as a result, meaning Norris had dropped from second to a net fourth place.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

When Sainz pitted from the lead at the end of lap 16 he rejoined just seconds ahead of Leclerc but metres behind Alonso’s Aston Martin, the final of the leading drivers still running on their starting tyres. Before Sainz could pass Alonso to reclaim his lead, however, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes power unit suddenly turned off along the back straight, forcing him to pull off track and join Verstappen in retirement.

Lewis Hamilton
Neither Mercedes scored – Hamilton’s car broke down

As the field slowed to allow the Mercedes to be pushed behind the barriers, Alonso took advantage to pit and emerge in fifth, jumping ahead of several rivals who had stopped before him. Sainz was back in first, with Leclerc the tail in what was now a Ferrari one-two. Piastri was around three seconds off the Ferraris in third, with Norris a few more behind his team mate and catching.

Norris was on fresher tyres than Piastri, who had undercut him with the benefit of fresh rubber following his earlier stop. But Piastri was not gaining on the Ferraris and it was clear Norris had more pace in hand. Despite being at his home grand prix, McLaren gave Piastri the order to move aside for his team mate, and he politely obliged on the run down to turn three on lap 29.

Over the next handful of laps, Norris ground away the gap until he was within two seconds of the Ferrari. Leclerc complained that his left-front tyre was now far beyond its best. McLaren heard this message and ordered Norris to pit to overtake him, but Ferrari beat them to it by pitting Leclerc for a second set of hard tyres at the end of lap 34.

It took several laps for McLaren to do the same, Piastri stopping first on lap 39 before Norris made his second stop one lap later. While Norris retained third, Piastri rejoined behind Alonso in fifth. Within two laps, Piastri passed the Aston Martin to retake fourth, but the time he lost with that exchange plus an error at turn 13 saw him run off track briefly left him around five seconds further back from his team mate than before.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2024
Leclerc had no answer for his team mate’s pace

Leader Sainz was again the last of the front runners to make his stop, pitting for a second set of hard tyres at the end of lap 41. When he exited the pit lane, the two-second advantage he had held over his team mate at the start of his second stint had practically tripled to around six seconds at the end of it. Sainz only had to check off the final 17 laps of the race and a third career win was surely his.

Leclerc appeared unable to chisel into his team mate’s lead, but the same could also be said for Norris behind. Piastri was slowly slipping away from the back of his team mate in fourth, but the pace of the second McLaren was still clearly superior to that of fifth-placed Perez, who was soon more than ten seconds off the back of Piastri.

With the gaps at the top of the order appearing to have stabilised, the greatest intrigue was the battle over sixth place between Alonso and the sole remaining Mercedes of George Russell. Between laps 35 and 53 – with a pit stop for both in the middle – Russell had gradually inched bit by bit from five seconds behind Alonso to within DRS range. Russell’s tyres were five laps newer than Alonso’s and the Mercedes driver was using them to put the Aston Martin under increasing pressure as the race headed towards its conclusion.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Heading into the final laps, Russell had gained considerably down the back straight with the help of DRS, but had not been close enough to make a move. Aiming to get the best exit possible out of turns six and seven and onto Lakeside Drive, Alonso had hit the brakes at roughly the same point every lap on the way into the right hander before sweeping through the corner. But as they exited turn five for the 57th time in the race, Russell was within half a second of his rival.

Fernando Alonso, George Russell, Albert Park, 2024
Alonso’s efforts to keep Russell behind caused controversy

Hoping to compromise the Mercedes’ entry onto the fastest section of the course, Alonso tried to hold up Russell through the fast turn six sweeper. As he ran under the spectator bridge, he lifted off the throttle and lightly dabbed the brake, before hitting the throttle pedal again to take his normal approach into the corner. Russell suddenly closed to around a car length of Alonso’s rear as he turned in, but the aero wash from being so close to the Aston Martin ahead robbed his car of downforce at the most critical moment, causing him to slide wide and onto the gravel.

With the momentum of his 800kg car bouncing over the gravel at around 120kph, Russell could do nothing to avoid the barriers. While the impact was not as hard as others seen at the corner, the damage to his suspension caused Russell’s left-rear wheel to buckle under the car. The W15 came to a rest sideways across the track, propped up on its side and exposed to any approaching traffic coming around the blind entry.

“Red flag! Red flag! Red flag! I’m in the middle of the track!” Russell frantically pleaded over the radio. “Red, red, red! I’m in the middle. Fucking hell!”

Mercifully, Russell crashed with a relatively large gap to any cars behind him. There was 10 seconds between him hitting the barrier and the first car of Lance Stroll arriving to the yellow flag zone – more than enough time for Aston Martin to warn him of the danger ahead. Just 13 seconds after impact, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed to neutralise the rest of the field, effectively ending the race under a caution for the second consecutive year.

Having escaped without any secondary impacts, Russell was able to climb out of the car unassisted and climb into the Medical Car which had been almost immediately released following the VSC. With Russell safe and sound, the celebrations could begin in earnest at Ferrari. With only the final lap to complete, Sainz encouraged his team mate to draw as close as he could to him for a formation finish.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Just two weeks after his emergency surgery, Sainz had turned 10 days in bed into 25 points and his third grand prix victory.

Yuki Tsunoda, RB, Albert Park, 2024
Tsunoda’s excellent weekend was well rewarded

“Ha, ha, ha! This is amazing!,” he exclaimed over the radio crossing the line. “Life is a rollercoaster, eh? Life is incredible sometimes.”

Leclerc was more muted in his reaction to the team’s first one-two in over two years, but this seemed more a reflection of his frustration at going from the favourite for pole position to being beaten by his team mate when it mattered most on Saturday and Sunday – much as in Singapore last year. He took the point for fastest lap as a bonus, but admitted he “hadn’t been good enough” overall.

Norris claimed McLaren’s first podium of the season in third, with Piastri giving the over 100,000 Australians around Albert Park reason for cheer in fourth. With his team mate out early, Perez could only manage fifth in the second Red Bull – but the post-race apology from his team principal suggested that this was not simply poor Perez performance but that his team simply failed to extract as much from their car as their rivals did.

Alonso crossed the line in sixth place after complaining of a peculiar throttle problem on his way back to the pit lane. But hours later following an investigation by the stewards, Alonso was hit with a post-race drive-through penalty of 20 seconds for ‘potentially dangerous driving’ by braking in an ‘erratic’ manor before Russell’s heavy crash. That promoted team mate Stroll up to sixth and dropped him to eighth.

Yuki Tsunoda therefore gained seventh, taking RB’s first points of the season after another weekend in which he put team mate Daniel Ricciardo firmly in the shame. Behind Alonso, there was jubilation in the Haas garage as the final two points places were taken by Hulkenberg and team mate Kevin Magnussen, giving the team a crucial early lead of four points over rivals Williams, Sauber and Alpine in the constructors’ championship. After being gifted his team mate’s car, Albon was just one place away from justifying Williams’ controversial Friday night decision in 11th.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2024
Ferrari hailed their outgoing driver’s latest victory

But the story of the day, and the weekend, was Sainz. As he reflected later, given the start to the season he’d had, this was clearly the most emotional victory in his motorsport career.

“It’s the whole start to the year in general, how the year started with the news of the [contract] non-renewal,” he said. “Then you get yourself fit. You get yourself ready for the start of the season, pushing flat out.

“You get to Bahrain, you do a good podium. You say, ‘okay, now the season is starting well and I can keep the momentum going’. And suddenly, boom – you’re missing a race in Jeddah and the operation.

“Long days in bed, not knowing if I was going to be back in time. Obviously, a lot of unknowns. ‘Am I going to be back fit? Am I going to be back feeling still good with the car?’ And then suddenly you come back and win. So, yes, what I said on the radio, life is a rollercoaster sometimes, but it can be really nice and good to you sometimes. Just letting it sink in and enjoying the moment.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Become a RaceFans Supporter

RaceFans is run thanks in part to the generous support of its readers. By contributing £1 per month or £12 per year (or the same in whichever currency you use) you can help cover the costs of creating, hosting and developing RaceFans today and in the future.

Become a RaceFans Supporter today and browse the site ad-free. Sign up or find out more via the links below:

2024 Australian Grand Prix

Browse all 2024 Australian Grand Prix articles

F1 race reviews

Read all F1 race reviews

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here