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Just two weeks ago, in the bustling paddock of Jeddah, Carlos Sainz was seen moving slowly, visibly in discomfort, observing the Jeddah Grand Prix from the Ferrari box. His presence was intended to provide radio support to his replacement, Oliver Bearman. It was the first time in his career that Sainz had to miss a race weekend, whether it be in Formula BMW, his first single-seater category, or in Formula 1. Already on the Thursday before the race, he was absent from the paddock due to a suspected case of gastroenteritis. Despite participating in Friday's free practice sessions, the pain persisted and intensified. Further checks revealed that Carlos needed urgent surgery due to acute appendicitis, and so it was.

After the event in Jeddah, Sainz returned to Spain, where he spent seven days in bed, unable to train or work on the simulator with the team. His participation in the Australian Grand Prix was uncertain: "I'm not stupid," he said in Melbourne on Thursday, "if I feel physical issues, I won't race. It doesn't make sense to risk it." Bearman was again ready to step in if necessary. During Friday's free practice sessions, Sainz felt relatively okay, albeit not at his peak. After further evaluations, he decided to continue the weekend and secured an exceptional second place in qualifying. "If I had been at my peak physically, I would have grabbed pole position," he stated, while Max Verstappen, beside him, seemed surprised by such a declaration.

The race was an epic one. Sainz, starting from second position, watched Verstappen take the lead as usual. However, he didn't allow him to pull away too much, staying glued to his rear. On the second lap, taking advantage of a mistake by the Red Bull driver at turn 3, Sainz seized the opportunity and overtook him boldly. Shortly after, Verstappen began experiencing issues with the rear of his RB20, with smoke emanating from the right side. A brake disc had practically disintegrated due to excessive overheating, causing flames that were promptly extinguished in the pits.

Sainz, leading from the second lap, faced 56 laps ahead at full pace. The fear of encountering problems due to lack of training for over two weeks was present, but he managed the situation magnificently: "After halfway through the race, I started to struggle, the muscles were stiff, but I made it," he reported. When he noticed Charles Leclerc behind him, seemingly ready to challenge him, Sainz responded with two quick laps that showcased his determination. From the Ferrari pit, advice came to Leclerc to keep calm and protect the two McLarens, preparing possibly for an attack from Sergio Perez's Red Bull, who, however, remained consistently behind.

Sainz masterfully handled every aspect of the Grand Prix, gifting himself and Ferrari a spectacular victory. He was the one who brought the Maranello team to the top step of the podium in 2023, in Singapore. And it was again him who played the Italian anthem in Formula 1 at the beginning of 2024, interrupting the dominance of Red Bull and Verstappen, who hadn't retired for 43 races. However, Ferrari's success wasn't solely down to Sainz. Leclerc, starting fourth, demonstrated skills and precision comparable to his teammate's, although he must have felt frustrated to be beaten in qualifying and the race by Sainz, especially considering the latter wasn't in peak physical condition.

Verstappen's retirement was an unforeseen event. The natural question is whether Ferrari would still have won even if Red Bull hadn't encountered problems in the pits. Sainz is convinced they would have: Ferrari's race pace was impressive, the Melbourne circuit didn't excessively wear the tires, and all the conditions to overtake Verstappen were there. This was also evidenced by Perez's disappointing performance, demoted from third to sixth on the grid for impeding Nico Hulkenberg in qualifying. Despite his previous performances, Perez struggled and only managed fifth, confirming that the RB20 wasn't comfortable on the Australian track.

McLaren-Mercedes had an excellent race. Lando Norris claimed third place, while Oscar Piastri finished fourth. At one point, the team asked Piastri, who was ahead, to let his faster teammate pass to try to attack Leclerc, but Ferrari's pace proved superior. Norris couldn't overtake him, and Piastri made a mistake that distanced him from the battle, making it impossible to return the position.

Aston Martin-Mercedes remained at the same level as in previous races, with Fernando Alonso finishing sixth, although he is under investigation for alleged misconduct towards George Russell on the last lap. Although there were no physical consequences for Russell, it was a finish that reflected Mercedes' difficult moment, which saw Lewis Hamilton retire in the early stages of the race.

Lance Stroll secured a solid seventh place, earning crucial points for the second Aston Martin. Yuki Tsunoda had an excellent weekend, remaining consistently competitive from free practice to the finish line, thus securing the first points of the season for Racing Bulls-Honda with an eighth-place finish. Both Haas-Ferraris finished in the top 10, with Nico Hulkenberg in ninth and Kevin Magnussen in tenth, showing skill in capitalizing on the retirements of the two Mercedes and Verstappen. Alexander Albon, with the only Williams-Mercedes present, failed to enter the points zone, finishing eleventh. Daniel Ricciardo finished twelfth with the second Racing Bulls, struggling compared to Tsunoda throughout the race. Alpine-Renault and Sauber-Ferrari faced a race characterized by the usual difficulties.

© Cavalieri Garage & Co.


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