CARLOS Sainz claimed an emotional first victory of the season at the Australian F1 Grand Prix, overcoming illness to lead home a magnificent Ferrari 1-2 with teammate Charles Leclerc. Lando Norris was third for McLaren on an afternoon on which Championship leader Max Verstappen failed to finish.

Just two weeks ago, Sainz was forced to miss the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix when he had to undergo appendix surgery, but in Melbourne a sensational recovery was sealed within a few laps of the start. When the lights went out, pole position man Verstappen got away well ahead of front row starter Sainz, taking the lead into Turn 1 with Norris third. By the end of lap one, the Dutchman was almost out of Drag Reduction System (DRS) range of the lead Ferrari, and it looked like the three-time champion was settling into his customary race dominance.

However, on Turn 7, Verstappen slid wide and Sainz was able to power past the Dutchman to take the lead. Verstappen was quickly on the radio telling his team his car felt “loose at the rear”, but his issues escalated moments later when smoke began to pour from the rear right of his car. With his brakes on fire, Verstappen was forced to slow and though he managed to limp back to the pits, his race was over, the first time the Red Bull driver had failed to finish in two years.

Sainz began to establish a gap and by lap 7 he was two-seconds clear of Norris and Leclerc. The Spaniard was then able to manage his tyres to the first round of pit stops. Behind him Norris was being put under pressure by Leclerc, but the Ferrari driver dived to the pits at the end of lap nine, Norris tried to go longer on his starting tyres but Leclerc’s early stop worked well and when Norris pitted, he’d been passed by Leclerc and team-mate Oscar Piastri.

Sainz pitted at the end of lap 16, promoting Fernando Alonso into the lead, but within seconds, Lewis Hamilton slowed and pulled to the side of the track, his race ended by a power unit failure. A virtual safety car was deployed and Alonso pitted, taking advantage as the field slowed around him. But Sainz was back in the lead, with Leclerc second ahead of Piastri and Norris. Alonso was now fifth ahead of Sergio Pérez who was gaining ground, and on lap 27 the Mexican was past Alonso. At half distance, Sainz was six seconds clear of Leclerc, and with Norris on fresher tyres than his team-mate, McLaren decided to switch him ahead of Piastri with Sergio Pérez fifth 11 seconds back, and that was how the top five remained until the finish.

The Aston Martins of Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll finished sixth and seventh, Yuki Tsunoda was eighth with the Haas pair of Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen rounding out the top ten. After the race Alonso was called to see the stewards and was handed a 20-second penalty for “potentially dangerous” driving, which dropped him from sixth to eighth promoting team-mate Lance Stroll to sixth and Yuki Tsunoda to seventh. Referencing his surgery and having to miss the last race, Sainz said that life is a roller-coaster, but can be really nice and good to you sometimes, and that he was letting his return and his win sink in and just enjoying the moment.