FIA chief Ben Sulayem backed by American bodies over grand prix controversies

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MELBOURNE: Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. surged to victory at the Australian Grand Prix Sunday to snap Red Bull’s winning start to the season after three-time world champion Max Verstappen sensationally failed to finish.

The Spaniard, who had appendicitis surgery two weeks ago, took the chequered flag 2.3 seconds ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, with McLaren’s Lando Norris a bold third.

It was his third grand prix win and first since Singapore last year.

“I’m happy to be in a one-two with Charles here. It shows that hard work pays off,” said Sainz, who missed the last race in Saudi Arabia and was bed-ridden for a week afterwards.

“Life sometimes is crazy ... the podium in Bahrain, then the appendix, the comeback, the win. It’s a rollercoaster but I loved it and I’m extremely happy.”

While he celebrated, it was a disastrous day for pole-sitter Verstappen, who limped out with smoke billowing from his car after being passed by front-row partner Sainz on lap two.

The Dutchman blamed a brake issue for his first retirement in two years.

“What we can see so far from the data is that as soon as the lights went off the right-rear brake just stuck on,” he said.

“It just caused the damage and it kept on increasing so it was also basically driving with the handbrake on.” 

Carlos Sainz Jr.

It was also a horror race for Lewis Hamilton in his inconsistent Mercedes, with the British seven-time world champion suffering engine failure on lap 17.

To add to Mercedes’ woes, teammate George Russell crashed heavily on the last lap with the car ending on its side.

Russell climbed out unscathed, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso faulted for “potentially dangerous” driving over the incident and slapped with a 20-second penalty.

Verstappen emphatically won the opening two grands prix of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with both a Red Bull 1-2, and was hot favorite to make it three from three.

He had been aiming to match his own record set last year of 10 consecutive wins — one more than Sebastian Vettel in 2013 — and was unbeaten in his last 18 starts from pole position.

But while Verstappen was favored to win, the Ferraris had proved highly competitive in practice and qualifying on the fast and flowing Albert Park track.

Despite not being fully fit, Sainz, whose seat at Ferrari is to be taken by Hamilton next year, topped Q1 and Q2 to fire a warning shot.

Oscar Piastri in the other McLaren was fourth ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. Alonso dropped to eighth after his penalty with teammate Lance Stroll elevated to sixth and RB’s Yuki Tsunoda to seventh.

Haas pair Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10.

“It feels good mostly for the team of course, first and second didn’t happen since Bahrain 2022,” said Leclerc. “Carlos has had an incredible weekend to come back from his surgery, he’s done an amazing race.”

Verstappen made a clean start and pulled clear of Sainz when the lights went out, with Norris holding onto third as they jostled for position.

But his lead didn’t last with Sainz opening his DRS on lap two to slice past before smoke started pouring out of the Red Bull and the Dutchman retired.

Sainz led from Norris and Leclerc before the first pit stops.

Sainz put on fresh rubber on lap 17 and had a 2.6sec lead from Leclerc at the halfway mark, closely followed by Piastri and Norris.

With no Verstappen to contend with, the Spaniard gradually built the gap as Norris passed Piastri to move into third.

Leclerc pitted again and he came back out in fifth on hards, but quickly surged back to second.

Sainz also pitted for a second time and retained his narrow lead to cruise home in front of 130,000 fans.

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