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Catching up with Formula One: Japan

Written by: Sofia Costantino, Edited by: Sean McKean

Our smooth operator, the Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr. triumphed at the Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Urban Circuit, ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc, leading the Ferrari team to its 86th 1-2, their first since the Bahrain GP in 2022, but only seventh in the last 17 years.

Image credits: Motorsport Images

Ferrari and the Tifosi, could only dream of such a result, thanks to the absolute dominance of Max Verstappen and /Red Bull in these last two seasons, with 19 wins in the last 20 GP for the Dutchman, starting this season with two easy and categorical wins in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It ends a streak of nine consecutive wins.

Unexpectedly, a mechanical failure in his RB20 took him out of the race early on the second lap, when the right- rear brake caught fire due to inadequate and sustained hydraulic pressure on the caliper (preparation error), driving it permanently on the carbon disc from the start.

That was Verstappen's first retirement after 43 consecutive points-paying races, his last retirement coming at Albert Park two years ago due to a breakdown of the fuel injection system and a fire. After 11th in Belgium in 2016 – his first year with Red Bull, Verstappen has always been in the points in the all 155 races he has finished.

Image credits: Motorsport Images

Although the start of the season is encouraging for Ferrari, arguably the closest team to Red Bull currently, the same happened in 2022, when Leclerc triumphed in two of the first three races and led the championship to the Spanish GP, then dropped for various reasons, finishing second in the final standings, 246 points behind Verstappen.

Their opportunities were reduced by failures of the Power Unit (in Spain and Azerbaijan), strategic mistakes in Monaco and Hungary) and Leclerc’s own mishandling in France.

The current paradox for Ferrari is that the last time Leclerc won a race was in Spielberg in 2022, while the driver who has won the last two for the team – Singapore 2023 and now Australia 2024 – is Madrid's Carlos Sainz Jr, who will be replaced by seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton from next season.

Image credits: Motorsport Images.

Certainly, the Monegasque is the favorite of the Ferrari board, prevailing to have more consistency and overall results having been together from 2019. Including more points, better qualifying stats and especially pole positions. With 14 of the current 20 active drivers ending their contract at the end of this season, Sainz has a choice instead of looking for where to go. 

Even returning to the Red Bull family, where he was with Verstappen in 2015 and part of 2016 at Toro Rosso. In that case, it will not be easy for him, nor will it be easy for Leclerc in Ferrari, who will have nothing less than a seven-time world champion, like Lewis Hamilton, who has always wanted to bend his teammates, with whom he hates to lose.

Hamilton’s toxic and poisonous relationships with Fernando Alonso in McLaren and Nico Rosberg in Mercedes are a reflection of how inflexible the multi-champions are to achieve that goal. 

While Red Bull's mishap can be solved with a resounding response, as they did in Japan after last season's Singapore failure, the Australian race was not only a relief for Ferrari and the F1 conglomerate (except Red Bull), but also showed glimmers of a possible Ferrari rebound. 

Image credits: Motorsport Images.

We'll never know for sure what would’ve happened had the race played out, but Red Bull didn't seem to be on a competitive level with Ferrari in Australia. Because of the times and difficulties they showed in the free practices, they had to change the programming of PL3 because they did not do well in the long runs of FP2.

Instead, Ferrari led in all practices, including Q1 and Q2, only to lose out on a Sainz pole to Verstappen by a sudden oversteer at Turn nine, which cost the Spaniard at least a couple tenths of a second. The pace of the Madrid driver rider was impeccable, proving – like Verstappen – that being ahead gives a huge advantage in performance, including that of the tyres.

There's a lot ahead. For now, dreaming is free, miracles do happen and who says you can't win without the newly extracted appendix?


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