Ferrari flair to Mercedes despair: Australian GP talking points

In Sports
March 28, 2024



MELBOURNE:

Flawless drives from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in Melbourne coupled with Max Verstappen’s retirement ensured Red Bull will not have it all their own way this season.

Just four points now separate Leclerc and the Dutch defending world champion in the drivers standings, with Sainz seven points further back ahead of the fourth race at Japan in two weeks.

AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix:

Sainz and Leclerc both said before the Melbourne race that the Scuderia were edging closer to Red Bull and a fast weekend culminating in their masterful one-two proved the point.

After winning the opening two grands prix of the season, Verstappen looked destined to run away with the championship but the title race is now wide open after he retired with brake failure.

“The team deserves this one-two, we did a fantastic job all weekend, from FP1 to the last lap,” said Sainz, who topped the podium two weeks after having his appendix out.

“We executed a perfect race, nailed the strategy and the mechanics were incredible delivering precise and quick pit stops every single time.”

Team chief Fred Vasseur was understandably delighted, but remained cautious with a long season and 21 more races ahead.

“We were not disappointed with our results in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, nor are we getting carried away because of this one-two finish,” he said.

“We must continue with this approach in the coming races because that’s the only way we are going to get the results we want.”

While Red Bull and Ferrari remain a level above everyone else, McLaren are beginning to assert control of a tight midfield ahead of the inconsistent Mercedes and Aston Martin teams.

Lando Norris’s impressive third and Oscar Piastri’s fourth propelled the Woking-based team to 55 points in the constructors standings, 29 ahead of Mercedes and 30 clear of Aston Martin.

The fast and flowing Albert Park circuit suited the MCL38 car, with Norris believing he had the pace to have finished ahead of Leclerc, if only his first pit stop had been better.

“He undercut us in the first stint so maybe a little bit of hope for second place. I think our pace was strong enough,” said the Briton, who is confident of more podiums.

“But it’s still another step to Ferrari, to Red Bull. They are one or two steps ahead of us still so we need to catch up, but it’s clear that we’re getting closer.”

The once-mighty Mercedes won eight consecutive constructors’ titles from 2014-2021 but are a shadow of their former selves with the problems compounding in Melbourne.

With engine failure forcing Lewis Hamilton out and George Russell escaping a heavy crash on the penultimate lap, the British team failed to be in the points for the first time in 62 races.

A despondent Hamilton said it was one of his worst ever starts to a season, with little prospect of better days in the short-term.

“It is tough that we are not as competitive as we would like at the moment, but we will keep working hard,” said the seven-time world champion, who is taking Sainz’s seat at Ferrari next season.

“In the short term, I expect we will still find it difficult to challenge further up, but we will see what we can do in the medium term.”

Team principal Toto Wolff said they must keep looking forward.

“Nobody feels positive about where we find ourselves right now, but we are focused on turning this around. It is tough to take but we will remain calm and composed,” he said.

“We have seen others who have shown that when you get it right, things can turn around quickly. That is what we are aiming to do.”

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