Formula 1

George Russell’s safety fears after frantic pleas to stop Australian Grand Prix

George Russell’s safety fears after frantic pleas to stop Australian Grand Prix

George Russell was left stranded in the middle of the track after crashing out of the Australian Grand Prix – Getty Images/Joe Portlock

British driver George Russell was left in a state of panic after his high-speed crash in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix as he was left stranded in the middle of the Albert Park track in his stricken Mercedes.

Russell was challenging the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso on the penultimate lap for sixth place when he lost control behind the Spaniard’s car and went off track, slamming into the tyre barriers on the outside of Turn Six.

The incident, which saw Alonso handed a 20-second penalty post-race for “dangerous driving” as he deliberately slowed down early before the corner, resulted in Russell’s car spinning back onto the track where it was left stranded on its side with oncoming cars approaching at speeds in excess of 135mph.

“I’m in the middle! Red! F—— hell!” Russell screamed to his race engineer on his radio, frantically calling for a red flag 12 times.

Russell’s frantic pleas to stop the race fell on deaf ears though, with the race director waiting more than 10 seconds after his Mercedes came to a standstill before deploying the Virtual Safety Car instead – which reduces speeds to between 30 and 40 per cent of full race pace.

“Why so long?” Russell asked on his radio as team principal Toto Wolff checked in on his condition. “[It’s] too long. I’m OK, I’m in the middle of the track, the car’s upside down.”

The crash ended a miserable weekend for Mercedes, as Lewis Hamilton – who is now enduring his worst start to a Formula One season – retired with engine failure on lap 17, having been running ninth, and Wolff said it was “fair” to ask whether he was still the right man to lead Mercedes after neither of his drivers finished and the team were left bewildered as to their fluctuating form.

After a winter in which they completely changed their car’s underlying philosophy in a bid to establish a more consistent baseline, Mercedes are now looking at a third-straight year of playing catch-up.

Wolff said the team were at a loss to explain why their car performed in certain conditions and not in others. “What we see in the tunnel doesn’t correlate to what we see on the track,” he admitted.

‘We have not swallowed a dumb pill since 2021’

Asked whether he still felt he was the right man to lead, Wolff added: “I would be the first one to say [if he felt someone was better placed]. If somebody has a better idea, tell me because I am invested to turn this team around as quickly as possible.

“But we have a physics problem, not a philosophical or organisational problem. We have not swallowed a dumb pill since 2021. We don’t understand some of the behaviours of the car and in the past we would.

“I look at myself in the mirror every single day about everything I do and if I believe I should ask the manager question or the trainer question. It is a fair question but it is not what I feel at the moment that I should do.”

Wolff, who is co-owner and chief executive of Mercedes F1, as well as team principal, signed a new three-year contract in January, shortly before Hamilton told him he was defecting to Ferrari next season.

He added: “The big difference is, this is my job and I [can’t just] stop and go to Chelsea or Liverpool or over to Ferrari. I have not got that choice which is also unfortunate. I am not a contractor or an employee who can say ‘I have had enough of this’. My hamster wheel keeps spinning and I cannot jump out.

“We always need to look at ourselves. I need to look at myself. We are all humans. Data don’t take decisions, humans do.”

Fernando Alonso hit with penalty for causing George Russell’s crash at Australian Grand Prix

This race was just what the doctor ordered. Or at least the neutral. A wild Australian Grand Prix ended in controversy, with Fernando Alonso handed a 20-second penalty post-race for causing George Russell to crash spectacularly on the penultimate lap. The Englishman was left suspended, nearly upside-down, in the middle of the Albert Park circuit, after clipping the barriers at turn six. Fortunately, he emerged unhurt from his wreckage.

Crucially, it also ended without a Red Bull winning. Max Verstappen’s hopes of wrapping up what would have been a record-equalling 10th consecutive victory – and a hat-trick of wins this season – went up in flames on lap four when his brakes caught fire. The Dutchman’s first retirement in 43 races allowed Carlos Sainz, only just out of hospital after having his appendix removed, to lead team-mate Charles Leclerc home in a Ferrari one-two, with McLaren’s Lando Norris third.

Ferrari’s unbounded joy at the finish was matched only by Mercedes’ misery. Lewis Hamilton, like his team-mate, also failed to reach the finish, retiring with engine failure on lap 17. He had been running ninth. The combination of a double-DNF and a worrying lack of pace left Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admitting he wanted to “punch himself in the nose”.

Alonso’s punishment will probably help to deflect some of the attention away, although really it should not. Russell was only in seventh at the time of his crash, nearly a lap down on the leaders.

It was hugely unfortunate though. Russell had closed to within a second of Alonso and was sizing up a move on the penultimate lap when the Spaniard appeared to brake much earlier than normal heading into the high-speed Turn 6, before getting back on the throttle, and then braking again.

Surprised and driving in a pocket of dirty air, Russell lost control, skidding across the gravel trap and clipping the barriers on the outside of the corner, causing his wheels to come loose and ultimately flipping the car onto its side.

Speaking later, before going in to see the stewards, Russell was impressively sanguine, saying he did “not want to point fingers or accuse anyone of anything” and trusting that Alonso must have had “a problem with his car.” It remains to be seen what he will say now that Alonso has been found guilty – possibly not much more given they could be team-mates next year at Mercedes.

He did admit to being scared, though, calling 12 times for a red flag as he sat helpless, suspended in his cockpit, in the middle of the track. The race director ignored his pleas, imposing a virtual safety car instead. “It was not a pleasant place to be, in the middle of a high-speed corner, on the racing line with the VSC taking 10 or 15 seconds to come out,” Russell said. “It doesn’t sound like a lot but you can have three cars come round the corner and when you are doing 250kph and there is a car in the middle of the road… I was really quite worried.”

The stewards panel, which included former driver Johnny Herbert, heard evidence for just under an hour, deliberating for two more before reaching their verdict. They stopped just short of accusing Alonso of intentionally “brake-testing” Russell, saying they “did not have sufficient information to determine whether Alonso’s manoeuvre was intended to cause Russell problems”. But effectively that is what they found, dismissing Alonso’s defence that he merely wanted “to try a different approach to the corner to get a better exit”.

“Should Alonso have the right to try a different approach to the corner? – yes,” the stewards reasoned in a lengthy report published at nearly 8pm local time. “Should Alonso be responsible for dirty air that ultimately caused the incident? – no. However, did he choose to do something, with whatever intent, that was extraordinary? ie lifting, braking, downshifting and all the other elements of the manoeuvre over 100 metres earlier than previously, and much greater than was needed to simply slow earlier for the corner? – yes.”

A 20-second penalty, imposed in lieu of a drive-through, dropped Alonso two places, to eighth in the final classification. The Spaniard said it was “disappointing” to get a penalty for what was “hard but fair racing”.

It was a dramatic conclusion to a race which hardly needed any more drama, what with Verstappen’s fiery exit (“It was like driving with a handbrake on,” he said of his brake issue) and Hamilton’s engine failure, which ensures this is now his worst ever start to a Formula One season.

Max Verstappen’s race ended in the pit lane with a brake issue – Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Sainz’s victory – the third of his career – was a wonderful story, coming just two weeks post-surgery. It also breathes a little bit of life into a championship that had looked dead and buried. Verstappen now leads Leclerc by just four points heading to Suzuka in two weeks’ time. “S— happens,” the world champion shrugged. It certainly did in Australia.

Carlos Sainz reveals ‘24-7 recovery plan’ since major surgery

Carlos Sainz has described his victory in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix as a “rollercoaster” given recent events in his life, noting that life can “sometimes be crazy”.

The Spaniard, who was informed by his Ferrari team at the start of the year that he would be making way for Lewis Hamilton from next season, missed the previous race in Jeddah after surgery to remove his appendix.

But despite feeling “a bit stiff” after “seven days in bed”, Sainz was strong all weekend, pushing Max Verstappen in qualifying before taking advantage of the Red Bull driver’s brake failure early in the race to lead home team-mate Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari one-two.

“Life sometimes is crazy, you know?” an emotional Sainz said after climbing out of his cockpit to rapturous acclaim from the record crowd of 132,000 at Albert Park, vast swathes of which were wearing Ferrari red.

“What happened at the beginning of the year [finding out he was losing his drive], then the podium in Bahrain, then the appendix, the comeback, the win… It’s a rollercoaster. But I loved it. And yeah, I’m extremely happy.”

Sainz is the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race since the start of the 2023 season – Joel Carrett/Shutterstock

Sainz remains the only non-Red Bull driver to have won a race in the last two seasons, and he has now done it twice: in Singapore last year and again here in Australia.

The 29-year-old said the second half of the race had been an “unknown” given his recent surgery. But he said his detailed recovery plan had got him in the best shape possible.

“As soon as I got my appendix removed, I went on the internet and started talking with professionals and said, ‘OK, what helps to speed up recovery?’” Sainz told reporters. “And obviously from that point onwards, I started doing all the things that you can do to speed up recovery – the wounds, the scar tissue, what you can help to be faster on that, talking to other athletes, talking to other doctors in Spain, internationally. And then I put together a plan with my team.

He added: “The reason why athletes recover faster is because you can dedicate 24 hours per day for seven days to recovery. And that’s exactly what I did. I started going to hyperbaric chambers twice a day for one hour, taking an Indiba machine, that is an electromagnetic thing, for the wounds. I was programming my time in bed, my time to go for a walk, my time to eat, the kind of food that you have to recover.”

Asked whether he felt he had “proved a point” to watching team principals, Sainz added: “I don’t know. For sure, it does no harm. [But] I don’t race to prove to team principals or to prove to people my value. I race to prove to myself that if I’m given a car, I can get it done.”

Sainz wins Australian GP as Verstappen retires: As it happened…

06:23 AM GMT

A word for Yuki Tsunoda

He is having a fine season. The RB is probably just about the next fastest car behind the top five teams and he now has four points. Decent.

06:17 AM GMT

Christian Horner speaks

It’s a brake issue [with Verstappen] it looks as if the brake is bound on pretty much from the start of the race. We’ve got all the bits back now and going through the damage and go through and understand exactly what’s caused it. Obviously a driver is going to be frustrated when he gets out of a car after a retirement but he’s been very gracious with the team. It’s a matter of learning from it. We’ve had two years of no mechanical DNFs. Remarkable after three races that he’s leading the championship even with that DNF.

On the value of Verstappen: 

He’s probably not aware of it but he picked up a bit of damage when passing Fernando. He lost [something] from the floor of the car. As soon as you get that your tyre deg gets worse and we were [not quick] at the end of the stint.

06:14 AM GMT

Perez says Ferrari would have won…

…even if Verstappen stayed in.

06:09 AM GMT

Russell speaks

I mean, my take is I’ve gone off and that’s on me but I was half a second behind Fernando 500m before the corner and suddenly he came towards me extremely quick and I was right on his gearbox. I don’t know if he’s got a problem. It’s a bit bizarre in a circumstance like this.

It’s clear he braked 100m before the corner and then went back on the throttle again and took the corner normally… so I am not going to accuse him of anything until I’ve seen the data. Suddenly he slowed up dramatically and got back on the power, I wasn’t expecting it and it caught me by surprise. That part is on me but it’s interesting that we’ve been called to the stewards… intrigued to see what they have to say.

06:04 AM GMT

Fernando Alonso speaks

Obviously I was focusing in front of me and not behind. I had some issues on the last 15 laps on the battery on deployment. I was definitely struggling a little bit on the end of the race but I cannot focus on the car behind. I knew that he was coming and he was on the DRS distance for five to six laps. It was very close. I said I was doing qualifying laps and trying to maximise the pace. It was not an easy weekend or easy race. We got lucky with the strategy when Lewis [went off] and there was a Safety Car.

The incident of Russell’s crash is being looked at by the stewards. I am not sure that he did anything wrong. Some have suggested that Alonso perhaps brake checked Russell but I cannot see that in any way. Russell was in the corner when the incident happened. Alonso was accelerating out of it.

05:58 AM GMT

Updated constructor standings

Red Bull’s lead is cut to four points by Ferrari. Encouraging? Not quite. The only way Ferrari have a hope of challenging Red Bull is if Perez’s form drops off the cliff. After two solid second place finishes in rounds one and two he struggled to make his way through the field today and finished fifth. I don’t think Ferrari pose a realistic championship threat but it shows that if Verstappen encounters problems then Red Bull are far from a shoo-in.

05:52 AM GMT

Updated driver standings

Verstappen still leads but his lead is cut to four points ahead of Leclerc. Sainz has only done two races but has 40 points. I think, realistically, Verstappen would probably need to continue his current DNF rate of one third for anyone to have a look in at the championship but it is nice to have another winner.

05:47 AM GMT

The Russell crash is being looked at by the stewards

Not sure what happened exactly but Alonso was there.

05:42 AM GMT

A few more shots of Russell’s crash…

George Russell crashes

George Russell crashes

George Russell crashes

George Russell crashes

05:36 AM GMT

Charles Leclerc speaks

It feels good mostly for the team of course. First and second didn’t happen since Bahrain 2022. It’s amazing that we can do that. Carlos has had an incredible weekend to come back after his surgery. On my side I struggled a bit more with the first hard. First and second was the best we could do. In the first stint we had to protect behind we had to stop a bit earlier and from that point Carlos was too fast… again Carlos has done a better job all weekend and he definitely deserves that victory.

05:35 AM GMT

Charles and Carlos celebrate

The last two Ferrari wins have been Sainz’s. But he is out of the team for 2025…

05:34 AM GMT

Norris and Sainz on the podium again

Former team-mates at McLaren.

05:33 AM GMT

Carlos Sainz speaks

It was a really good race, I felt really good out there. Especially physically it wasn’t the easiest but I was lucky that I was more or less on my own and I could manage my pace and my tyres. Very happy, very proud of the team, happy to be in a 1-2 with Charles here. Life sometimes is crazy. What happened at the beginning of the year, then the appendix. A rollercoaster.

05:27 AM GMT

Australian GP – Classification

  • SAI

  • LEC

  • NOR

  • PIA

  • PER

  • ALO

  • STR

  • TSU

  • HUL

  • MAG

  • ALB

  • RIC

  • GAS

  • BOT

  • ZHO

  • OCO

  • OUT: RUS, HAM, VER

    05:27 AM GMT

    It’s a Ferrari 1-2…

    …and a McLaren 3-4. Perez in fifth. That Russell crash means Kevin Magnussen picks up the final point for Haas, who score three points here, a double points finish.

    05:26 AM GMT

    CARLOS SAINZ WINS THE 2024 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX

    “Charles should come close to me and we celebrate this one together,” he says.

    Well done that man.

    Sainz crosses the line to take a stunning victory, composed and only two weeks after he had his appendix out. Russell’s Mercedes is strewn across the track and drivers have to creep by behind the medical car. Replays show it wasn’t actually that high-speed a crash for Russell but it was still a pretty hefty shunt.

    05:24 AM GMT

    FINAL LAP – RUSSELL HAS HAD A BIG CRASH!

    HIS CAR IS RESTING ON ITS SIDE ON THE TRACK. He was trying to get Fernando Alonso and ended up in the barriers at high-speed. It’s a double DNF for Mercedes and we will finish under VSC conditions…

    We just caught him spinning through the gravel and then into the wall… looked a big one but he say he’s OK.

    05:23 AM GMT

    Lap 57 of 58 – Sainz leads Leclerc by 3.4sec

    Sainz approaching some backmarkers as he enters his final lap but he’s not going to lose this time unless he bins it.

    05:22 AM GMT

    Lap 56 of 58 – We haven’t had a great deal of action out front unfortunately

    Sainz says his tyres do not feel great… he’s lost around 1.4sec in the last lap or so but surely he has enough…

    Leclerc sets fastest lap of the race… Norris now more than three seconds behind. 

    05:20 AM GMT

    Lap 55 of 58 – Sainz leads Leclerc by five seconds

    Sainz has seen off any Leclerc threat and Leclerc has seen off any Norris threat, you’d think. 2.5sec the gap now between those two, so only a mistake will deny him the second spot of the podium.

    05:19 AM GMT

    Lap 54 of 58 – Alonso under pressure

    Russell has DRS… he has a look at turn 11 but backs out.

    05:17 AM GMT

    Lap 53 of 58 – Russell closing in on Alonso for sixth

    Perez ahead is a step too far… the gap being 16 seconds. A nice calm race from Ferrari today. We haven’t had many of those in the last couple of years. Well, that’s not fair, but not often when they’ve been at the front.

    05:16 AM GMT

    Lap 52 of 58 – Perez hasn’t really had the pace this stint

    He has made no inroads into Piastri and that is with the McLaren running off and losing at least three seconds for his troubles. Meanwhile, Sainz extends his lead again to five seconds over Leclerc.

    05:15 AM GMT

    Lap 51 of 58 – Speaking of Aussies

    Another troubled race for Ricciardo. He’s in 13th but 11 seconds behind Tsunoda. It’s not absolutely awful by any means, but is a long way from what he would hope.

    Daniel Ricciardo of RB in action during the Australian Grand Prix 2024 at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia 24 March 2024

    He is a long way from out-performing his team-mate, let alone the car…

    05:12 AM GMT

    Lap 50 of 58 – Leclerc finds some pace

    It just takes the edge off the gap to Norris behind. Piastri having a lonely race out in fourth now. Not a bad result for the home lad but a podium would have been lovely. Didn’t quite have the pace, though.

    05:10 AM GMT

    Lap 49 of 58 – Top 10 and gaps

  • SAI

  • LEC +5.5

  • NOR +9.4

  • PIA +18.6

  • PER +29.4

  • ALO +45.6

  • RUS +47.6

  • STR +56.7

  • TSU +59.7

  • HUL +61.9

  • 05:09 AM GMT

    Lap 48 of 58 – Hamilton’s worst ever start to an F1 season

    Been looking back through the records and this – 9th, 7th and DNF – is now officially Lewis Hamilton’s worst start to a Formula One season after three races. Previous worst was 2009 when he started DSQ, 7th and 6th.

    05:08 AM GMT

    Lap 47 of 58 – Norris sets the fastest lap

    Could Leclerc be under pressure at the end of the race here? Quite possibly.

    05:08 AM GMT

    Lap 46 of 58 – Verstappen’s tyres after that retirement

    05:07 AM GMT

    Lap 45 of 58 – Ferrari respond out front

    Having said that of McLaren, Sainz then sets the fastest first sector of anyone. Which then becomes the fastest lap of anyone to extend his lead to 5.2sec over Leclerc.

    Russell does pit…

    05:06 AM GMT

    Lap 44 of 58 – McLaren looking to have the pace

    Maybe they are pushing more than Ferrari.

    05:04 AM GMT

    Lap 43 of 78 – Sainz leads Leclerc by 5.1sec

    Norris in third is a further 4.3sec with Piastri 8.9sec behind him. Russell is in fifth and might go to the end? He says his tyres feel good. Perez is five seconds behind him and lapping faster but a top-six would be a good result for Mercedes and Russell here.

    Norris sets the fastest lap of the race… which then Piastri beats.

    05:03 AM GMT

    Lap 42 of 58 – Sainz with a seven-lap tyre advantage over his team-mate behind

    Also a five-second time advantage. You would imagine that the Spaniard just needs to keep it on the black stuff. McLaren don’t really have the pace to challenge Ferrari today, though are not a million miles behind.

    05:01 AM GMT

    Lap 41 of 58 – Norris has a six-lap tyre advantage over Leclerc

    That is for second placed. Sainz dives into the pit lane… this is a crucial stop. He should get out fairly comfortably ahead of his team-mate Leclerc and he does. Piastri gets Alonso for fourth as the Aston Martin driver pits…

    04:59 AM GMT

    Lap 40 of 58 – No Safety Cars yet

    I can’t say this has been the most thrilling race, the two dramatic retirements of Verstappen and Hamilton aside. That Verstappen will not win it is something to shout about but hopefully we get a thrilling final 18 laps.

    McLaren mechanics out in the pit lane for Norris…

    04:58 AM GMT

    Lap 39 of 58 – Top 10 as Piastri pits

  • SAI

  • NOR

  • PIA

  • LEC

  • ALO

  • RUS

  • PER

  • STR

  • GAS

  • TSU

  • 04:58 AM GMT

    Lap 38 of 58 – Sainz leads Norris by 9.5sec

    Norris keeping the gap roughly at that point. Sainz says he wants a buffer when he next pits as Piastri runs wide at the penultimate turn. That loses him about three or four seconds and will do his tyres no good at all.

    He comes into the pits now. Perhaps wisely.

    04:56 AM GMT

    Lap 37 of 58 – Leclerc’s pace looks good…

    He sets the fastest lap of the race, a full second faster than leader Sainz and 1.2sec faster than Piastri 13 seconds ahead.

    04:55 AM GMT

    Lap 36 of 58 – Sainz leads Norris by 10 seconds

    Sauber having terrible problems with their pit stops again. Zhou is stationery for ages. It’s a fundamental issue, it seems, with how they change the wheels. It’s ruining their race, not like they were going to score any points.

    Let’s look at Leclerc’s pace on the fresh hard tyres.

    Albon says Hulkenberg is weaving in the braking zone as he tries to get 11th place from him.

    Aussie watch: Ricciardo has been lapped and is in 15th.

    04:53 AM GMT

    Lap 35 of 58 – Perez back under pressure from Alonso

    Russell about a further eight seconds behind as Mercedes’ struggles continue. Leclerc says his tyres have gone and wants to come in fairly soon.

    In comes Leclerc… Piastri and Norris do not pit. Leclerc just gets out ahead of Perez. But can he keep the place? Yes… but it gives Alonso behind an opening which he cannot take in the first few corners…

    It shouldn’t really be the case that Alonso is the faster man here. Perez is on 20-lap old hard tyres, Alonso on 17-lap old mediums…

    04:50 AM GMT

    Lap 34 or 58 – Worth keeping an eye on Norris vs Leclerc

    Leclerc’s pace is starting to drop off… 0.3sec or so Norris was faster than the Ferrari driver. 1.8sec the gap now and five laps fresher are Norris’s tyres.

    04:49 AM GMT

    Lap 33 of 58 – Perez in fifth not really closing in on Piastri ahead

    He’s lapping slower and is still nearly 12 seconds behind, which is larger than the gap was when he took fifth from Alonso…

    04:48 AM GMT

    Lap 32 of 58 – Sainz doing a sterling job out front

    Ferrari’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr drives during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on March 24, 2024

    He now leads team-mate Leclerc by eight seconds.

    04:47 AM GMT

    Lap 31 of 58 – Verstappen speaks

    We could see so far in the data as soon as the lights went off the right rear brake was stuck on. It was like driving with a handbrake on. If a brake is stuck on that doesn’t help. As soon as the lights went off… you could see the right-rear brake stuck on.

    04:45 AM GMT

    Lap 30 of 58 – Top 10 and gaps

  • SAI

  • LEC +6.4

  • NOR +9.3

  • PIA +10.4

  • PER +21.8

  • ALO +31.0

  • RUS +31.1

  • STR +35.3

  • TSU +37.5

  • HUL +43.9

  • 04:45 AM GMT

    Lap 29 of 59 – Piastri told to let Norris through

    And he does that. Norris’s race was starting to be compromised by that and Norris was the lead McLaren at the start. Not what Piastri would have wanted in his home race in his home city. That is probably the right decision in the end, though.

    Half race distance…

    04:43 AM GMT

    Lap 28 of 58 – Norris closing up on Piastri

    Less than a second the gap…

    04:42 AM GMT

    Lap 27 of 58 – Sainz leads Leclerc by 4.5sec

    Perez gets Alonso for fifth and has Norris 12 seconds ahead. He could well be on the podium today. He probably should be with the pace in that RB20.

    04:41 AM GMT

    Lap 26 of 58 – Alonso has his mirrors full of Perez

    He will have a struggle on his hands there. Sainz sets another fastest lap out front…

    04:39 AM GMT

    Lap 25 of 58 – Sainz extends his lead to three seconds

    Piastri two seconds behind that and Norris two seconds behind him. All to play for here though Sainz is clearly the favourite and is driving a superb race.

    04:38 AM GMT

    Lap 24 of 58 – Will be interesting to see what Perez does from here

    He’s currently bearing down on Alonso and was about 0.7sec faster the last time around…

    04:37 AM GMT

    Lap 23 of 58 – Haas tell Magnussen to let Hulkenberg through

    And he does. Albon in the points ahead of them as Verstappen heads to the media pen to do his interviews post-race. Well, post “race”.

    04:35 AM GMT

    Lap 22 of 58 – Russell on the radio

    “That car is like a rocketship,” he says. He means the Red Bull. Mercedes clearly looking like the fifth fastest car here this weekend in all formats.

    04:34 AM GMT

    Lap 21 of 58 – Leclerc keeping around 1.5sec behind Sainz

    They have been told to hold position there. Ferrari on for a 1-2 here… not sure Leclerc will be entirely happy about that as Sainz has a seven-lap tyre advantage it might be fair enough.

    04:34 AM GMT

    Lap 20 of 58 – Sainz posts the fastest lap

    Here’s the top 10 now everyone has stopped:

  • SAI

  • LEC

  • PIA

  • NOR

  • ALO

  • PER

  • RUS

  • STR

  • TSU

  • ALB

  • A variety of strategies there, though mostly through tyre life. That said, Alonso is on the mediums and everyone else there is on the hards.

    04:32 AM GMT

    Lap 19 of 58 – Sainz leads by 1.3sec

    Charles Leclerc drives during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on March 24, 2024

    Leclerc keeping a watch behind him.

    04:29 AM GMT

    Lap 18 of 58 – Hamilton’s engine just sounded like it lunched itself mid-lap

    The VSC ends, Alonso comes out the lead non-Ferrari and non-McLaren car. That has worked out well for him. The cars are bunched up at the start. Sainz is the lead Ferrari but has Leclerc very close behind, albeit the Monegasque on older tyres. Lando Norris also has a tyre advantage on Piastri ahead of him.

    04:28 AM GMT

    Lap 17 of 58 – Hamilton is out!

    Hamilton nearly got Perez as the Red Bull emerged from the pit lane but Perez kept the place. But Hamilton slows to the side of the track coming to the fast chicane in the middle of the lap! Lewis Hamilton out of the race!

    Can he get it to a relief point? He’s going VERY slowly…

    It’s a Virtual Safety Car… as Hamilton does find a relief spot. Alonso leads and will surely be able to gain some time on his rivals with a cheap pit stop. It won’t be a long VSC.

    04:25 AM GMT

    Lap 16 of 58 – Piastri jumps Norris for fourth

    He is now the lead McLaren, though Norris has a tyre advantage over his team-mate.

    Oscar Piastri of Australia driving the (81) McLaren MCL38 Mercedes leads George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W15 during the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Circuit on March 24, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia

    04:24 AM GMT

    Lap 15 of 58 – Tom Cary can see Verstappen in the pit lane…

    I can see Max having a long chat with GP out of the media centre window here in Melbourne. He doesn’t look happy.

    04:23 AM GMT

    Lap 14 of 58 – Ocon is running in the points for Alpine

    He’s having a good weekend in a very difficult car. A mixture of strategies here. Sainz extends his lead to 7.6sec. The sort of lead we would have expected Verstappen to have here…

    Perez is coming into the pits, as is Lando Norris.

    04:22 AM GMT

    Lap 13 of 58 – Sainz leads by 6.4sec over Norris

    Perez in third but complaining about his car a bit. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see if Ferrari’s pace could really challenge an unhindered Verstappen but quite frankly the man has won 19 of the last 20 races or so so, let’s not get too upset about that.

    04:21 AM GMT

    Lap 12 of 58 – That was a catastrophic failure for Red Bull

    04:20 AM GMT

    Lap 11 of 58 – Reminder that Sainz does not have a race seat next year…

    …and he missed the last race two weeks ago after appendix surgery. Looks like Norris may be undercut by Piastri and no longer be the lead McLaren. But let’s see. Sainz is starting to check out up front.

    04:18 AM GMT

    Lap 10 of 58 – Sorry, it was Leclerc and Piastri who pitted

    Not Sainz and Norris. They were wary of the undercut from Russell who had just changed to hard tyres. Meanwhile, Hamilton runs off at turn one slightly as Sainz extends his lead to 4.4sec.

    04:16 AM GMT

    Lap 9 of 58 – Top 10 and gaps

  • SAI

  • NOR +2.6

  • LEC +3.3

  • PIA +3.9

  • PER +8.3

  • TSU +11.0

  • ALO +11.7

  • OCO +16.0

  • HUL +19.3

  • GAS +19.8

  • In come the leaders! Is this going to be a three stop race? Probably not but someone might try it.

    04:15 AM GMT

    Lap 8 of 58 – No word from Red Bull on what that issue what

    Russell pits from the points and he was on the medium tyres…

    04:14 AM GMT

    Lap 7 of 58 – Sainz leads Norris by 2.3sec

    Hamilton pits…

    04:12 AM GMT

    Lap 6 of 58 – Well, that makes it interesting!

    Verstappen is in the garage and chatting with his mechanics.

    Sainz leads Norris by 1.6sec with Leclerc very close to the lead McLaren. Piastri behind Leclerc…

    04:11 AM GMT

    Lap 5 of 58 – Verstappen makes it into the pits…

    Is he going to be able to carry on? I’m not sure. I doubt it.

    That is the end of Verstappen’s race. The championship leader is out! A brake issue…

    04:10 AM GMT

    Lap 4 of 58 – Smoke coming out of the back of the Red Bull of Verstappen!

    Definitely. This could be his race over… the problem is getting worse it seems. He is dropping back and back. It looks like something is rubbing on his rear right tyre and he will surely need to dive into the pits if he can make it there…

    I have smoke. Blue smoke. Fire, fire. Brake.

    04:08 AM GMT

    Lap 3 of 58 – Verstappen on the radio

    I just lost the car, really weird.

    So perhaps he made a mistake before the overtake, or so it seems.

    Anyway, here’s the top 10:

  • SAI

  • VER

  • NOR

  • LEC

  • PIA

  • RUS

  • PER

  • STR

  • TSU

  • HAM

  • More from Verstappen on the radio…

    F— the car is loose!

    04:07 AM GMT

    Lap 2 of 58 – Verstappen leads Sainz

    DRS is enabled and Sainz is within one second of the man ahead, Verstappen, so will get four uses of it if he can keep that gap under one second. He’s pretty close as they head into the fast chicane and Sainz goes around the outside into the braking zone and takes the lead!

    OK. Do we have a race on? I guess so…

    Now Verstappen has DRS on the pit straight..

    04:05 AM GMT

    The Australian Grand Prix is go!

    It is a good start from Verstappen and he does lead into turn one…

    Sainz was not far enough forward to even have a think about making a move. They all make it through the opening few corners unscathed. Hamilton up one place, Russell ahead of Perez and into sixth.

    04:04 AM GMT

    Right, here we go…

    Can Verstappen keep his lead at the start or will Sainz stick it down the inside?

    04:03 AM GMT

    More from Tom Cary

    We’ve just been told that race day attendance is 132,106, the highest Sunday on record for Melbourne and 1k higher than the corresponding day last year. That apparently brings the total attendance to 452,055 – 7424 higher than the 2023 event.

    04:02 AM GMT

    The formation lap is go

    But it’s a very slow start. After a fair while Hamilton is only approaching turn one…

    Everyone is away cleanly, though. Zhou is starting from the pit lane, by the way, after replacing a broken front wing.

    04:01 AM GMT

    Starting tyre types

    Everyone in the top 10 is on the mediums except for Alonso, on the hards. Hamilton in 11th on the softs and not too happy about it. Ricciardo and Zhou on the softs at the back and Hulkenberg on the hards.

    03:56 AM GMT

    Right, we are nearly ready to get going

    Predictions? I think Verstappen will have a tougher time today but will still win by 10+ seconds, assuming no late safety car.

    03:53 AM GMT

    Ricciardo under pressure

    Ricciardo playing it cool but he is a man under some pressure. Needs a big performance today.

    03:52 AM GMT

    Starting Grid

    How they line up

  • Max Verstappen, Red Bull

  • Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

  • Lando Norris, McLaren

  • Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

  • Oscar Piastri, McLaren

  • Sergio Perez, Red Bull*

  • George Russell, Mercedes

  • Yuki Tsunoda, RB

  • Lance Stroll, Aston Martin

  • Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin

  • Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

  • Alexander Albon, Williams

  • Valtteri Bottas, Sauber

  • Kevin Magnussen, Haas

  • Esteban Ocon, Alpine

  • Nico Hulkenberg, Haas

  • Pierre Gasly, Alpine

  • Daniel Ricciardo, RB

  • Zhou Guanyu, Sauber

  • *Perez received three-place grid penalty for impeding the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg in Q1. 

    03:47 AM GMT

    How is it looking in the team head to heads?

    Ricciardo, Hamilton, Gasly and Sargeant have all failed to beat their team-mates at all this year.

    03:43 AM GMT

    Current F1 driver standings

    The question is “how much will Max Verstappen increase this by today”? Surely…

    03:40 AM GMT

    Norris’s dad having a chinwag with Christian Horner…

    Spotted Adam Norris, Lando’s dad, having a chat with Christian Horner on the grid just now. If Max did end up leaving Red Bull, you would imagine Lando would certainly be on the list of possible replacements, long-term McLaren contract or not..

    03:38 AM GMT

    McLaren’s Aussie hero Oscar Piastri speaks before the race

    Excited, I think we’re in a good place and I think we can stay there. I think we’re all kind of wishing there was something a but harder. It should be interesting, like I say nobody has run on the hards. It should be an exciting race.

    03:36 AM GMT

    As ever, good analysis from Sky’s Karun Chandhok

    03:31 AM GMT

    Fair to say that Lewis Hamilton was not too happy yesterday

    More frustrated.

    It felt great in P3 and it was strange because we were right there with these guys and we didn’t really understand why. The inconsistency in the car really messes with the mind. George did a good job today, it is what it is… I just have to do a good job tomorrow. I mean there’s a long list [of things to fix].

    I think our car is on a but of a knife-edge. On the afternoon here the wind picks up and then the car becomes a lot more unstable. The others seem to be able to pick their pace up in qualifying the car didn’t feel good in qualifying, even though we had lighter fuel. It’s not a great feeling for anyone in the team but we will just keep working away.

    03:26 AM GMT

    Average lap time gap between team-mates in 2024

    03:24 AM GMT

    Daniel Ricciardo not having the best weekend… or season

    He returned to F1 with AlphaTauri last year with the ultimate aim of regaining his place at Red Bull. He had some decent form since his return but struggled to really get much momentum and was not helped by breaking his wrist at Zandvoort. You would say that this season has continued, if not worsened, the trend of him being second best to team-mate Yuki Tsunoda. He has not been a million miles away at points and yesterday he would have made it through to Q2 but for his lap being deleted for a track limits infringement. If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts wouldn’t we have a lovely party.

    Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB looks on from the drivers parade prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Circuit on March 24, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia

    He did run off the track and he was eliminated. Tsunoda made it into Q3 and has the 10th best qualifying record of any driver this year (9.67), whilst Ricciardo is down in 16th with 15.33. Of course he can make it up in the race today and also will have a few more races before his hopes of retaining his seat until the end of the season diminish. But if this carries on you wouldn’t put it past Red Bull to get rid of him before the season is out and put Liam Lawson in.

    03:20 AM GMT

    Average qualifying position so far in 2024

    03:15 AM GMT

    How bad has qualifying been for Hamilton so far in 2024?

    In a word, bad. He has been outqualified by team-mate George Russell in every race so far. His average qualifying position is 8.33 compared to Russell’s 5.67 – only four drivers have a worse differential to their team-mate: Sargeant, Zhou, Stroll and Ricciardo.

    Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes looks on from the drivers parade prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Circuit on March 24, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia.

    Looking at lap times in qualifying he is averaging 0.194sec down on Russell on average and only five drivers have worse average gaps. It should perhaps come as no surprise given how he has talked about the difficulty of the car but neither should the scale of how much the 39-year-old has struggled this year be ignored.

    03:10 AM GMT

    Times and positions after qualifying

  • Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1min 15.915secs

  • Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spa) Ferrari 1:16.185

  • Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 1:16.274

  • Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:16.315

  • Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:16.435

  • Oscar Piastri (Aus) McLaren 1:16.572

  • George Russell (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:16.724

  • Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) RB 1:16.788

  • Lance Stroll (Can) Aston Martin 1:17.072

  • Fernando Alonso (Spa) Aston Martin 1:17.552

  • Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:16.960

  • Alexander Albon (Tha) Williams 1:17.167

  • Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Kick Sauber 1:17.340

  • Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:17.427

  • Esteban Ocon (Fra) Alpine 1:17.697,

  • Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Haas F1 1:17.976

  • Pierre Gasly (Fra) Alpine 1:17.982

  • Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) RB 1:18.085

  • Guanyu Zhou (Chn) Kick Sauber 1:18.188

  • 03:04 AM GMT

    Good morning

    Welcome to our coverage of the 2024 Australian Grand Prix from Albert Park. Well, what to say about yesterday’s qualifying session? Was it a good one? Yes, I think so. Was the outcome predictable? Probably. Max Verstappen took his third pole position of the season by just under three tenths from Carlos Sainz. In fact, Q3 was the only session across the weekend that he topped. And that is all that matters.

    What is the difference? Could Ferrari have got more from their qualifying? I do not think Sainz could have got a great deal more from his Ferrari. There is always time to find but not the three tenths he needed to usurp Verstappen. Charles Leclerc messed up his final lap in Q3 but Sainz looked to be the quicker Ferrari driver towards the end of qualifying. Verstappen, simply, is driving too well to be usurped, even if the RB20 has some vulnerabilities over one lap in qualifying. Fair play.

    Might we have a fight for the victory today? Ferrari’s race pace has been talked up throughout the weekend – and Verstappen said he might have a fight today – but if the Dutchman gets to the first corner first I cannot see it. Hopefully they can stick to within a few seconds to give Red Bull something to think about. McLaren might be in with an outside shout of a podium too.

    Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position in parc feme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Circuit on March 23, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia.

    The helping hand that Ferrari and those behind them have is that Sergio Perez, who initially qualified in third, was handed a three-place grid penalty for blocking Nico Hulkenberg in Q1 which means he now starts sixth, shifting Lando Norris up to third and Charles Leclerc up to fourth.

    The pessimist in me says that this race will be a rough repeat of the first two rounds. Even if Ferrari are closer, will they be able to disrupt Verstappen’s race? On the other hand the races around this track recently have been littered with safety cars and red flags and that can throw huge uncertainty and jeopardy into things. I would say that we need this to fall favourable for a non-Verstappen win. And who knows, Sainz might even take the lead at turn one…

    The race begins at 4am GMT and we will be here for all of it.

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