Carlos Sainz assesses chances of beating Max Verstappen in Australia after gruelling recovery from surgery

Max Verstappen claimed pole position for the 2024 Australian Grand Prix with Sainz in the Ferrari second on the grid

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Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz has admitted he may not have the strength to beat Max Verstappen in Sunday’s Formula 1 2024 Australian Grand Prix, as he opened up on the difficulties of returning to the cockpit just two weeks after undergoing surgery.

Verstappen is on a nine-race winning streak and has looked unbeatable in the opening two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But it appeared as if Ferrari could catch the Red Bulls in Melbourne after an encouraging display in both FP2 and FP3 practice sessions.

Sainz, in particular, surprised everyone in qualifying eclipsing Leclerc’s lap times in Q2 and Q3, putting his SF-24 on the front row and three tenths shy of Verstappen, who posted a mighty lap time with a 1:15.915 to clinch a hat-trick of poles this season. That was despite the fact he had only returned from having laparoscopy surgery two weeks ago, forcing him to miss the Saudi Arabian GP.

Many would expect the Spaniard to produce a challenge for the race win on Sunday at Albert Park, but Sainz believes that he would need to be at peak condition to rival the Dutchman for the race win – and his recent appendix surgery makes it nearly impossible after having less than a fortnight to recover.

Carlos Sainz speaks after qualifying second behind Max Verstappen in Australia | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“I think nowadays you need to be 100 per cent to beat Max, and today I wasn’t and probably due to that I missed out on pole,” Sainz told the press in Australia.

“If I would have done a 100 per cent good job, pole position could have been possible. I think that a 1:15.9 was achievable with the way I was driving and the way I felt in the car and tomorrow will be the same.

“I need to be 100 per cent to beat Max, I will give it my absolute everything to do it because it’s been a while since [his win in] Singapore and he’s been on that top step since. I think we have a chance.”

A difficult road to recovery

Sainz’s impressive qualifying performance came just days after doubts were raised about whether he could participate in qualifying. He was replaced by Oliver Bearman for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix following his appendix surgery, but after stepping into the car in FP1 in Melbourne, he felt able to continue behind the wheel.

Sainz, who revealed he asked Alex Albon for advice on how he coped with his appendix surgery, opened up on how he was left bed-bound for the majority of the time post-operation and admitted he still felt ‘weird’ being inside the cockpit.

“As I said at the beginning of the weekend, I don’t feel 100 per cent. I think it’s impossible to feel 100 per cent after spending seven to 10 days in bed like I like I did, just trying to recover,” Sainz added.

“But the good thing is that I had no pain. I just have the discomfort and obviously everything feels a bit weird inside, but I can push, especially today.

“I took it easy at the beginning and had to do some tweaks to the seat, to the belts, to the brake pedal. But today, when the late running came up in quali, I could close the visor and go for it, which is a good thing.

“Hopefully tomorrow, I still do another step of recovery. Within a lot of emphasis in physiotherapy and recovery, these days, all of it is focused around it and hopefully tomorrow I can be OK.”

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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