How Carlos Sainz did the unthinkable after surgery pain and Ferrari agony to join F1’s elite

Carlos Sainz triumphs at the F1 2024 Australian GP, leading Ferrari to a 1-2 finish just weeks after his surgery

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Carlos Sainz doesn’t have a contract for the 2025 Formula 1 season yet, which is all the more mystifying after the Ferrari star’s valiant drive to win the Formula 1 2024 Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The 29-year-old led home a 1-2 finish for the Scuderia, their first since the 2022 Bahrain GP, with Charles Leclerc a distant second in reality if you discount the virtual safety car on the final lap. It was a momentous victory, and not just because the Italian team had knocked Red Bull and Max Verstappen off the top of the podium.

It was only 16 days ago that Sainz was in bed-bound in a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, watching teenager Oliver Bearman excel in his car and finish seventh. He had undergone laparoscopy surgery after being diagnosed with appendicitis, and with a recommended recovery time of 10 days in bed, a return to action in Australia was an ambitious target to say the least.

But Sainz was determined to get back in the seat and made arrangements to ensure he was as comfortable as possible. After testing the car in FP1, he decided to continue – thus beginning a remarkable comeback to F1 with a fortnight of going under the knife.

Nobody expected Sainz to be fighting for pole, but he found enough pace to hook up a fine lap and secure P2 ahead of Leclerc, even though he admitted he wasn’t 100 per cent. The best was yet to come on Sunday, when he challenged Verstappen in the race and overtook the Dutchman on Lap 2. The Red Bull star would retire a few laps later, but the Ferrari had the pace – that much was clear.

Despite the pain, Sainz showed tremendous strength and focus to cruise past the finish line to secure maximum points for Ferrari. He was elated and emotional on the radio, and his boss, team principal Fred Vasseur, was quick to pay tribute to the driver after his unexpected triumph.

“For sure Jeddah was a tough weekend, a tough weekend for Carlos, tough for the team. But the recovery is a miracle,” Vasseur said. “You have to keep in mind that two weeks ago, he was in the hospital and I think even Friday no one was sure [if Sainz] would to be able to drive and after a couple of laps, he was into the pace.

“This was part of the success too because you can’t give up one lap in free practice if you want to perform and control. It’s amazing, nobody expected results like this today.”

Sainz in distinguished company

Since the start of the 2022 season, there are only three drivers who have won a race in every year: Verstappen, Sergio Perez and now Sainz. He pulled off a magnificent drive at the 2022 British GP to claim his maiden victory for the Scuderia at Silverstone, before winning in Singapore last year – becoming the only non-Red Bull driver to stand on top of the podium.

He has beaten Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship before. He even pipped Leclerc in his first season at Ferrari. Yet, there is always a feeling the Monegasque has been treated with more royalty.

Carlos Sainz of Ferrari during the 2024 Australian GP | Pirelli / LAT Images
Carlos Sainz of Ferrari during the 2024 Australian GP | Pirelli / LAT Images

That became clear when Ferrari chased Hamilton and got their man in February. There would only be one driver on his way out of the team and Sainz knew it would be him. But the Spaniard maintained his classy demeanour and, instead of complaining about having his seat taken away from him, focused on proving his employers wrong.

During the race in Melbourne, Sky Sports F1 pundit Martin Brundle posed the question as to why Sainz hasn’t been considered to replace Hamilton – and it’s a fair question. Typically, Sainz wouldn’t be regarded as a marquee signing in the same way as Verstappen or Fernando Alonso are.

Maybe now, he will be.

After all, with nearly a decade of racing in F1 with Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and Toro Rosso, there aren’t many more drivers with the same mixture of experience and talent.

If there is one criticism that can be aimed at him, it’s that Sainz has struggled for consistency in the past. But now, we’re seeing a new version of the Madrid-born racer, one that is becoming increasingly reliable in delivering results, and he is poised to give it everything in his final year with Ferrari to prove he is worth keeping on the grid for 2025.

Joe Krishnan
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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