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Max Verstappen sees Australian Grand Prix go up in smoke: 'It's a shame'

Published on 24 March 2024 by Misha van der Kroon

Max Verstappen was forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix due to braking problems. At the start there seemed to be no problem for the three-time World Champion, who immediately took the lead from pole position. On lap two, Carlos Sainz took over the lead and it quickly became clear that there were problems with Max’s Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20. His right rear brake caught fire and Verstappen was forced to return to the garage. There it became clear that the brake was too badly damaged, and the team had to retire the car. Carlos Sainz won the race, just two weeks after he had an appendectomy and missed the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc made it a Ferrari one-two, with Lando Norris completing the podium in his McLaren.

Once changed out of his racing suit, Max addresses the media to talk about the retirement: “I think something went wrong from the start. We could see on the data that the right rear brake was stuck and the temperature kept increasing. We don’t know exactly yet, but something went wrong there. That’s also why I had that moment in turn three, where I braked and it looked like one of the brakes was stuck and I lost the car.”

The brake problem only came to light after the start of the race: “On the way to the grid the car still felt perfect and I felt confident in the car. During the first few laps, the brakes are still quite cold. Normally a brake cools down again, but the rear brake didn’t cool down anymore and the temperature kept rising. As a result, you have a huge difference between the brakes, so that’s far from ideal.” 

Max continues: “You could see it when I was behind Sainz. I could overtake him again, but lost the car again in turn six and almost went off track there. The car was very difficult to drive, so you could tell that something was wrong.” Verstappen is calm but  obviously disappointed to miss out on a tenth Grand Prix victory in a row: “It’s a mechanical sport, these things can happen. It’s of course a shame that it had to happen today, because we could have won here.” 

The sun shines and it’s a pleasant 20 degrees outside at the start of the Australian Grand Prix. Zhou Guanyu starts the race from the pit lane, which means only eighteen drivers line up on the starting grid. Logan Sargeant has to watch the race from the sidelines, as Alexander Albon has taken place in his car after irreparably damaging his own car in a crash on Friday. The top nine starts on the medium compound, while Fernando Alonso on P10 has chosen for the hard compound, and Lewis Hamilton on P11 for the soft tyres.

Max gets away well from pole position and keeps the lead going into turn one. Carlos Sainz follows closely in P2 and Lando Norris in P3. In the second lap, Max brakes into turn three and loses the car, giving Sainz an opportunity to overtake him. Over the on-board radio, Max complains that the car is sliding. A little later smoke comes out of his RB20, from the right rear brake to be exact. The brake is on fire and Max slowly returns to the pits. There the team is waiting with fire extinguishers and the fire on the brake is quickly put out, but the car is too badly damaged to continue on its way. This means that Max has to retire for the first time since the Australian Grand Prix in 2022. A series of 43 point finishes comes to an end, and Max cannot equal his own record of ten wins in a row. 

Due to Verstappen’s retirement, Carlos Sainz is still in P1, followed by Norris in P2, Leclerc in P3 and local hero Piastri in P4. On lap seventeen, Hamilton has to park his Mercedes next to the track due to technical problems. After a brief virtual safety car, the race is resumed and after the pit stops, Leclerc is in P2, behind teammate Sainz. 

On the last lap, George Russell crashes hard after trying to overtake Alonso for sixth place. The car is severely damaged, but luckily does not roll over and the Brit can leave the car unscathed. Sainz is still in the lead and wins the race, making it his third Grand Prix victory. Charles Leclerc completes the party for Ferrari by finishing second. Lando Norris crosses the finish line in third, claiming the final place on the podium. It’s his fourteenth podium without a win, meaning he takes over this record from Nick Heidfeld. Oscar Piastri finishes fourth in front of his home crowd, followed by Sergio Perez. The Aston Martins of Alonso and Stroll finish P6 and P7, followed by Tsunoda, Hulkenberg and Magnussen, who complete the top ten.

Results Grand Prix Australia:

1Carlos SainzSAIFerrari581:20:26.84325
2Charles LeclercLECFerrari58+2.366s19
3Lando NorrisNORMcLaren Mercedes58+5.904s15
4Oscar PiastriPIAMcLaren Mercedes58+35.770s12
5Sergio PerezPERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT58+56.309s10
6Lance StrollSTRAston Martin Mercedes58+93.222s8
7Yuki TsunodaTSURB Honda RBPT58+95.601s6
8Fernando AlonsoALOAston Martin Mercedes58+100.992s4
9Nico HulkenbergHULHaas Ferrari58+104.553s2
10Kevin MagnussenMAGHaas Ferrari57+1 lap1
11Alexander AlbonALBWilliams Mercedes57+1 lap0
12Daniel RicciardoRICRB Honda RBPT57+1 lap0
13Pierre GaslyGASAlpine Renault57+1 lap0
14Valtteri BottasBOTKick Sauber Ferrari57+1 lap0
15Zhou GuanyuZHOKick Sauber Ferrari57+1 lap0
16Esteban OconOCOAlpine Renault57+1 lap0
17George RussellRUSMercedes56DNF0
0Lewis HamiltonHAMMercedes15DNF0
0Max VerstappenVERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT3DNF0