Max Verstappen’s car ‘on fire’ as Red Bull star forced to retire at Australian GP | F1 | Sport

The Dutchman started the race in pole position and enjoyed a strong launch, seeing off the threat of Carlos Sainz from the race start to lead into turn one.

However, on just the second lap of the race, Sainz managed to find a way past the Dutchman with the help of DRS, passing around the outside on the run down to turn nine.

Verstappen’s afternoon then went from bad to worse as smoke began to appear from the back of the RB20. The reigning world champion was then forced to back off as it became clear that his power unit had suffered a critical failure.

This DNF was Verstappen’s first since the 2022 season and ended his hopes of matching his own record of 10 consecutive Grand Prix victories.

The 26-year-old dominated the opening two races of the year, carrying over his form from the back-end of 2023 by leading home consecutive one-two finishes for Red Bull. However, that run ended in Melbourne with this mechanical DNF. 

Verstappen’s DNF left Sainz with a sensational shot at victory, just two weeks after going under the knife for appendicitis surgery at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. 

Sainz even admitted after qualifying that he still wasn’t feeling 100 per cent, stating: “It’s been a tough couple of weeks, a lot of days in bed waiting for this moment to see if I could be here today. To make it to this weekend and then to put it on the front row after leading through qualifying, I was almost not believing it, especially after how tough it’s been.

“But very happy to be here, very happy to be challenging the Red Bulls this weekend. I was a bit rusty at the beginning yesterday but then I got up to speed and I could finally find the pace and am feeling good with the car.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m not in my most comfortable state when I’m driving out there but I can get it done. And as long as I can get it done without the pain, obviously, a lot of discomfort and weird feelings but no pain, so it allows me to push flat out.” 

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