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Carlos Sainz Has No Appendix, No Job, And One More Race Win

Race winner Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Circuit on March 24, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia.
Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Since Sergio Pérez won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30, 2023, only two drivers have won a Formula 1 race. That one of those is Max Verstappen is not a surprise; he's won all but two races and has generally been as unbeatable as anyone in any sport, ever. The other driver to win a race in that time period is Carlos Sainz, and that's much more of a wonder. Ferrari's recently discarded second driver might not have a seat for next season following Lewis Hamilton's shock move to the Scuderia for 2025, but the Spaniard now has the two most recent Max-less victories on the grid, and there's an argument to be made that he's been the second-best driver in the series this season. That he just won the Australian Grand Prix 16 days after having his appendix removed only adds to the mystique around his transitional season.

Let's get something out of the way here: Both of Sainz's wins, in Singapore last September and in Australia on Sunday, came because Red Bull Racing fucked something up. In Singapore, the cars ran slow thanks to a new technical directive, while Verstappen's right rear brake locked up and caught on fire early in the 2024 Australian Grand Prix, handing him his first DNF since 2022.

It's fair to say that Sainz has been a beneficiary of Verstappen's rare woes, but it's also fair to say that there are few drivers better suited to take advantage. Sainz is an aggressive, self-assured driver, capable of taking strategy into his own hands in a way that his teammate Charles Leclerc has rarely shown to be. Sainz is also a better driver than Pérez at the moment, even if the Mexican No. 2 at Red Bull can point to some floor damage for his poor performance in Melbourne. With Ferrari still having a better car than the McLarens that finished third and fourth down under, Sainz was primed and ready to turn his second place qualifying into a victory once Verstappen's race ended early.

That's unfair to Sainz, though, who was actually leading the race when Verstappen's brake turned into a fireball. On the second lap, Sainz saw that Verstappen was struggling with the car and sent a tidy move on the outside of turn nine, passing the Dutch monolith with little struggle. It was a risky move because every overtake is a risk, but Sainz chose to go for it rather than wait for Verstappen's situation to resolve itself. Opportunity came knocking and he took it by the horns:

After that pass, it was actually a Verstappenesque bit of domination that led to Sainz's third-ever race win. While his teammate Leclerc was within range after the dust settled on Verstappen's DNF, he was on much older tires, courtesy of an early pit stop. Ferrari, in a rare moment of strategic steadiness, told Leclerc to hold position, though the Scuderia didn't even need to go that far; thanks to the tires and Sainz's flawless drive, Leclerc wasn't ever going to catch him on merit. Instead, the Monegasque driver simply ran his own race, letting Sainz get ahead by up to nine seconds at one point; Leclerc's fight was with the McLarens, specifically Lando Norris's, and he did well to keep a three-plus second advantage over the papaya-clad drivers to secure the Ferrari 1-2 finish.

Back to Sainz, though: Even in perfect health, his drive in Melbourne would have been stunning, but that he did it so soon after the removal of his appendix brings it into F1 lore. To recap: Sainz felt something was wrong during practice in Saudi Arabia back on March 7. He was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with appendicitis, which led into surgery in short turn. I didn't expect Sainz to be back in his car for Australia, and even in the lead-up to the weekend, he had mentioned that he would bail out of the race if he felt something wrong in practice. (Ollie Bearman, the 18-year-old who stepped in for Sainz admirably in a seventh-place finish in Saudi Arabia, was ready to go again if needed; instead, he finished ninth in the F2 Australian GP.)

Everything seemed as OK as it could be after Friday's practice sessions, though, and Sainz showed up big in qualifying, finishing second behind Verstappen and, crucially, ahead of Pérez, both McLarens, and especially Leclerc, who qualified fifth. His performance in Saturday's qualifying allowed him to be in position to capitalize on Verstappen's misfortune, and Sainz isn't one to pass up a gift like that, especially when the Ferrari car was driving so well. (After the race, Pérez said that the Ferraris might have and could have beaten even Verstappen thanks to their pace; of course, he said this before he knew his car had such bad floor problems, so maybe that was not exactly reality.) After the race, Sainz looked exhausted, talking about the pain he was in because of his surgery recovery:

Sainz should be rewarded for this performance, and for his general excellence over the last calendar year. F1 is a sport with a short memory; it's how a driver like Nyck de Vries can get a seat off one great performance, even if it then turns out that he's not particularly good. Right now, the short memory of Sainz's gutsy, appendix-less victory should be ringing alarm bells for any team looking to fill a seat for next season. Drivers of Sainz's caliber are rarely on the market like this, discarded by their team rather than actively searching for a better seat. (In Ferrari's defense, if Lewis Hamilton wants to join your team, you make room for him.)

Sainz should have his pick of the lot ahead of next season, and the rumors have linked him with one of three teams: he could go to Mercedes in a straight swap with Hamilton; he could go to Aston Martin if Mercedes opts instead for a Fernando Alonso stint; or he could go back to Red Bull to either pair with Verstappen or, if the Dutchman leaves over the Christian Horner sexual misconduct allegations and whatever fallout results, he could be the lead driver. Red Bull is the most intriguing of potential landing spots for Sainz; if Verstappen is there, the drama between their respective fathers would make for some entertaining behind-the-scenes fodder, and if not, well, Sainz will be lead driver in a very good car.

Regardless of where he ends up, Sainz will likely be able to name his price, especially if he keeps driving like he did in Australia, or even as well as he did in the opening race at Bahrain, where he finished on the podium behind the two Red Bulls. While Leclerc is Ferrari's golden child, Sainz has been as good if not better than his teammate this season, and he now has two wins that Leclerc can't claim (the last for Leclerc came in July of 2022, in Austria). If the goal of an F1 driver is, first and foremost, to beat his teammate in order to prove supremacy in the same machinery, then Sainz is in as good a spot as anyone. Appendix or no, the Spaniard is on a revenge tour, and the whole grid should be paying notice to the Smooth Operator.

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