Carlos Sainz’s disastrous Australian Grand Prix could hardly have been timed more badly. With Ferrari clearly in the midst of a title campaign with the fast and reliable F1-75 and Charles Leclerc scoring two victories from the first three races, the event of Melbourne threatened to put Sainz into the role of support driver just at the time his career could be going to an entirely new level.His spinning out on the second lap was entirely down to him.
But the circumstances which put him in that position were not. He’d been troubled in the first two races by a small pace deficit to Leclerc but came into the Melbourne weekend with a better understanding of what the car needed from him. In the practices he was as quick as Leclerc and hisQ2 lap was slightly faster. At the beginning of Q3 his engine initially refused to fire up and he was delayed in the pits. Leclerc set a provisional pole but the delayed Sainz was 0.144sec quicker at the end of Sector 2. He looked set to steal provisional pole when the red flags came out for Alonso’s accident (see report).
As the session restarted Sainz’s engine again refused to start up.
It meant he didn’t have time to do the required prep lap and with tyres wildly under-temperature, and the car sliding everywhere, he was only ninth fastest.
On the dummy grid the engine yet again refused to start up. An electrical connection in the steering wheel was the suspected culprit and so it was changed with a minute to go.
Now the engine fired up but the steering wheel had the wrong start map in it, triggering the car into anti-stall, sending him down to 14th place. Had the steering wheels of Leclerc and Sainz been swapped at the beginning of the weekend, Sainz would likely have won from pole, such was Ferrari’s advantage…