Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2024

Will Sainz take his seat back from Bearman? Five talking points for the Australian GP

Formula 1

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The third round of the championship takes place this weekend at one of the most popular venues in the championship – the Albert Park circuit in the Australian city of Melbourne.

With question marks over each of the top three teams in the championship, for very different reasons, there will be plenty of intrigue heading into the next round of the championship.

Will Bearman be back in Sainz’s Ferrari?

Carlos Sainz Jnr missed the second round of the 2024 Formula 1 season in Saudi Arabia after a sudden bout of appendicitis left him physically incapable of participating following emergency surgery.

Thankfully for Sainz and Ferrari, his surgery was successful. But that does not mean that he will be fit and ready to race in Melbourne this weekend. Back in 2022, Alexander Albon was forced out of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in near-identical circumstances. While the Williams driver returned to the cockpit for the following race weekend in Singapore, he later admitted after the season that he had not been at 100% physically until he finally got to rest up in the off-season.

Sainz has 22 rounds still to run in his final season with Ferrari. Although he naturally will want to compete in every single one of them, he runs the risk of not being fully fit and pushing himself through a long season if he is not fully recovered. Currently, Ferrari have not yet confirmed whether or not Sainz will resume his seat at Albert Park this weekend.

If not, Ferrari will have several options for his replacement. They could give a grand prix debut for reserve driver Robert Shwartzman, or even former F1 driver and current Ferrari WEC hypercar race Antonio Giovinazzi for more experience. But after Oliver Bearmanstepped in last minute to take points in seventh in Jeddah with only an hour of practice, and is on-site for the F2 round, there’s every chance Ferrari will pick the man who’s already raced the car.

No end to Red Bull controversy in sight

On the face of it, Red Bull should be in the best position of any of the ten teams on the grid. They have not just won the last two constructors’ championship titles or the previous three drivers’ titles, but they’ve started 2024 with back-to-back one-two victories to crush any hopes that their dominance will be ending any time soon.

Max Verstappen, Helmut Marko, Christian Horner, Bahrain, 2024
Red Bull continues to make headlines – for the wrong reasons
But amidst all the success on track, the team continues to be in crisis off it. Allegations made against team principal Christian Horner continue to dominate discussions around the sport, despite the Red Bull organisation’s internal investigation dismissing the complaint against him.

Since the last race in Saudi Arabia, the situation has developed further. The complainant against Horner has reportedly issued a formal complaint to the FIA’s Ethics Committee. With FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem also reportedly being investigated for allegedly interfering in a penalty decision in last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Horner has indicated his desire to draw a line under the situation and focus on the racing. But with question marks now hanging over star driver Max Verstappen’s future at the team, that will likely continue to prove impossible this weekend.

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Mercedes’ experiments

After back-to-back frustrating seasons for Mercedes with just one win over two years, 2024 was supposed to be the season in which the former dominant force in Formula 1 would finally offer a greater challenge to the current champions, Red Bull. Sadly for Mercedes, after two rounds, that does not look like it will be the case.

George Russell, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2024
Mercedes will run “experiments” in practice
Although George Russell is fourth in the championship with 18 points, he is a full ten points behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and already 33 adrift of Max Verstappen at the top of the standings. Team mate Lewis Hamilton, in his final season with the team, has just eight points.

Having moved away from their ‘zero sidepod’ concept in recent times to a Red Bull style concept for the current season, Mercedes were never going to maximise their car’s potential in the first races of the season. That’s why they are planning to run some “experiments” on their car in practice this weekend to try and help them work out what direction to develop their W15 over the rest of the season

“We’re looking at data from the Bahrain race, Bahrain test and we will come up with a plan for how we approach free practice in Melbourne,” said the team’s trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin.
“But it’s not just based on what we did in Jeddah. There’s a lot of work going on within the aerodynamics department, the vehicle dynamics department. We’re trying to design some experiments there that will hopefully give us a direction that’s good for performance.”

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Hometown heroes

Most of the 2024 grid can say they have a home grand prix taking place in their own nation. Only two drivers can say they have a home grand prix in their home city – Monegasque Charles Leclerc and Melburnian Oscar Piastri.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2024
Piastri scored three points at home last year
The McLaren driver was the stand-out rookie of 2023 and memorably scored his first career points at Albert Park last year. Now he arrives back in Melbourne with a three-year contract extension with McLaren, with two podiums and a sprint race win under his belt, sitting fourth in the drivers’ championship.

But there will be two Australians on the grid this weekend – three if you count ‘adopted Aussie’ Valtteri Bottas – with Daniel Ricciardo in at RB once again. Unlike Piastri, however, Ricciardo is coming off a muted start to his season and a poor weekend in Jeddah, where he finished down in 16th after a late spin.

Ricciardo will likely get just as much attention this weekend as compatriot Piastri and will be desperate to put his early season back on track with a strong showing this weekend at a track he’s tended to be fairly good at over the years.

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No trespassing

The sight of the Australian fans swarming the Albert Park circuit following the chequered flag is one of the best scenes every year in Melbourne. However, there will be no track invasion for this weekend’s grand prix.

Spectators, Albert Park, 2023
There will be no fans on track after the race
Following an “unacceptable” incident at the end of last year’s race, where fans managed to get onto the track before the race had finished, the stewards of last year’s event referred organisers to the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council. The Australian Grand Prix Corporation apologised after admitting there had been “unacceptable situations that could have had disastrous consequences” when a small number of fans stepped out onto the live race track during the Safety Car finish to last year’s race.

As a result, organisers have forbidden fans from accessing the track in any capacity after the chequered flag. However, the AGPC also stressed that the question of whether fans would be allowed onto the track in future events would “be made at a later date.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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42 comments on “Will Sainz take his seat back from Bearman? Five talking points for the Australian GP”

  1. The ban on fans on the race track after the race doesn’t make sense. For sure what happened last year must not happen again, but just put steps in place to prevent it recurring, and then open the gates when the track is no longer live, as normally occurred in the past. This year’s decision feels more like a school punishment for past misbehaviour!

    1. Believe me, they’ll get on the track (hopefully only once not live), then the organisers will look even more stupid.

      1. Yeah, I’m 100% sure there will be some stupid fans who can’t help invading the track. They use violence if needed. Hopefully the end result won’t be that Australian GP is dropped from the calendar. But I fear the worst.

      2. I’m not sure what the problem with track invasions are if we wait until cars are off the track. I’ve participated in the track invasions at most of the races I have intended and don’t see any reason to keep fans off the track after the race.

  2. Bearman has to be the favourite to continue at Ferrari if Sainz is unable to compete; he acquitted himself well in Jeddah, and Melbourne is likely to be less physically and mentally demanding, so with the benefit of a full weekend’s preparation and the experience he gained from his first race, Ferrari should be confident he will do well.

    Furthermore teams are restricted on the number of drivers they can use each season (a maximum of four), so there is an incentive to re-use drivers if at all possible.

    1. Is there a limit tot the amount of drivers? I wasn’t aware of that. When did that rule get implemented?

      1. Back in the mid-00s, there was talk of Ferrari running a 3rd car (which was still technically allowed at the time). Starting in 2007, rules were defined to specifically force two-car teams and I believe the 4-driver rule was implemented at the same time.

      2. I can find that Prost ran five drivers in 2001 (Alesi, Frentzen, Mazzacane, Burti, and Enge), that is the most recent example I can find of teams using more than four drivers. Although back in 2009 Ferarri did use four (Räikkönen drove all season, Massa injured was replaced first by Badoer and later by Fisichella).

        1. Actually, as recently as last year AlphaTauri ran four drivers too. De Vries was replaced by Ricciardo who in turn was replaced by De Vries. This is also why De Vries was the reserve driver on standby when Lawson drove, because he was the only one eligible to enter as the four slots had been used.

          1. Yes, the Faenza team are the only ones to have used up their four-driver allocation in recent years. It also happened in 2017, when Kvyat was dropped for Gasly, then Sainz left the team and was replaced by Hartley. They even had to bring Kvyat back for one race when Gasly was unavailable.

          2. @chrischrill De Vries wasn’t on stand by in Mexico in the end.
            Some little speculation at one point but nothing eventually materialized, not to mention Ricciardo returned before, so zero need anyway.

          3. My latter post was also intended for @chrischrill

          4. Or rather he didn’t attend any remaining post-British GP 2023 event, for that matter.

        2. I remember in 2014 when Caterham were in really big trouble towards the end of the season, they wanted to sell both seats, but were limited to one for Will Stevens and had to bring back Kobayashi in Abu Dhabi so they wouldn’t go over the 4 race driver per year limit. No idea when the rule was actually introduced, but definitely before the hybrid era.

          1. @hunocsi IIRC, Kobayashi’s return for the Abu Dhabi GP was about temporary sponsorship money.

          2. Nor was he in attendance in the four preceding GPs.

      3. My memory is that this was a mid/late 1990s rule to stop teams like Pacific, Forti, Minardi from simply running a revolving door of pay drivers.
        I’d argue that this rule is no longer required now that we have the FIA’s Super Licence points requirement.

        1. I’d argue that this rule is no longer required now that we have the FIA’s Super Licence points requirement.

          Unfortunately, the revolving door / ejector seat setup is well embedded in the Red Bull four car combination, so I think we should hang onto that rule for the foreseeable future.

      4. Axel, there have been limits on the maximum number of drivers that a team could use since at least the early 1990s.

        The earliest version of the sporting regulations that seems to be easily available is from the 1994 season, and those rules state: “During a season, each team will be permitted one driver change for their first car and will be permitted to have three drivers for their second car who may be changed at any time provided that any driver change is made in accordance with the Code and before the end of initial scrutineering (see Article 72). In all other circumstances, competitors will be obliged to use the drivers they nominated at the time of entering the Championship except in cases of force majeure which will be considered separately.”.

        The above regulation was then amended in 2004 to state that “During a season each team will be permitted to use four drivers (excluding any third driver taking part in either of the free practice sessions on the first day of practice).” – which therefore means that the current limit of four drivers per season has been in place for 20 years.

        However, the regulations then, and to this day, do still contain clauses that state that “Additional changes for reasons of force majeure will be considered separately.”. Ferrari could reasonably argue that the switch between Bearman and Sainz would fall under the clause of “force majeure”, since the change had to occur due to medical illness, rather than just because of a contractual dispute.

    2. Kvyat’s participation in the 2017 US GP was planned in the first place rather than because of a rule as he was only benched for the preceding two rounds.

  3. No end to Red Bull controversy in sight

    Nice example of wishful thinking. The opposite seems more likely though.

    1. Does it seem likely to end? At the last race, Max literally threatened to leave the team. Since then, an official FIA complaint has been filed against their team principal.

      1. I don’t see it as likely to end. Red Bull really shot themselves in the foot by declaring no evidence of wrong doing was found by their internal ‘investigation’ (aka pay a third party to say what we want but give it an element of credibility/deniability by not doing it ourselves). The easy solution would have been to sack Horner for his misconduct/sexual harassment a subordinate staff member, which would probably have shut down any avenue Horner would have had to claim unfair dismissal or breach of contract. Its baffling to me that Red Bull are going to such lengths to defend a mediocre team principal (only seems capable of running a one car team), and are risking retaining Verstappen as a driver and according to some rumours their relationship with Ford from 2026 onwards. This could have all gone away by now if they had just sacked Horner, now we just have to watch this long drawn out process continue until Red Bull finally accept that Horner’s position is untenable.

        1. Firing Horner would create a lot of instability as he is a key player in their organisation. So I do agree with them for standing by him until proven guilty. To be honest I haven’t really been convinced by the evidence that is put forward so far.
          If he is guilty they should definitely fire him, I agree.

        2. Red Bull really shot themselves in the foot by declaring no evidence of wrong doing was found by their internal ‘investigation

          But they didn’t. The phraseology was suitably vague about the whole result phase.
          They did not say Horner was innocent, nor did they say he was guilty.
          They did not say what the KCs findings were, merely that he had completed his investigation and that the allegations had been dismissed.

    2. The notion that “it’s done” because Red Bull wants it to be is more wishful than anything. These things take time to play out. This is normal. This is compounded by the tone deaf response, which has drawn attention from the wider world. If the saga is not interesting, it’s very easy to ignore.

      Unlike F1, seemingly, the rest of the world has come a long way on these issues in recent years and F1’s rush to cover things up and “move on” looks very outdated indeed. It also stands in contrast to their latest F4 cup for girls, and the supposed lofty aims that F1 has for accessible and inclusive motorsport as a whole.

      It doesn’t help matters that a bunch of men have seen fit to abuse the situation for their own gamesmanship within the, apparently, not quite united Red Bull family of companies.

  4. Isn’t appendicitis generally a pretty quick recovery?

    Piastri podium would be amazing, the 100 000 strong roar around Albert Park sure would be something.

    1. Yes, but in a busy schedule the ‘two to four weeks’ guideline can easily include two races. Sainz will be keen to get back of course, but it’s smart to play it safe.

    2. Jonathan Parkin
      19th March 2024, 13:24

      I do remember Eddie Irvine sitting out the 2000 Austrian GP for what was suspected appendicitis but was in reality discovered to be an enlarged intestine. Not sure if he required surgery for that, but he was back for the German GP the next round.

      If Sainz did have surgery it might be best to sit out Albert Park too

    3. Normal work routine can be resumed in 1-3 weeks. (Keyhole surgery, open surgery is longer at 2-4 weeks)
      Driving an F1 car with the lateral G forces involved does not constitute a normal work routine.

      Let’s be nice to two people:
      Bearman drives until Sainz is fully recovered, and picks up more experience.
      Sainz does not risk his long term health.

    4. Anthony H. Tellier
      19th March 2024, 20:07

      “appendicitis” is simply a “soft tissue” cut-and-sew operation. Non-stressed location. Had it myself … however, do not recall any issues (a thousand years ago … ). IIRC, good-to-go quickly.

      1. Had it myself … however, do not recall any issues

        How many laps did you race 14 days after the surgery?
        Rough figure, we would expect major accuracy of recall after such a lengthy interval.

    5. He will probably sit out this last race before returning.

  5. this one i’ll gladly skip. Won’t waste a night up watching a race on this never even that good track after the first two turds this season provided.

    I’ll watch it on youtube in 5 minutes later.

    1. It really is remarkable how underwhelming the new layout is.

  6. isthatglock21
    19th March 2024, 19:50

    Re drivers having a F1 race in their home city, surely other than Piastri & Leclerc; Zhou also has one? He was born in & grew up in Shanghai which hosts the Chinese GP???? Sure he moved to Sheffield, UK in his teens for karting but so did most drivers including Oscar.

    1. Re drivers having a F1 race in their home city, surely other than Piastri & Leclerc; Zhou also has one? He was born in & grew up in Shanghai which hosts the Chinese GP???? Sure he moved to Sheffield, UK in his teens for karting but so did most drivers including Oscar.

      I think the Shanghai “home race” for Zhou was covered when the return to the calender was announced some months ago, but an F1 street circuit around my home town of Sheffield would be, erm, interesting. Changes in elevation can be a touch extreme.

      1. Aye, considering Leclerc always mentions he drives past his school and Piastri lived 10 minutes down the road, its a bit “more” of a home race for the 2 lads

    2. Stroll has one too (Montréal), and Sainz if he sticks around a few more years (Madrid).

  7. Will Bearman be back in Sainz’s Ferrari? – Sainz should be okay for a return just like Albon for the 2022 Singapore with this lead time interval, but otherwise, definitely Bearman since he’ll be on location anyway, which isn’t necessarily the case for the other two mentioned.

    No end to Red Bull controversy in sight – Unfortunately, & at this rate, probably still the same situation 10 years from now.

    Mercedes’ experiments – Too much experimenting for them.

    Hometown heroes – Definitely Piastri & Leclerc, but equally Zhou, as referred to in the above post, & even Sargeant is relatively close to having one, given Miami’s relative proximity to Fort Lauderdale.

    No trespassing – I may have already mentioned this once, but an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction (even if only temporary) because while track invasions before all drivers have returned to the pit lane had already happened before (2017), still far from a general issue as otherwise, all tracks would do the same.

  8. Racefans’ very own occy says:

    Will Bearman be back in Sainz’s Ferrari? “Maybe, or maybe not”
    (Whichever it is, occy says “as I expected”)

    No end to Red Bull controversy in sight. “It will end soon, or maybe not”
    (When it does end, occy says “as I expected it to”. At precisely the same time…)

    Hometown heroes. “One will beat the other”
    (But will only say which, after the event)

    Mercedes’ experiments. Will bring an improvement, or maybe not
    (In any case, whichever it is will be as predicted)

    No trespassing. Can’t quite work out what this means, so I’ll sit on the fence, just in case…

    1. Ah thanks! That’s cleared things up!

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