Formula 1: Why Max Verstappen was the big winner in Melbourne

Max Verstappen being knocked out of the Australian Grand Prix hit his Formula 1 critics with a reality that some continue to refuse to embrace.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1 / Peter Fox/GettyImages

For the first time in the last 10 races -- and just the second time in the last 21 -- the Dutch national anthem was not played during the podium celebration of a Formula 1 race, as Red Bull's Max Verstappen was not the winner of the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit last weekend.

Verstappen led the race early from the pole position, but he was quickly passed by Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. before it was discovered that his RB20 had suffered some kind of terminal mechanical issue.

The win was massive for the 29-year-old Spaniard, who is still without a ride for the 2025 season after effectively being fired by Ferrari in favor of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

Sainz should have no shortage of options for next year, but every week is effectively an audition, and after missing the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix following an electric run to third place in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, he is certainly turning some heads -- and even making some question whether Ferrari made the right move, even with Hamilton being a seven-time world champion.

But while Verstappen suffered his first retirement since being knocked out of the same race at the same track with another mechanical issue two years ago, he is the true big winner of the 2024 season's third race.

Once again, a laughable misconception about Verstappen's success was put to bed by what happened in Australia, as was one regarding the current state of Formula 1.

According to all the social media race engineers and technical analysts logged into Facebook and X during race day, the race should have been a runaway victory for Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, seeing as how the strength of Red Bull is clearly the only reason Verstappen has won as many races as he has over the last three-plus seasons.

Instead, Sainz led a Ferrari 1-2 finish over teammate Charles Leclerc, and the McLaren duo of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri rounded out the top four. Perez had to settle for fifth place.

While it could have been a better result for Perez had his car not taken some damage earlier in the race -- and had he not been demoted from third to sixth on the grid due to a qualifying penalty -- he was nowhere close to competing for the win after opening up the year with back-to-back runner-up finishes behind Verstappen, and he missed out on the opportunity to lead the world championship standings for the first time in his career.

When his race was effectively ruined by a Fernando Alonso visor tear-off, he was battling for fifth place. It wasn't like he was in the fight for the lead.

The awkward silence in the Sky Sports broadcast booth when Karun Chandhok dared to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the driver makes the ultimate difference was glorious.

It's the dose of reality the rest of the group needed amid continuous remarks like "such as the dominance of the RB20" being the reason behind Verstappen's success.

At this point, you'd have to have an affinity for fantasy if you don't think Chandhok's message is accurate. The opposite is nothing more than denial, especially after Verstappen took pole position in a rare qualifying session during which Ferrari actually entered looking like the favorites.

The Adrian Newey-designed RB20 is absolutely an elite car, arguably even stronger than its RB19 predecessor, which took 21 of 22 wins (19 for Verstappen) a year ago, and it certainly suits Verstappen's strengths. I'm not delusionally suggesting that Verstappen would be winning races left and right in a Sauber or a Haas.

But after being told by the "experts" that, after the pair split the season's first four races, Perez could challenge Verstappen last year due to the car (supposedly) being tailored to both drivers more so than the RB18 (supposedly) was, Verstappen went on to reel off 17 wins in 18 races.

And so queue up another change in the narrative. That elite level of performance couldn't possibly be because Verstappen is this generation's generational talent, could it?

The Australian Grand Prix also highlighted the current state of Formula 1. Without Verstappen in the mix, the competition throughout the rest of the grid is as intense as it's ever been. The race wasn't as exciting as the Sainz-won Singapore Grand Prix last year, but it still demonstrated that the sport is far from "boring".

And it's always good to see the mainstream media propaganda regarding Formula 1's supposed decline put to bed. Melbourne drew a record crowd for race weekend, despite the laughable misconception that Verstappen's domination is sending fans away in droves.

All things considered, Verstappen can walk away from Australian Grand Prix feeling pretty good about himself. He won't have a chance to win a record 11th race in a row at Suzuka Circuit during the Japanese Grand Prix this coming weekend, but he does have a chance to start another winning streak after either matching or surpassing the previous record following his two most recent non-wins.

Verstappen's nine-race winning streak that Sainz ended in Melbourne ironically began at Suzuka last September.

dark. Next. Formula 1 driver lineup overhaul expected for the 2025 season. Formula 1 driver lineup overhaul expected for the 2025 season

The Japanese Grand Prix is set to be broadcast live on ESPN from Suzuka Circuit beginning at 12:55 a.m. ET on Sunday, April 7. If you have not yet begun a free trial of FuboTV, do so now and don't miss it!