Verstappen exits Australian GP, halting win streak

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Max Verstappen’s run of nine straight victories came to a dramatic end at the Australian Grand Prix, where a brake fire ended his race early Sunday.

The reigning champion, who claimed pole position Saturday, appeared to be breezing to another comfortable win after holding the lead into Turn 1. But Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz got past a lap later, and smoke started appearing from the right-rear tire of the Red Bull.

Verstappen slowed and returned to the pits, where the brake duct dramatically exploded as he did so. Having stopped in the Red Bull pit box, Verstappen immediately climbed out of his car, signaling the end of his race.

TV cameras then showed the Dutchman, who had taken his race helmet off, angrily tapping his forehead and mouthing something as he walked through the Red Bull garage.

It has not yet been confirmed what caused the issue.

Verstappen has looked almost unbeatable so far this year, and the reliability issue will open up a hope to F1 fans Red Bull’s class-leading car has a fundamental weakness.

The race retirement left Sainz in line for a remarkable victory, having missed the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix two weeks ago with appendicitis. Sainz’s status for this weekend’s race was only confirmed on Friday, after he had completed practice laps for Ferrari.

McLaren’s Lando Norris and his teammate, local hero Oscar Piastri, are in the mix, along with Sainz’s Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc.

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez may well lament a three-place grid penalty which dropped him from third on the grid to sixth, leaving with it all to do to ensure a Red Bull still finishes the race on top.

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