Carlos Sainz Jr. won his first career Formula One race on Sunday with a victory at the British Grand Prix — the most dramatic race so far this season. It began with a frightening first-lap crash and ended with intense wheel-to-wheel battles for the podium positions.
Sainz was in the lead with Charles Leclerc close behind and, while Ferrari at first said they were “free to fight,” the Italian team then asked Sainz to let Leclerc past to avoid losing time to Lewis Hamilton.
But a safety car came out and Ferrari brought Sainz into the pits for fresher, grippier soft tires. Leclerc was left on older, hard tires and Sainz soon passed his teammate to regain the lead and pull away for his first victory in his 150th F1 start.
“Today the win does feel a bit of a relief,” said Sainz. “Honestly, I never stopped believing that this dream was going to come, even though this year has been tough for me.” He had finished second or third 11 times before winning and was a frustratingly close second to Verstappen at the last race in Canada.
Sergio Pérez passed Hamilton and Leclerc after the restart and finished second behind Sainz. Hamilton was briefly second after passing both Pérez and Leclerc in a three-wide move, but he couldn’t hold position and dropped back to fourth.
Hamilton then surged past Leclerc in a fierce fight for third place. He also led laps Sunday for the first time this season.
“I gave it everything,” said Hamilton, who was third in Canada two weeks ago and hoped Mercedes is on a comeback. The team has been unable to challenge Red Bull and Ferrari for wins this season, but an added upgrade to the Mercedes ahead of this weekend was promising.
“We’ve got some improvements to make but this is a huge bonus for us to be on the podium,” Hamilton added.
Leclerc was later seen being spoken to privately by Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. Leclerc said he was “very, very disappointed” with the result and had discussed with Binotto why the team had left him out on old tires.
“We could have (changed the tires) but I was asked to stay out on track. So that’s what I did,” he told French broadcaster Canal Plus.
Max Verstappen, the defending F1 champion and current standings leader, dropped out of the lead with damage to his Red Bull after running over debris. He struggled for grip and finished seventh.
Pérez said his race was a “great comeback” after he dropped to the back early in the race following damage to his front wing while racing Leclerc and Verstappen.
The race was red-flagged almost as soon as it began when a crash at the first corner left Zhou Guanyu and Alex Albon needing medical treatment.
Zhou’s car flipped upside-down and cleared a tire barrier before smashing into a fence. Pierre Gasly had knocked George Russell’s Mercedes into Zhou’s back wheel, flipping the Chinese driver’s Alfa Romeo. As drivers tried to avoid that crash, Albon was knocked sideways into the pit wall.
Zhou was treated at the circuit’s medical center, and Alfa Romeo said he was not badly injured, while Williams said Albon had been taken to hospital by helicopter for “precautionary checks.”
Russell, who left his car to rush to Zhou’s aid, was also unable to restart the race. MDT/AP