Verstappen's Australian Grand Prix goes up in smoke

The world champion retired early in the race, ending his winning streak
Max VerstappenMax Verstappen
Max Verstappen

A stuck brake ended Max Verstappen's nine-race winning streak after just a handful of laps in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

The world championship leader, who won both opening rounds of the 2024 season, led off the line around Melbourne's Albert Park after securing pole position, but was swiftly passed by Ferrari's Carlos Sainz - who made his return for the race after missing the previous round after having his appendix out.

Smoke began to pour out the back of Verstappen's Red Bull Racing car, forcing him into retirement on lap 3.

"As soon as the lights went off the right rear brake just stuck on and locked," said Verstappen. "It was basically like driving with the hand brake on so, of course, the temperature just kept on increasing and then I could see smoke appear as it had caught fire.

"There are some things you can’t control. It’s a shame as the car felt really good in the laps to the grid, but you cannot control these issues and these things happen. Of course, I am disappointed we didn’t finish the race as we had a good shot at winning and the car has been improving throughout the weekend."

Difficult weekend for Perez

Serio Perez was racing in the pack for most of the Grand Prix in MelbourneSerio Perez was racing in the pack for most of the Grand Prix in Melbourne
Serio Perez was racing in the pack for most of the Grand Prix in Melbourne

Team-mate Sergio Perez was handed a three-place grid penalty for blocking Haas' Nico Hulkenberg on Saturday, meaning he had to start fifth, which became sixth off the line as he fell behind Mercedes' George Russell off the line.

The Mexican admitted he struggled with race pace all weekend, but after repassing Russell, failed to make a dent on the Ferraris and McLarens at the front of the field.

Finishing more than 20 seconds behind Oscar Piastri in fourth, Perez said: "I don’t think it was an ideal weekend for us.

"In the first stint the balance was super neutral, I didn’t have any rear grip and we completely destroyed the rear tyres and then the second stint I completely destroyed the front tyres.

"It wasn’t a nice balance out there, it was a bit of surviving mode with the degradation we had, and we didn’t match up to Ferrari or McLaren."

Despite his retirement - his first since the same race in 2022 - Verstappen continues to lead the championship but his lead was cut to four points from Charles Leclerc, Perez is now five behind with race winner Sainz 11 back.