Verstappen wins crazy Australian GP after three red flags

Max Verstappen won the Australian GP

Max Verstappen won the Australian GP

Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen has won a Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix which ended under Safety Car after the third red flag period of the afternoon.

A Kevin Magnussen (Haas) crash with a handful of laps remaining left debris on the track and triggered the second red flag of the race, which should have set up a two-lap dash to the chequered flag from a standing restart.

However, mayhem ensued as soon as the field arrived at speed at Turn 1 of the Albert Park circuit again.

Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) tagged the third-placed Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso as Pierre Gasly and Sergio Perez (Red Bull) outbraked themselves and slithered off the road.

Gasly and Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon then crashed together at the exit of Turn 2, as Williams’ Logan Sargeant shunted the AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries off the road at Turn 1.

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll had assumed third place, behind Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), but the Canadian then sprayed off at Turn 3, before yet another red flag was called.

After much deliberation, officials decided that what remained of the field would be dispatched yet again for one lap, the last of the scheduled 58, before the Safety Car would peel into the pits and drivers take the chequered flag.

The restart order was Verstappen from Hamilton, Alonso, and Sainz as the top four but, before drivers returned to the circuit half an hour after the last restart, the latter was issued a five-second time penalty for causing a collision.

Stroll was fifth in the queue but therefore in the box seat to assume fourth position, which he duly did by taking the chequered flag.

However, everyone else behind him likewise crossed the stripe within five seconds of Sainz, and hence Perez was promoted to fifth, from Lando Norris (McLaren) and Nico Hulkenberg (Haas).

Oscar Piastri (McLaren) was officially eighth, hence scoring his first world championship points in his first F1 race on home soil, with Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo Sauber) ninth and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) 10th.

Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo Sauber) missed out on points, as did Sainz, who was officially classified last finisher in 12th.

A fourth red flag was then called when Hulkenberg broke down on his cool down lap.

It all marked a bizarre end to a grand prix which Verstappen had come to dominate, despite losing the lead off the initial race start and having an off at Turn 13 with 11 laps to go.

Between those dramas, he and others had a stroke of fortune when the first red flag gave him a truly free pit stop, but the two-time world champion still had to pass Hamilton on the road to reclaim the lead.

The Lap 47 off was not enough to bring Hamilton back into the contest but the second red flag had put them all but back on level terms, until the third red flag effectively sealed matters.

George Russell was among the eight non-finishers, leading initially in the other Mercedes before being caught out by the timing of the first red flag and then having to retire anyway with a power unit failure.

More than two-and-a-half hours prior to the chequered flag, the start lights had gone out for a first time.

Verstappen jumped well from pole position, but not well enough to prevent Russell from putting the nose of his Mercedes down the inside at the first corner and making the pass for the lead.

Hamilton looked to have been boxed in as they exited the Turn 1/Turn 2 complex but then he too put a move on Verstappen, taking the Dutchman well wide at Turn 3.

In the battle for sixth position, Stroll and Charles Leclerc made contact which sent the latter’s Ferrari spinning into the gravel trap and out of the race, although stewards opted to take no further action.

It did trigger a Safety Car, with the Mercedes one-two followed by Verstappen, Sainz, Alonso, Alexander Albon (Williams), and Stroll, with those seven all having started on medium tyres.

Perez, who started from pit lane, was 18th having used the Safety Car to pit and swap his Red Bull’s hard tyres to mediums and back.

The restart came on Lap 4, and Hamilton sought to pressure Russell, much to his team-mate’s displeasure, as Verstappen stalked both of the Mercedes.

An Albon crash on Lap 7 brought about another Safety Car, promoting Russell and Sainz to pit and take on hard tyres, with those two resuming in seventh and 11th respectively.

They were dealt a blow when the neutralisation was upgraded to a red flag in order to clean up the gravel and debris at the track at the crash site, meaning free tyre changes.

After 16 minutes, pit lane reopened and the field rolled back out for a standing start, with the top 11 all on hard tyres.

A traffic jam at Turn 6/Turn 7 caused a mess, with Zhou passing four cars and Sargeant two, while Magnussen sprayed through the gravel, although a subsequent investigation of the restart procedure would result in no further action.

When they did get back around to the grid and lights went out again, Hamilton led Verstappen and Alonso away for Lap 10 of the race, with Gasly into fourth.

On Lap 12, Verstappen used DRS to round up Hamilton and take the lead on Lakeside Drive, then gap the Mercedes by two full seconds before they reached Walker Straight again.

Meanwhile, Russell had made light work of sixth-placed Hulkenberg and also Stroll on the restart lap, then used DRS to take fourth position from Gasly on the run to Ascari on Lap 13.

His charge ended with a failure on Lap 17 which caused a fire to break out in the back of his Mercedes, before he parked at pit exit.

It led to a two-lap Virtual Safety Car period, after which racing resumed in earnest and Alonso resumed his chase of second-placed Hamilton.

The Briton responded as Verstappen cleared out from both while, in the other Red Bull, Perez was hauling his way through the field.

He slipped underneath Ocon for 11th at Turn 9 on Lap 21, then used DRS to pick off Piastri and Tsunoda in consecutive laps on Lakeside Drive, after which those two resumed their scrap over 10th which had already seen contact.

Up the road, Sainz overtook Gasly for fourth on Lap 25 at Turn 3, before Ocon drove around the outside of Piastri at Turn 9 on Lap 26.

Lakeside Drive DRS moves continued to prove popular as Ocon then breezed past Tsunoda for 10th spot on Lap 27, and then Piastri overtook the AlphaTauri on Lap 30.

Meanwhile, exactly halfway into the 58-lap race, Verstappen was 7.9s to the good.

With about 20 laps to go, Hamilton ran nine seconds in arrears but found himself facing the balancing act of trying to conserve his tyres while keeping Alonso more than a second behind and hence just outside of DRS range.

Verstappen and Hamilton traded fastest laps but the lead moved beyond 10 seconds on Lap 41, while Perez got by Norris on Lap 43 and was seventh when he went underneath Hulkenberg on Lap 44 at Ascari.

Alonso was given permission to step up his pursuit of Hamilton while Verstappen’s lead dropped back to 7.8s when he locked the inside-front at Turn 13 on Lap 47 and mowed the infield just near pit entry.

The Dutchman was 8.3s up when a Safety Car was called on Lap 54 due to Magnussen, who had just been off-road in a battle with Norris, slapping the wall at Turn 2 before coming to rest in the Lakeside Stadium car park.

It was converted to a red flag due to “wheel rim debris over a wide area”, setting up a two-lap dash to the finish once the race resumed from a standing start.

After 15 minutes under the red, the 16 surviving drivers left the pits again, on soft tyres, and Verstappen took up pole position, from Hamilton, Alonso, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Perez, Norris, Hulkenberg, and Ocon, with Piastri 11th.

The next green flag period lasted a matter of corners before chaos unfolded and Verstappen was eventually able to make his victory official, extending his lead in the drivers’ championship.

Round 4 is the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, at the Baku City Circuit, on April 28-30.

Click here for the full race results.

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