Max Verstappen won a chaotic Australian Grand Prix which was interrupted by three red flags and finished under Safety Car after multiple crashes at the final restart.
The world champion led the field over the line behind the Safety Car after the race was red-flagged on the penultimate lap after the second standing restart of the day. Lewis Hamilton finished second, with Fernando Alonso completing the podium in third despite being hit by Carlos Sainz Jnr on the final restart and dropping down the order.
George Russell led the early stages of the race after making a good start and drawing alongside pole winner Verstappen on the inside on the run to turn one. The Mercedes driver aggressively held his line into the corner and took the lead as the field filtered through the narrow right hander.
Verstappen lost second to Hamilton at turn three, while Charles Leclerc spun off into the gravel trap after contact with Lance Stroll. The Safety Car was deployed to recover the Ferrari, with the race resuming at the start of lap four with Russell leading away from Hamilton, Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jnr in fourth and Fernando Alonso in fifth.
Verstappen ran close to Hamilton for second place, while Hamilton kept well within a second of his team mate leading ahead. Russell briefly went defensive into turn 11 feeling pressure from Hamilton behind him, with the top three pulling a small gap to Alonso behind.
On lap seven, Alexander Albon in sixth place lost control of his Williams through the fast turn six kink and crashed into the barriers, putting him out on the spot and littering the track with gravel and debris. The Safety Car was deployed for a second time, with Russell opting to pit out of the lead and switch onto the hard tyres, presumably to run until the end of the race. Russell dropped to seventh, while Sainz also pitted for hards and fell to 11th place.
Hamilton inherited the lead ahead of Verstappen. However, less than a lap later, the race was red-flagged due to the level of gravel and debris on the circuit. Cars were brought into the pit lane and remained there for over ten minutes while the circuit was cleared. The red flag allowed every driver to change tyres, effectively giving Hamilton the lead over Verstappen with Russell down to seventh.
The race restarted with a standing restart on lap ten, with the entire top 10 now on fresh hard tyres. Hamilton successfully kept the lead from Verstappen on the run to turn one, with Alonso third and Pierre Gasly sitting third. Russell gained two places at the restart to sit in fifth behind the Alpine.
DRS was activated at the start of lap 12 and Verstappen immediately put Hamilton under pressure for the lead. Verstappen tucked up behind the Mercedes and used DRS along the Lakeside Drive straight to sweep around Hamilton long before the chicane and take the lead. Verstappen instantly broke free of DRS range of the Mercedes to pull clear by two seconds by the end of the lap.
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Russell slowed on lap 17, reporting a power unit problem. With flames licking from the rear of his car, he pulled off at the pit exit into retirement. The Virtual Safety Car was deployed as Russell’s car was extinguished, eventually being cleared on lap 19.
Verstappen duly pulled away out front, while Alonso remained within two seconds of second-placed Hamilton. With all the front runners running on their hard tyres until the end of the race, there was little in the way of strategy to play out with many drivers managing their tyres to get to the end of the race. Verstappen led by over ten seconds, but he lost a handful of those by running wide and onto the grass at turn 13.
With six laps remaining, Kevin Magnussen ran into the wall on the exit of turn two, causing his tyre to break off the wheel and coming to a rest on track on the run to turn three. After a minute of the wheel carcass sitting on the track the Safety Car was eventually deployed on lap 54. A lap later, the race was red flagged for a second time.
With cars returning to the pit lane, drivers were able to change over to soft tyres for the second standing restart and the third grid start of the grand prix. As Verstappen held the lead ahead of Hamilton, chaos unfolded behind.
Alonso was hit by Sainz at the first corner, sending the Aston Martin driver spinning down the order. The two Alpine drivers of Gasly and Esteban Ocon collided, sending both into the wall, while Stroll ran off track at the track at turn three. Further back, Logan Sargeant clattered into Nyck de Vries.
The red flag flew for a third time, with just a single lap of racing remaining. After a delay of more than half an hour, the field were sent out for the final lap behind the Safety Car under the order of the penultimate lap restart. This promoted Alonso back into fourth place and Stroll into sixth, although the two Alpine drivers were denied the ability to restart with their heavily damaged cars.
The field completed the final lap under Safety Car to take the chequered flag and make the result official. Verstappen won by a tenth of a second over Hamilton, with Alonso taking third for Aston Martin. Sainz took fifth, but received a five second time penalty for the collision with Sainz at the final standing restart.
Stroll finished fourth, with Perez recovering to fifth at the finish. Lando Norris secured McLaren’s first points in sixth, with Nico Hulkenberg taking seventh ahead of the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri. Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda. Sainz was classified 12th, the last of the running cars, after his penalty.
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2023 Australian Grand Prix reaction
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