Race Weekend Central

Max Verstappen Wins Red-Flag-Riddled Australian Grand Prix

If you’d turned off the 2023 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix (Sunday, April 2) after 54 of 58 laps, seeing the news that Max Verstappen earned his 37th career Formula 1 victory wouldn’t come as much surprise. However, a shock red flag on lap 55, for debris from Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, set off a standing restart and a whole lot of controversy.

Taking to the track for two last laps of racing, the 16 remaining drivers didn’t even make it two corners. Contact between Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso sent the Aston Martin spinning, forcing Sergio Perez into the gravel trap and triggering a heavy crash between Alpine teammates Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon and a separate incident between Logan Sargeant and Nyck De Vries. Then, entering turn three, Lance Stroll out-braked himself and ended up in the gravel.

As the ticker marked “58/58 laps” and “RED FLAG” simultaneously, Sky Sports pundits searched the rulebooks for any clues as to what the finishing order would be.

Finally, the FIA reached its decision, declaring the field would re-form the original restart order, exit the pit lane, complete the 58th and final lap at safety car speed with no overtaking allowed, and cross the finish line. Any cars (such as the two Alpines) incapable of completing the final lap under their own power would be excluded from the results.

So after all that, the podium finishers remained the same. Verstappen led home Lewis Hamilton and Alonso to form the first all-World Champion podium since Hungary in 2018.

“We had a very poor start,” Verstappen told Sky Sports’ David Coulthard. “Lap one I was careful because I had a lot to lose and they had a lot to win … after that, I think the pace of the car was good, you could see that straight away, we were always there, waiting for the DRS to open up …”

He continued, voicing his displeasure with the FIA stewarding: “With these red flags, I don’t know. The first one, maybe you can do it, but I think that second one, I don’t really understand, it was a bit of a mess … and of course, we won, which is the most important thing.”

The usually stoic Dutchman also had words for runner-up and ex-title rival Hamilton after a close call on the first lap, saying, “From my side, I just tried to avoid contact. It’s quite clear in the rules what you’re allowed to do now on the outside, but clearly, it’s not followed.”

It was a great afternoon in Melbourne for Hamilton, who not only scored his first podium of the 2023 season but also led laps early in the GP.

“To get those points is really amazing today,” said the seven-time champion. “I definitely didn’t expect to be second, so I’m really grateful for it … the car, I still don’t feel connected to it, so I’m driving as best I can with that disconnect, and I’m working as hard as I can to create that connect, but it’s a long project … for us to be up here fighting with Aston [Martin] at this point in the season is just amazing.”

Aston Martin’s representative on the podium was once again Alonso, who scored his 101st career podium and third consecutive third-place result:

“We had a rollercoaster of emotions today,” said the Spaniard. “There were many things going on at the beginning, but then also at the end now. The last half an hour, it was difficult to understand what’s going on, but the race itself it was good for us … we’ll take P3.”

Fourth place situated a fortunate Stroll, while Sergio Perez recovered from a pit lane start to finish fifth, and Lando Norris earned McLaren’s first points of the year with sixth. Seventh-place Nico Hulkenberg broke down in turn 2 after crossing the finish line, and hometown star Oscar Piastri earned his first career F1 points in eighth. Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda rounded out the top 10.

Although Verstappen started from his 22nd career pole position, a great start from Mercedes-AMG’s George Russell gave the young Briton the lead for the first time all season. A late braking move in turn 3 allowed his teammate Hamilton to claim second place from Verstappen, before contact with Stroll sent Charles Leclerc into the gravel trap and out of the race.

In the early laps of the Grand Prix, Alexander Albon backed up his strong eighth-place qualifying run, placing his Williams as high as sixth before losing control in turn 7 and bouncing hard off the tire barrier. 

The resulting Safety Car seemed a fantastic opportunity for race leader Russell to switch to the long-lived Pirelli hard compound, and he and Sainz dove into pit lane for fresh rubber, leaving Hamilton leading for the first time all season.

Moments later, the race stewards threw the first red flag of the day to clear gravel from Albon’s incident away from the racing surface. Under F1 rules, Hamilton, Verstappen, Alonso, and other leaders switched to fresh hard tires in the pitlane. Russell remained in seventh place, Sainz in 11th for a standing restart.

Despite a great recovery to fifth place on the restart (eventually to fourth after dispensing Gasly) on lap 18 Russell’s Mercedes erupted into flames exiting the final turn. A brief virtual safety car was called to move the stricken No. 63, the first time Russell suffered a mechanical DNF since joining Mercedes at the start of 2022.

Despite the chaos of the early stages, it was only a matter of time before Verstappen was back in his usual position. One DRS-assisted blast past Hamilton on lap 12, and Red Bull No. 1 was back in clean air. Despite a brief off-track excursion on lap 48 and the late-race restart chaos, he never looked back.

Although Sainz originally scored fourth place at the checkered flag, he was assessed a five-second penalty for the contact with Alonso, dropping him to 12th in the final results.

2023 Australian Grand Prix Results

After several weeks off, F1 returns to the streets of Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Coverage begins at 7 a.m. ET on ESPN.

About the author

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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DoninAjax

I believe there should only be one standing start in F1 and any restart should be a rolling one, at least after half distance.

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