Race Weekend Central

Max Verstappen Avoids the Drama in Australia

Max Verstappen strolled back to victory at the Australian Grand Prix two weeks after falling all the way to second place at the Saudi Arabian GP. His win, the second in 2023, stretched his lead over teammate Sergio Perez (69 – 54). Verstappen enjoyed his 37th career win, while Red Bull found victory lane in Australia for the first time since 2011. 

Lewis Hamilton started third, found himself in first at one point, but could never match pace of Verstappen and finished second, the 192nd podium of his career.  Fernando Alonso rounded out a podium of champions, with 11 combined between the three of them. Alonso has finished third in all three races of the season and is looking rejuvenated driving for Aston Martin. 

See also
Max Verstappen Wins Red-Flag-Riddled Australian Grand Prix

Lance Stroll followed his teammate to the finish, giving resurgent Aston Martin a solid points day that puts them in second place in the constructors’ standings (though trailing Red Bull 123 – 65). Perez started from the pit lane after failing to set a time in qualifying and made his way to take fifth. 

Lando Norris, who has suffered through a terrible start to 2023, wound up sixth on the day, with Nico Hulkenberg securing a surprise seventh. 

Oscar Piastri, racing at his home track for the first time in Formula 1, took eighth, giving McLaren a double-points finish, its first of the year. Zhou Guanyu earned ninth for Alfa Romeo, his first points of the season.

Likewise, Yuki Tsunoda took the final points-paying position and stopped his pattern of two consecutive 11th-place finishes in Australia.

The Race

The results belie that this race was anything but a commonplace clinic given by Verstappen. With Michael Masi in attendance, the former race director and overseer of the infamous 2021 Abu Dhabi GP, the signs of an ominous and peculiar race had been proffered. 

Include the fact that Sky Sports commentator Ted Kravitz criticized his attendance by saying, “And he’s been saying hello to drivers – he hasn’t been saying hello to Mercedes people.

“I don’t really … well, I do want to get into it, you know I do. But I won’t. What’s he doing in Australia? He’s in charge of the V8 Supercars, the Australian Touring Cars now. But what’s he doing coming back into the F1 paddock?”

What was Masi doing? He was bringing the chaotic juju that changes a race from a standard affair to something resembling havoc and inanity. Just ask Charles Leclerc, who found himself punted into the gravel on lap 1 after Stroll tagged him, ending his day. 

George Russell used his front-row start to pip Verstappen on lights out and took over the lead, even stretching out the gap. However, Alex Albon losing his car on lap 8 and destroying his Williams brought out the safety car, which is when Russell pitted. 

Then the safety car yellow turned into a red flag which stranded Russell back in the top 10 and gifted Hamilton the lead. After the restart, Verstappen made the perfunctory pass on Hamilton and assumed the top spot. Within two laps, Verstappen cruised to a two-second lead. 

With the race seemingly assuming the natural state of affairs, Russell’s car caught fire and he parked on the side of the track. From what had looked like a stellar weekend turned into a lost opportunity, and the virtual safety car gave teams another opportunity to pit and a break in the action. 

Once the safety car period ended, the race looked like it would follow in pro forma fashion. The big debate became whether teams would need to switch from the hard tires they were all using. The lap counts on the Pirellis along with performance concerns overrode any sense of drama. 

The FIA sanctioned the race for 58 laps and on lap 54, Kevin Magnussen tagged the wall with his right rear, causing an instant explosion that spread shrapnel scattered about the track. Magnussen parked his car, bringing out the safety car and then another red-flag period. 

Counting the start of the race and the end to the first red flag, lap 56 brought the third standing start of the race, which last happened at Jeddah in 2021. 

To give an idea of how things stood at the restart:

Top 10 on lap 56

Verstappen

Hamilton

Alonso

Sainz

Gasly

Stroll

Perez

Norris

Hulkenberg

Ocon

Then this happened:

To call this restart ugly is to ignore the sport’s technology, skill and beauty. Each F1 season usually features a couple moments when the drivers, physics and coincidence, collectively collide in spectacularly terrible fashion, and 2023 found its first. 

The drivers who found trouble on lap 56 included Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Logan Sargeant and Stroll. 

Here is what the top 10 looked like after the standing-start melee on lap 56.

Verstappen

Hamilton

Sainz

Hulkenberg

Tsunoda

Norris

Piastri

Guanyu

Bottas

Perez

The big losers appear to be Alonso, Stroll, Gasly and Ocon, while Hulkenberg looked to be a fantastic position to score a top five. The problem is the cars did not make it through a timing sector before the red flag came out, so the scoring reverted to the order at the start of lap 56. 

The top 10, after another red-flag period, and a rolling start under safety car, looked like this:

Verstappen

Hamilton

Alonso

Sainz – dropped to 12th

Stroll

Perez

Norris

Hulkenberg

Piastri

Tsunoda

If any team made out, Aston Martin did. Alpine proved to be the biggest loser, with both drivers losing out on top-10 finishes and accumulating a substantial bill for Ocon and Gasly wrecking each other. Hulkenberg also must feel snakebitten by the rulebook after having his fourth-place finish wiped out and finishing in eighth. 

After all the late-race lunacy, Verstappen found himself surrounded by two former champions both over a decade older than him. 

The Good

In a feel-good story, Valtteri Bottas found himself on pit lane about to restart the race on lap 58 when his grid trolley gave up. Needing to start to earn classification for the race, Alpine helped out. With both of their drivers done for the day, they offered one of their trolleys to provide the generator that got Bottas going to finish the race. Call that community. 

When Alonso jumped from Alpine to Aston Martin, the move looked to be lateral. Yet, Alonso has started the 2023 season with three straight podiums, a feat he has not enjoyed since 2013. Not only is Alonso looking good, but Aston Martin seems to be moving into the second-best team on track this year. 

The Bad

If the series is trying to mirror NASCAR’s strategy of wrecking half the cars on track under the guise of needing to finish races under green, then they succeeded splendidly. 

If the series is trying to show beautiful vehicles doing wonderful things, then re-examining the red-flag procedures needs to be an agenda item. There’s no reason for teams to tear up equipment with two laps to go when the race could have taken a couple yellow-flag laps and called it a day – especially without having to wait an extra 30 minutes to do so. 

The Questionable

On the lap 56 restart, Sainz incurred a five-second penalty for tagging Alonso in what looked like a racing incident. Whether or not the penalty should have been given is a different issue, but the trouble is with how it was adjudicated. Under normal racing conditions, Sainz may have endured losing a couple of spots, but with the penalty given under safety-car conditions, Sainz dropped from fourth to 12th. 

Not only does this penalty look especially harsh, but it makes Ferrari’s day look even worse as they had a car go from finishing in the points to leaving Australia with nothing. 

The team is now 30 points behind Mercedes (56 – 26) and in fourth in the standings. For an organization that was thought to be the main challenger to Red Bull, the Prancing Horse is looking more like the on-track conundrum that has been its ideology for the past decade. 

The Driver

Give it to Perez. Not only did he rebound from a awful qualifying effort but he managed to work his way through the field in rather stealthy fashion to grab fifth.  Did he benefit from the red flags? Sure did. Is he driving the best car on the grid?  Sure is. 

But is moving from last to fifth still a powerful performance? Sure thing. Backing up his win from Jeddah with fifth keeps him alive as main storyline in the season. 

The Results: Australian Grand Prix (Albert Park Circuit, Melbourne, April 2)

POSNODRIVERCARLAPSTIME/RETIREDPTS
11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT582:32:38.37125
244Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES58+0.179s18
314Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES58+0.769s15
418Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES58+3.082s12
511Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT58+3.320s11
64Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES58+3.701s8
727Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI58+4.939s6
881Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES58+5.382s4
924Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI58+5.713s2
1022Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT58+6.052s1
1177Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI58+6.513s0
1255Carlos SainzFERRARI58+6.594s0
1310Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT56DNF0
1431Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT56DNF0
1521Nyck De VriesALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT56DNF0
162Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES56DNF0
1720Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI52DNF0
NC63George RussellMERCEDES17DNF0
NC23Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES6DNF0
NC16Charles LeclercFERRARI0DNF0

Note – Perez scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race. Sainz received a five-second time penalty for causing a collision.

About the author

Ava Lader headshot photo

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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