Max Verstappen won a chaotic and highly controversial Australian Grand Prix that ended under a safety car after a crash-affected restart. The Red Bull driver led Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso to the finish line, despite Alonso being spun out at the restart with two laps to go and dropping to the back. According to FIA regulations, the finishing positions were taken from the last restart, with the cars then having to complete a final lap behind the safety car. This decision sparked controversy as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was given a five-second penalty for causing the decisive crash at the first corner, dropping him from fourth to 12th and out of the points. Sainz described this decision as “unacceptable”, adding that the penalty was too severe. The Alpine drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were also major casualties of the official decisions – they took the penultimate restart fifth and 10th but crashed into each other and retired at the second corner.
The events of the Australian Grand Prix will lead to criticism that F1 is prioritizing showbusiness over sport. This is reminiscent of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021, when officials made errors that changed the course of the world championship fight between Verstappen and Hamilton. This desire for a grand prix to finish under racing conditions resulted in a bizarre and confusing climax, with a race that ended under a safety car.
The first-corner crash led the FIA to make a decision that a lap had taken place but that most of the events during it had had no effect, other than the crash between the Alpines. Verstappen’s win, coupled with a fifth place for his team-mate Sergio Perez after the Mexican started from the back, extended the Dutchman’s championship lead to 15 points.
Before the final climax, Verstappen had disposed of an early challenge from Russell and Hamilton to dominate the race. An incident-packed start to the grand prix featured two safety-car periods – the first on the opening lap and the second on lap six – and a first red flag. The first safety car was caused by a crash between Leclerc and Stroll at Turn Three on lap one, while the second was due to a heavy crash by Albon’s Williams at Turn Six.
Verstappen passed Hamilton two laps after the restart for his second win of the year. Russell retired from fourth place a few laps after the restart with an engine failure, while Sainz benefited from Russell’s problem and slowly pushed up to challenge Hamilton and Alonso but unable to pass them. Gasly was on course to take fifth in an impressive performance for the French team before the late drama.
Verstappen rarely needed to use his pace, but the advantage the Red Bull has over the rest of the field was clear as he homed in on Hamilton to take the lead after the restart. Verstappen made his second poor start of the weekend, losing places to both Mercedes at the first start, and was challenged by Alonso at the second, but once up and running was in a class of his own. Within two laps of the restart, the Red Bull was right with Hamilton and Verstappen blasted past the Mercedes on the straight up to the fast Turn Nine/10 chicane, displaying the huge advantage the Red Bull has on the straights with DRS overtaking aid open.
Verstappen was able to manage his tyres with expertise as Alonso did the same and the two circulated close together to the flag. Hamilton constantly radioed his concern back to the pits that his tyres would not make the distance, as the gap to his old rival oscillated between a second and two. He was warned by his race engineer Peter Bonnington that Alonso was trying to trick him into over-using his tyres, and “not to fall for it”. Verstappen’s only problem was when he ran wide at the penultimate corner on lap 47, with 11 to go, after which he complained that he kept locking his front wheel into that corner. It cut his lead from 11 seconds to seven, but Verstappen was able to continue untroubled thereafter.
In conclusion, Max Verstappen won a chaotic and highly controversial Australian Grand Prix that ended under a safety car after a crash-affected restart. The Red Bull driver led Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso to victory, despite Alonso being spun out at a restart with two laps to go and dropped to the back. This decision sparked controversy as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was given a five-second penalty for causing a crash at the first corner, dropping him from fourth to 12th and out of points contention. The events of this grand prix will lead to criticism that F1 is prioritizing showbusiness over sport. Despite making two poor starts of the weekend, Verstappen managed his tyres with expertise as Alonso did the same and they circulated close together to the flag. In addition, Perez’s fifth place extended Verstappen’s championship lead to 15 points.