AUSTRALIAN GP – Max Verstappen wins a chaotic, controversial and drama filled race ahead of Lewis Hamilton

Testing & Race Reports

Max Verstappen has won a chaotic, controversial and drama-filled, Australian Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The Red Bull driver was able to hold off the seven time champion in the two lap sprint following the second red flag which was caused by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.

Verstappen had dominated most of the race despite losing the initial lead from pole to Mercedes’ George Russell and Hamilton, before a first red flag caused by Alex Albon crashing out solo and putting debris and gravel across the road. At the first restart, Hamilton did hold the lead having passed the Red Bull early on, but Verstappen was soon passing using the DRS and then maintain the lead.

Russell led the opening laps of the race under safety car and then lost the lead when he stopped under the second safety car which was caused by Alex Albon crashing, then leading to the first red flag after six laps. However, the Mercedes driver’s race was brought to an end by an engine failure on lap eighteen.

At the first restart, following the red flag, Russell had held off Hamilton and Verstappen making him look like a strong contender for victory. Just before the first red flag, Russell moved on to the hard tyre, which backfired when the red flag came out in theory that should have seen him make it to the end.

The Englishman described the decision to stop the race at that point as “totally unnecessary”. Russell, however, before his retirement, did recover to fourth passing Hulkenberg, Stroll and Gasly to get back up to fourth, but was then forced to pull over on the home straight after a power unit issue saw the back of his W14 catch fire.

Sainz being the benefactor, from both the red flag and Russell’s retirement, gained fourth and then started to try to close the gap to Hamilton and Verstappen. But ultimately lost out dropping out of the points in the late safety car and red flag.

Meanwhile, Haas has lodged a protest about the final restart, which resulted in Nico Hulkenberg dropping to seventh. Under 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.

But that gave Hamilton and Verstappen a free pit stop, while Russell was dropped to seventh. From that point onwards, expect a minor error Verstappen looked once again unstoppable and he had around a ten-second lead in the closing phases of the race, which was wiped out by the final safety car.

Fernando Alonso was third that was despite a collision on the restart with two laps to go. The controversy remaining many of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the FIA decided to restore the order from before the restart because the cars had not made it far enough around the track before for the new classification to be confirmed before the red flag came out.

However the wording of the regulation states that the order should be determined for a restart from the last timing line which all the cars have crossed and two racing laps had to be completed. In this case at a start of a race on the opening lap no order had been established meaning the only established order was the starting grid.

These rules were also cleared up following the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, then further clarified after last years controversial title decider when less than 75% of the race was completed following the restart. A race in hindsight where all the scandals of the last few years created the perfect storm.

The final restart putting Verstappen against Hamilton a direct comparison to Abu Dhabi in 2021, triggering memories of that one lap fight for the championship. Ironically, that desire led to the final, bizarre, and confusing climax, and a race that did end under a safety car.

At that restart, it was the Mercedes who got the better start on the run to Brabham before Verstappen reacted quickly enough to cut off the Mercedes, holding the lead into the first corner. However, any further sparring between the pair was prevented as chaos ensued behind them after Sainz ran into compatriot Alonso.

But in the closing stages, before the red flag, their was another thrilling fight between Hamilton and Alonso looked to set to ensue with the Aston Martin trying to close within DRS range. That was brought to an end when Magnussen made contact with the wall.

He lost the rear of the Haas through Turn Two after hitting the wall, that resulted in him breaking his suspension and his tyre flying off the car. There are questions as the tyre was opposite a marshal post and Magnussen stopping by a gap to recover a car whether that was necessary. The timing of the incident meant that, according to the rules, there would be two racing laps after the restart.

Verstappen said “We had a very poor start and I was careful – I had a lot to lose and they had a lot to win. I think the pace of the car was quick – we were always there waiting for the DRS to open up. These red flags – the first I think you can do it but the second one I don’t really understand.”

Hamilton, who finished second: “This track and town continue to put on a great show. Really unlucky for George today, we’ll have to look into it. Our reliability generally has been really good. Its really unfortunate but otherwise getting the points is amazing today. I didn’t expect to be second, so I’m super grateful for it.”

Alonso said, “We had a rollercoaster of emotions today. Many things going on at the beginning and the last half an hour was difficult to understand what was going on. The race itself was good for us in terms of pace, the boys did an incredible job but I could not match the pace to get close enough.”

Alonso was reinstated to third for the restart and Carlos Sainz who crashed into Alonso before the restart, that earned him a five-second penalty dropping him to twelfth and leaving Ferrari pointless after Charles Leclerc retired in the opening lap collision.

Saniz’s collision with Alonso was part of wider drama at Jones (Turn Two) on the restart, the Alpine of Pierre Gasly had gone off after locking up as he re-joined he crashed into his teammate Esteban Ocon, the drama resulting in the two Frenchman and Spaniards crashing into each other. Both Alpine’s coming out worst off retiring from points position.

An emotional Sainz described that decision as “unacceptable”, adding: “They need to wait until after the race and discuss with me. Clearly, the penalty is not deserved. It is too severe.”

Lance Stroll was fourth finishing just over a second and a half behind his Aston Martin teammate, another strong showing for the team despite the drama which saw action throughout. The Canadian finishing ahead of Sergio Perez and Lando Norris, McLaren making the points along with his teammate Oscar Piastri in eighth, for the first time this season.

Perez elected to start from the pit lane following his crash in qualifying, the Mexican avoiding the drama to finish fifth. Behind the drama, Norris and Hulkenberg had a thrilling clean fight for sixth before the German’s teammate brought out the final red flag. Both delivered strong results for Haas and McLaren.

Oscar Piastri scored his first points for McLaren in eighth, following Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo by scoring points in Melbourne on his home race debut. Piastri finished four tenths ahead of Guanyu Zhou, Yuki Tsunoda spilt the Alfa Romeo’s taking the final point after finishing ahead of Valtteri Bottas.

Sainz couldn’t make his recovery from the first lap chaos stick, the Ferrari driver dropped to last and was the final driver to take the flag ahead of the two Alpine’s. Despite the collision, the Frenchman were classified as finishing the race. Along with Nyck De Vries, Logan Sargent and Magnussen, as they completed over ninety percent of the race.

Sargeant ran into the back of de Vries which added to the catalogue of accidents, resulting in them both retiring from the race.


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