Max Verstappen claimed victory in the Australian Grand Prix after a farcical late-race red-flag restart generated mass carnage through the field.
Verstappen had been cruising to a dominant second win of the season when Kevin Magnussen lost his rear-right tire after tapping the outside barrier at Turn 2 on lap 53, triggering a brief safety car and then the second red flag of the afternoon.
The incident involving Kevin Magnussen that led to our third restart of the day! 💥#AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/PLxHFsZMhK
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
After a 15-minute delay the cars lined up on the grid for a restart, with Verstappen on pole alongside Lewis Hamilton, for a two-lap dash to the finish.
But the restart went wrong almost immediately.
The cars concertinaed in the first turn and Fernando Alonso was tipped into a spin by Carlos Sainz. Just behind that, Sergio Perez ran well off track and through the gravel, just about rejoining safely at the exit of Turn 2.
Pierre Gasly followed him across, but his re-entry was disastrous, crunching teammate Esteban Ocon against the outside wall and putting both out of the race. Logan Sargeant then rear-ended Nyck de Vries, putting them both out of the race in the Turn 1 gravel. Further back, while at Turn 3, Lance Stroll also dived into the gravel.
The race was red flagged again with one lap left on the counter – but with one lap required just to start there start procedure, there would be no racing.
After some deliberation, the drivers were sent out in the order they were in before the previous ill-fated restart to take the checkered flag in formation finish – less the crashed-out Alpine
The order was based on countback to the previous completed lap, which came behind the safety car following Magnussen’s crash. Verstappen therefore took the flag ahead of Hamilton, with Fernando Alonso completing the podium for his third successive third-place finish.
Carlos Sainz finished fourth for Ferrari but was handed a five-second penalty for hitting Alonso at the restart, dropping him to 12th – the penalty was particularly costly given the formation finish. Lance Stroll was therefore classified fourth in the second Aston Martin car.
Perez completed a mighty comeback from a pit-lane start to take the flag fifth, representing strong damage limitation after a car problem put him out of qualifying in Q1. The Mexican rose to 14th by the time the red flag was thrown, and used his RB19’s inherent car pace to devastating effect to scythe through the midfield.
The DRS down the back straight was arguably too powerful to allow drivers to defend, but Perez was also bold on the brakes into the super-fast Turn 9-10 chicane, making several gutsy moves in his haste to recover places — though what looked sure to be a move on Stroll for fourth never eventuated owing to the chaos of the end of the race.
Lando Norris finished sixth after a robust late move on Nico Hulkenberg, with the Haas driver finishing seventh.
Oscar Piastri was promoted to eighth by the two crashed-out Alpine drivers and Sainz’s penalty, picking up the first points of his Formula 1 career at his home race after looking set to finish 11th prior to the chaos.
Zhou Guanyu was classified ninth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda for AlphaTauri’s first points of the season.
Valtteri Bottas was the last car to take the flag, finishing 11th, but Gasly, Ocon, De Vries, Sargeant and Magnussen were classified in places 13th to 17th given they completed 90 per cent of the race distance.
George Russell, Alex Albon and Charles Leclerc were the only drivers to retire from the race.
Russell, who had snatched the lead from Verstappen at the start, suffered a fiery power unit failure that put him out of the race.
George Russell's Sunday goes from bad to worse…🧯😩#AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/ALP9YwP0lo
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
His podium prospects had already been dented, however, by a tire change made during a safety car that subsequently turned into a red flag, which gifted the rest of the field a free pit stop.
The red flag was triggered by a high-speed Alex Albon crash at Turn 6, with race control deciding too much gravel and debris was on the track to be cleaned with cars circulating behind the safety car.
Leclerc was an early retirement after hitting Stroll at Turn 3 on the first lap, sending him into the gravel and beaching his car, earning him his second retirement in three grands prix.