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Verstappen wins Australian GP amid massive chaos in late restart

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen claimed his first victory at the Australian Grand Prix amid chaotic scenes at Albert Park in Melbourne. He was joined at the podium by fellow world champions Lewis Hamilton in second place and Fernando Alonso in third, but nothing was straightforward about the classification.

Fans in Australia had to stay longer than they expected after several Safety Car periods and three red flags pushed the race into the late afternoon. The sun was very low on the horizon when the cars finally crossed the chequered flag on the 58th lap just after the Safety Car led them out and then dove right back into the pits.

The first of four race starts

Verstappen started from pole position but did not have the benefit of having the protection of his Red Bull teammate off the line. Sergio Perez had to start from the back after his car ended up in the gravel during qualifying.

The Dutchman was tag-teamed by the Mercedes cars of George Russell and Hamilton, pushing him back to third place in the opening lap.

The top three cars appeared to be poised for an intense battle but the Safety Car was brought out before any overtaking could take place.

Safety Cars and Pit Strategies

The first casualty of the race was Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who beached his car after a collision in the first few corners. The Safety Car did a quick stint before the race got going again.

Once the race got properly underway, Verstappen immediately put pressure on Hamilton who was in second. Meanwhile, Russell also felt the heat from his teammate who was creeping up behind him while defending against the charging Red Bull. Once DRS was enabled, it became immediately clear that Verstappen will quickly catch the Mercedes cars ahead of him.

However, even before the Dutchman could make a move on Hamilton, Alex Albon lost the back of his Williams and crashed heavily. The Safety Car came out again, forcing Mercedes to pull the trigger on their pit strategy.

George Russell was called in, with Hamilton staying out in front of Verstappen. Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz also pitted, while most of the other cars stayed out. Unfortunately for Russell and Sainz, there was too much debris on the track after Albon’s crash and the red flag was brought out.

This meant that everyone else got a free tyre change, and the early pitters did not get any advantage from coming in as soon as the SC came out.

First restart with Hamilton ahead

The race restarted with Hamilton in front of Verstappen and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard managed to get to the podium spots after gaining two places at the expense of Russell and Sainz, who fell back the order after stopping for fresh tyres before the red flag was called.

After the standing start, it did not take long for Verstappen to catch and completely eat up Hamilton’s Mercedes. Things got even worse for Mercedes after former race leader George Russell suddenly saw flames coming out of the back of his car. He had been trying to get back up to the front after losing the pit stop lottery, but ended up retiring instead.

Verstappen opens up a comfortable gap

Verstappen quickly opened up a gap to Hamilton, and the Briton had to turn his attention to Alonso behind him. He told his engineers several times over the radio that the Aston Martin was quick, but luckily for him Alonso had to manage his tyres because everyone was forced to make the switch early due to the red flag.

Behind Alonso, Sainz and Alpine driver Pierre Gasly were also staying close to each other but no one was getting within the DRS zone. From here it seemed like a sleepy afternoon would end with Verstappen leading a procession to the flag.

Late drama forces the FIA to read through their rule book

Alas, the closing stages of the race turned out to be anything but sleepy. Kevin Magnussen managed to scrape the concrete wall with his rear-right wheel, causing it to explode. The resulting debris and the parked Haas forced yet another Safety Car and red flag.

Surprisingly, instead of calling an end to the race with only two laps remaining, the FIA decided to go for another standing start. Unfortunately, instead of an exciting short sprint to the line, the restart ended in multiple collisions and a pile of carbon fiber on the track.

Alonso spun off after being tagged by Sainz, but he was lucky to be able to keep his car running albeit all the way down outside the points. The biggest losers at the restart were the Alpines after Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon crashed into each other while trying to avoid the spinning Alonso.

This resulted in both pink cars ending up smashed against the wall right in front of each other. At the back, Williams driver Logan Sargeant ended up hitting the back of Nyck de Vries. Sergio Perez and Stroll also took excursions off-track, making the restart a complete disaster all around.

Anti-climactic ending

Needless to say, all those collisions resulted in yet another red flag. Even though the lead car of Max Verstappen had already crossed the line in the pit lane to start the final lap, the FIA did not immediately call an end to the race.

There was some confusion about the race classification as some believed that if the race were to end, the classification from the penultimate lap, in this case before the restart, should stand. This means Alonso would keep his podium.

However, the FIA took the decision to restart the race once more in order to allow the cars to complete the 58th and final lap. However, they did revert to the same grid positions as the previous restart, giving Alonso his place back in third.

Obviously, the cars need to be running to be able to cross the line and in order to be classified in the previous running order, meaning the Alpines lost out massively after sustaining substantial damage. The final blow came against Sainz, who would have been running in 4th but was given a 5 second penalty for spinning Alonso around.

The Safety Car then led the cars out once more in the previous order sans those that could no longer run. There was no overtaking, meaning it was only a matter of getting the cars across the line.

Verstappen took his first victory in Australia after a lot of chaos, followed by Hamilton and Alonso. Sainz came in fourth before dropping down to 12th after his time penalty, followed by Stroll, Perez and Lando Norris.

The Australian Grand Prix was anything but boring, but Verstappen’s pace was a clear indication that the other teams need to improve very quickly if there will be any kind of competition for this year’s titles.

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