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Max Verstappen and Red Bull won in Australia, with a thrilling battle behind him (Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool, Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen and Red Bull won in Australia, with a thrilling battle behind him (Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool, Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen wins chaotic Australian Grand Prix

Reigning Champion cruises to victory as chaos ensues behind and off track

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Max Verstappen extended his championship lead, cruising to a convincing victory at the Australian Grand Prix. Chaos saw thrilling passes up and down the grid, with battles and scores to settle. 

Winner Max Verstappen lost the lead of the Australian Grand Prix to George Russell at the first corner, with the cars behind descending into chaos (Image Credit: @SkySportsF1 on Twitter)
Winner Max Verstappen lost the lead of the Australian Grand Prix to George Russell at the first corner, with the cars behind descending into chaos (Image Credit: @SkySportsF1 on Twitter)

Qualifying yesterday resembled a wet session, with the field needing to constantly warm up tyres to extract performance. Sergio Perez’s Q1 elimination saw the Mexican start in last place following a crash into the barrier on his opening lap of Q1.

All eyes were on the three World Champions in the top four as the cars lined up on the grid ahead of the race start. The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton started in P3, with Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin alongside him. Memories of the two former teammates’ fierce driving and clashes from across the years echoed on the grid at Albert Park. After the drubbing of the opening rounds, the manufacturer now had a chance to turn the tables on the customer team.

Valtteri Bottas’s difficult weekend showed no sign of abating. After qualifying in last place, the team opted to make significant changes to his Alfa Romeo, resulting in the Finn starting from the pit lane. He was joined by Sergio Perez’s Red Bull following the Mexican’s crash in Q1, as reported by

Anticipation was high ahead of the race, as Hamilton and Alonso started alongside each other on the second row of the grid. Alonso’s comments after qualifying indicated the team was catching Red Bull.  Could both keep it clean into turn one and challenge Red Bull?

George Russell started with both World Champions behind him and the all-conquering Red Bull in front of him. A good start would be vital if he was to challenge for the win. Mercedes needed to change a sensor ahead of the race start, only finishing with 15 minutes to go before lights out.

Race start leads to a Safety Car

At lights out, George Russell gets a perfect launch and takes the lead into turn one and instantly begins to pull away from the Red Bull. Mercedes’s perfect start is then completed when Lewis Hamilton takes the lead at the second corner, as the Red Bull oversteers on the exit of turn two. Verstappen now lies in third place. Chaos ensued behind them.

Aston Martin’s start does not go to plan, with Alonso dropping to P5 after Carlos Sainz makes a near-perfect start in his Ferrari. Lance Stroll falls down the order and struggles to find space going into turn three.

Charles Leclerc endures a nightmare start, beaching his Ferrari in the gravel at turn three following contact with Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin. Twelve months ago Leclerc was challenging for victory. What a difference a year makes.

With the Safety Car deployed amongst the chaos, multiple drivers opt to pit for hard tyres to get to the end of the race. Perez, Sargent and Ocon all benefit. The race resumes on lap 4.  Russell and Hamilton lead away at the restart, with all cars maintaining position.  Hamilton is immediately under pressure from the reigning World Champion, with the Red Bull determined to pass.

Mercedes battle: Safety Car 2 and red flag

With DRS enabled, the top three become embroiled in a battle. Russell is on the team radio asking why he needs to manage the pace when his teammate is attacking.

Alex Albon then temporarily pauses the action after losing the rear of his Williams at turn seven, causing chaos.  The Williams had been running in the top six, the crash a devastating result for the team.

George Russell and Carlos Sainz then come in for hard tyres, dropping to P7. Hamilton asks if he is at a disadvantage, just as the red flag comes out, granting tyre changes to everyone. Suddenly Russell’s pit stop has backfired, as has Sainz, now P11.

The big winners from the stoppage were McLaren. They found themselves P9 and P10, with Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas moving to P6 and Pierre Gasly moving to P5.

Second lights out

The race restarted on lap 9, from the grid. Hamilton and Russell starting alongside each other, evoking memories of 2021.  As expected, all the top teams moved onto the hard tyres, meaning no further pit stops.

Max Verstappen questioned if Lewis Hamilton was within ten car lengths of the Safety Car. A bizarre incident at the back led to traffic jam chaos, but all cars made it to the grid.

Hamilton led away at the restart, with Alonso unable to pass Fernando Alonso. Russell moved up a place past Lance Stroll, moving up to P5. Nyck de Vries was forced wide at turn three, made airborne after a collision with Esteban Ocon.

Piastri lost a place to Sainz, as the Ferrari began a long recovery drive, before moving past the second McLaren of Norris a lap later.

The 2021 protagonists’ battle was short. Verstappen’s Red Bull visibly more faster than the Mercedes, breezed past Hamilton. He would be two seconds clear by the end of the lap.

Track battles and a high-profile retirement

Russell continued his move up the grid after his ill timed pit stop, duelling with Pierre Gasly’s Alpine. Carlos Sainz then joined the action passing Hulkenberg and Stroll. Further back, Perez moved began to move up the grid. Passing three cars in three laps as he edged closer to the top ten.

With Verstappen disappearing into the distance, Hamilton’s focus was now to keep the charging Aston Martin behind. Alonso closed to within six-tenths of a second before teammate Russell’s power unit exploded, ending a terrible afternoon for the Briton. The stricken Mercedes brought out the Virtual Safety Car, granting Hamilton a temporary reprieve from Alonso.

After the VSC ended, Alonso began to edge nearer to Hamilton, sensing second place. With the hard tyres needing time to warm up, Hamilton was able to keep the Aston Martin at bay.

Perez and Sainz make moves in a busy field

With the race yet to get to half-race distance, Perez and Sainz continued their rapid ascension up the grid. Sainz moved to P5 but was now locked in a battle with Pierre Gasly’s Alpine.

The pace of the Red Bull continued to shine through, with Perez passing every car in front of him. By lap 24 the Mexican had moved to P9, targeting the McLaren of Lando Norris.

With the track layout making overtaking difficult even with DRS, moves had to be bold and aggressive. Having spent too much time behind the Alpine, Sainz performs a dummy into turn three, braking late. He sets off in pursuit of Alonso.

Home hero Piastri struggles to make progress, the Australian is unable to pass the cars in front and loses a position to P12, before finally passing Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri and instantly begins to pull away.

Teammate Norris meanwhile puts up a strong defence against the Red Bull of Sergio Perez, holding up the Mexican for several laps before finally passing the McLaren on lap 43 using the straight line advantage of the RB19.

McLaren and Haas battled hard for P8 in the final stages of the race. A late move on lap 50 saw Norris complain of a late defensive move by Hulkenberg.

It was all over two laps later, with Norris pulling off a great move to put the team in a position to lift themselves off the bottom of the Constructors Championship.

Alonso vs Hamilton

With Verstappen cruising in the lead, the battle at the front was for second place. Alonso remained behind Hamilton, with a game of chess in play. Alonso pushed Hamilton on every few laps, hoping that the Mercedes would eat its tyres. However, if the Aston Martin stopped again, he would lose up to five places.

The result of Hamilton having to nurse and manage his tyres was Sainz and Gasly moving to within striking distance of Alonso and Hamilton. The top five were covered by just four seconds as the leaders started lap 40, as the drivers prepared to push in the closing stages.

With just ten laps to go, Alonso began to push, setting purple sectors forcing Hamilton to respond. The gap remained at 1.6 seconds, before beginning to extend his lead before the Aston Martin began to push again.

Third standing start chaos

Kevin Magnussen hits the barrier at turn two, the tyre parting company with the rim. The Safety Car comes out, with the top three all opting not to pit. Further down the order, Piastri comes in and fits softs as does Tsunoda, and Zhou Zhou Guanyu.

The race is then red-flagged due to the remains of the chaos the track, setting up a thrilling two-lap sprint with anyone who had saved a set of softs set to benefit. Verstappen and Alonso were perplexed by the decision as the cars made their way to the pits.

As the cars took to the grid for the final standing start, Hamilton and Verstappen found themselves once again on the front row, with a race win on the line.  It evoked memories of Abu Dhabi 2021, made more ironic by the presence of Michael Masi in the paddock this weekend.

As the lights went out, the top two got away, but chaos ensues behind. The Alpines took each other out at turn one as Gasly locks up, and Sainz tags Alonso, sending the Aston Martin spinning out of P3. McLaren and Haas are the main beneficiaries, Hulkenberg in P4, with Norris P6 and Australian home hero Piastri P7.

The final restart: of sorts

How the race should be restarted proved equal chaos. As the cars had not completed a full sector, a debate raged over whether the positions taken by the grid before the third restart applied, or if the classification after the accident applied.

The decision was made to have a rolling restart, the grid order taken from one lap previously, minus the Alpines which crashed. The cars were then placed in the right order. Haas and Alfa Romeo proved to be the biggest losers, with points positions slipping through their fingers as a result of the decision.

The Safety Car led the cars around, before pulling off into the pits. Max Verstappen took the chequered flag to win the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Hamilton and Alonso, now back into P3. With the Alpine’s out, Piastri takes his first points of the year at his home race.

Ferrari’s dismal day concluded with a five second penalty for Carlos Sainz. The field almost pushed the Spaniard across the line, resulting in Sainz dropping out of the points.

After taking the chequered flag, Hulkenberg retired, bringing out the final red flag of the day.

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool, Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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