AHEAD OF HAMILTON AND ALONSO
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen claimed a first Australian Grand Prix victory and the 37th win of his career at the end of an incident-packed Australian Grand Prix that featured multiple Safety Cars and three standing starts. Lewis Hamilton took his first podium finish of 2023 with second place for Mercedes and Fernando Alonso took his third P3 finish in a row for Aston Martin.
At the start, Verstappen got away slowly from pole position allowing front-row starter George Russell to power into the lead in Turn 1. Championship leader Verstappen was then muscled out of P2 by Hamilton in Turn 3 but as the Mercedes drivers took up the top two places, there was drama behind them. Charles Leclerc was tagged by Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and the Ferrari driver was pitched into the gravel trap at Turn 1 where he was forced to retire.
With Leclerc’s car beached, the Safety Car was released. The race resumed at the end of lap three and Russell held his lead ahead of Hamilton and Max.
On lap seven, though, the Safety Car appeared again, this time for Alex Albon. The Williams driver lost control in Turn 7 and crashed. That prompted Mercedes to pit Russell from the lead for Hard tyres, with Ferrari also pitting Carlos Sainz from fourth place for the same compound. Russell emerged in P7, with Sainz in P11.
However, with debris and a substantial amount of gravel on the track, the red flags came out and the race was suspended. That badly affected those who had pitted during the Safety Car, with the rest of the field getting an opportunity to change tyres ahead of a standing restart.
A standing re-start was specified by Race Control, with Hamilton in P1 ahead of Verstappen and with Alonso third alongside his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll. Alpine’s Pierre Gasly was fifth ahead of Haas’ Nico Hülkenberg and Russell. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda would start eighth ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.
And when the lights went out Hamilton held his lead. Verstappen was close behind, however, and when DRS was enabled Verstappen closed up and powered past the defenceless Hamilton on the run to Turn 9 to seize the lead. Released into clear air, Verstappen quickly built a gap and was soon four-seconds clear of the Mercedes.
On Lap 18, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed, for Russell. The Mercedes’ driver pulled over at the pit exit with flames at the rear of his car. When the VSC ended Pérez became the man on the move with the Mexican utilising the superior pace of his RB19 and DRS to scythe through from 12th to ninth
At the front, Verstappen Max was comfortable and on lap 29, at half distance, he was seven seconds clear of Hamilton who had a 2.5s advantage over third-place Alonso. Sainz was back up to fourth ahead of Gasly and Stroll. Hülkenberg was in seventh place ahead of Norris who was four seconds ahead of Pérez.
The Mexican bided his time, saving tyres, but on lap 43 he hit closed up on Norris’ gearbox and swept past the Briton through Turn 8 to take P8. His next target was Hülkenberg and on lap 44 the Mexican moved to P7 with a simple overtake in Turn 9.
With small gaps between the leading cars and with just a handful of laps remaining it seemed like the order might settle. That notion evaporated on lap 54 when Haas’ Kevin Magnussen hit the barriers in Turn 2. After losing his right rear tyre, the Dane pulled over at the side of the track, but with the tyre on the circuit at the exit Turn 2, the Safety Car was released once again. However, with wheel rim debris spread across the track, the red flags were shown.
With so much at stake, the restart was always going to be dramatic but when the lights went out it quickly turned to chaos. Verstappen made a good start to hold the lead ahead of Hamilton, but behind the top two Alonso was clipped by Sainz and the spinning Aston Martin sent Gasly wide. When the Alpine driver rejoined it was into the path of team-mate Ocon and the team-mates collided. With chaos reigning the red flags were shown again.
The remaining cars filed back to the pit to await Race Control’s ruling on how the race would finish. And when the decision came it was straightforward. The grid would form based on the previous starting order with the crashed cars removed. With a single lap remaining the cars would be led across the line by the Safety Car and with no overtaking allowed until the finish line, Verstappen's second win of the season was assured.
Hamilton took second ahead of Alonso and Stroll. And, after starting from the pit lane, Pérez took an excellent fifth place ahead of Norris, Hülkenberg, Piastri and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu. The final point on offer went to AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix – Race
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 58 -
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 58 0.179
3 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 58 0.769
4 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 58 3.082
5 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing 58 3.320
6 Lando Norris McLaren 58 3.701
7 Nico Hülkenberg Haas 58 4.939
8 Oscar Piastri McLaren 58 5.382
9 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 58 5.713
10 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 58 6.052
11 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 58 6.513
12 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 58 6.594
13 Pierre Gasly Alpine 56 – Collision
14 Esteban Ocon Alpine 56 – Collision
15 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 56 – Collision
16 Logan Sargeant Williams 56 – Collision
Kevin Magnussen Haas 52 - Spun off
George Russell Mercedes 17 - Power Unit
Alexander Albon Williams 6 - Spun off
Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0 - Collision