By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent, Melbourne
Max Verstappen survived a crazy, chaotic and farcical finale to win the Australian Grand Prix.
Verstappen’s cruise to the chequered flag was placed in danger when the race was stopped in the closing stages after Kevin Magnussen hit the wall and debris littered the track.
Magnussen’s accident set up a two-lap shootout at Melbourne’s Albert Park, but the frantic restart lasted only two corners after Fernando Alonso was sent spinning by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Alpine team-mates’ Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon crashed out. Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant also ended up in the gravel.
MAX VERSTAPPEN WINS IN AUSTRALIA!!! 🇦🇺🏆
The Dutchman reigns supreme to take a maiden win Down Under after a chaotic race!!!! 🤯#AusGP @Max33Verstappen @redbullracing pic.twitter.com/TWDBqanqQo
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
The race was red-flagged for a third time before a 33-minute delay followed as the FIA rooted through its rulebook.
The order of the previous start was taken up, with Verstappen following the safety car home in an absurd procession to the chequered flag.
Lewis Hamilton finished second ahead of Alonso. Sainz crossed the line in fourth, but a five-second penalty for colliding with Alonso dropped him out of the points to 12th.
Sergio Perez fought back from last to fifth in his Red Bull.
After springing a surprise in qualifying to occupy the second and third spots on the grid, Mercedes made the perfect start in the Melbourne sun after both George Russell and Hamilton gazumped pole-sitter Verstappen on the opening lap.
Russell, starting alongside Verstappen on the front row, drew alongside his rival before fighting his way past at the opening bend.
Hamilton then moved into Verstappen’s tow on the run down to the third bend, out-braking and then muscling his way past his rival.
“He pushed me off the track,” said Verstappen of Hamilton’s move. “I was ahead at the apex. He pushed me off.”
Further back and Charles Leclerc’s race was over inside three corners when he made contact with Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin and beached his Ferrari. Out came the safety car.
On the fourth lap, the safety car peeled in and Russell led a Mercedes one-two, with Hamilton keeping Verstappen at bay.
What a shame, Alex is safely out of the car as it is recovered. Recovery vehicles on track, resulting in a Red Flag 🚩#WeAreWilliams pic.twitter.com/YMvjkDnGp4
— Williams Racing (@WilliamsRacing) April 2, 2023
Hamilton was hot on Russell’s heels, with the top-three covered by a little more than a second.
“You’re asking me to manage (my tyres) and I am being attacked by my own team-mate,” fumed Russell over the radio.
More drama followed when Alex Albon lost control of his Williams at turn six and smashed into the barriers.
The safety car was back out again and Mercedes sensed an opportunity to pull Russell in from the lead and bolt on a set of hard tyres to take him to the end.
But the move backfired on Russell when the race was red-flagged, with debris from Albon’s accident all over the asphalt.
Russell dropped to seventh, with the field then allowed a free change of rubber when the race was suspended.
“Sorry, George,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff on the radio. “That screwed us. But we can still go to the front and the podium or better.”
Russell, shaking his head, replied: “Yeah, it is not your fault guys. That was a good call.”
A 16-minute delay ensued as the track was cleared and a standing-start followed on the ninth lap. Hamilton blasted away from his marks, with Verstappen in second and Russell moving up two spots to fifth.
But Hamilton’s defence lasted three-and-a-half laps when Verstappen’s DRS-assisted Red Bull sailed past on the back straight.
Such is the speed of the Dutchman’s machine that he needed just a lap to move two-and-a-half seconds clear of the Mercedes.
A lap later Russell was up to fourth after he passed Alpine’s Gasly, but the Briton’s race, which had started so brightly, went up in smoke at the start of the 19th lap when his engine failed.
“When it’s not your day, it’s not your day,” Russell later tweeted.
🚩 RED FLAG 🚩
MULTIPLE CARS ARE OUT!!! #AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/zycwEEjlWs
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
Verstappen ran off the road at the final corner with 11 laps remaining, losing him three seconds, before regaining his composure, only to see his win put in doubt after Magnussen hit the wall and lost his right-rear tyre.
The safety car was sent out, but the race was stopped for a second time, with debris from the Dane’s wheel littering the asphalt.
The grid lined up for a two-lap dash, only for a third red flag to follow and then a processional restart behind the safety car, with the chequered flag falling two hours and 35 minutes after the race started and just 12 of the 20 drivers making it to the end.