AUSTRALIA: In a thrilling and chaotic race at the Albert Park circuit, Max Verstappen claimed victory in the Australian Grand Prix after initially trailing the Mercedes duo. The race saw three red flags, including one on the penultimate lap, leading to confusion over the sport’s regulations.
Verstappen had his work cut out at the start after George Russell, and then Lewis Hamilton led the race.
However, once Verstappen was ahead, passing Hamilton on lap 12, it was game over as the championship leader built up a nine-second lead only for a late red flag — the second of the day — to throw in a lot more drama. Verstappen survived that restart, but many behind him did not.
The confusion over the rules meant that the drivers completed the final lap behind the safety car based on the order at the start of lap 57, excluding the cars too damaged to continue.
Verstappen won the race, while Hamilton secured his first podium of the season with a runner-up finish, and Fernando Alonso came in third.
Eighteen drivers lined up on the Albert Park grid, with Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez taking pit lane starts after Alfa Romeo made overnight changes to the former’s car.
Only seven drivers chose not to start on the medium Pirellis, and the top eight all opted for the yellow-marked tyres. The race saw several incidents, including Charles Leclerc’s off at Turn 3, which led to the race director deploying a safety car.
Esteban Ocon jumped on the opportunity to pit, swapping his softs for mediums, while Perez came in to switch his hards for mediums.
The racing resumed on lap 4, and Russell was not bothered by Hamilton, who put a decent gap between himself and Verstappen.
However, the safety car was out for the second time on lap 8 when Albon crashed at the Turn 7 wall as he lost the rear and spun into the wall in a hard hit.
Russell and Sainz pitted, and it turned out to be the wrong call as the red flag came out, allowing all drivers to change tyres.
The drivers all swapped to hard tyres, excluding Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant.
Hamilton nailed the restart to hold off Verstappen, with Alonso trying to fight the Red Bull but settling for third.
Russell immediately took fifth on the restart, passing Lance Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg.
Once DRS was available, Verstappen passed Hamilton easily around the outside on lap 12, with the two dropping Alonso.
Behind the leading trio, Russell moved up to fourth as he overtook Pierre Gasly. Yuki Tsunoda barged past Oscar Piastri to move into a points-paying position, and Sergio Perez made his way up to 13th with passes on Kevin Magnussen and Zhou Guanyu.
Russell’s charge ended on lap 18, his Mercedes on fire as its engine gave up on him, bringing out the VSC.
Perez broke into the top 10 on lap 23, passing Ocon and Piastri, with Tsunoda becoming his next victim.
The Mexican driver charged up to P9 but was over 13 seconds shy of the podium.
Sainz was another driver on the move, aggressively climbing up the inside of Gasly at Turn 3 to run fourth until the final restart, where he made contact with Alonso and received a 5-second time penalty.
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