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Verstappen wins again despite late-race chaos

Verstappen wins again despite late-race chaos

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen was declared the winner of the Australian Grand Prix yesterday (Apr 2) after two farcical failed attempts to restart the race following a late red flag.

By Michael Lamonato

Monday 3 April 2023, 11:00AM

Max Verstappen crosses the chequered flag to win the 2023 Formula One Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne yesterday (Apr 2). Photo: AFP

Max Verstappen crosses the chequered flag to win the 2023 Formula One Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne yesterday (Apr 2). Photo: AFP

Verstappen had been dominating the race after starting from pole position when Haas driver Kevin Magnussen tapped the wall at turn 2 and lost his rear-right tyre, scattering debris across the track.

Race control suspended the race to clean the circuit with just three laps still to run.

But when racing got back underway from a standing restart, chaos ensued.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz tapped Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin into a spin at the first corner. Teammate Lance Stroll then skated across the gravel at turn 3.

Further back, Logan Sargeant clumsily rear-ended Nyck de Vries, sending both cars into the stones and out of the race.

Sergio Perez speared across the gravel trap to cut turn 2 and harmlessly rejoined. Pierre Gasly followed him through but wasn’t so lucky, smashing teammate Esteban Ocon against the wall to put both Alpine machines into retirement in a hail of carbon fibre debris.

The race was suspended immediately, this time with only one lap left on the clock.

However, because the lap to the grid counts as a racing lap after a red flag, it was impossible to resume the grand prix competitively. Instead race control directed the cars to complete the final lap behind the safety car and take the chequered flag in a parade-style formation finish.

But there was considerable deliberation on what order the cars should be allowed take the chequered flag given the previous lap hadn’t been fully completed thanks to the crashes. In the end the FIA decided to roll the order back to the previous lap, effectively annulling any passing moves on lap 57, though the crashed cars remained out of the race.

The decision upset Haas after Nico Hülkenberg had climbed to fourth in that botched restart, but the stewards rejected a post-race protest on the grounds that race control has discretion to choose the most appropriate lap to set the grid. Race director Niels Wittich believed the earlier lap was a fairer representation of the race at that point.

Whatever the case, there was no doubting Verstappen was a deserving winner despite the unusual ending, with he Dutchman having comfortably controlled the race before the dramatic closing laps.

“I’m of course very happy to win the race, but I think the race itself towards the end was a bit of a mess with all the calls,” he said. “I don’t think we needed that second red flag; I think that could have been done with a virtual safety car or a safety car at worst.

“I think it left a lot of drivers confused.”

Lewis Hamilton came home second after briefly leading the race early thanks to a sizzling start. His Mercedes was no match for the rampaging Verstappen, however, who passed him easily with he help of DRS on the back straight to build a comfortable lead.

But Hamilton was buoyed his troubled Mercedes was at least able to beat frontrunning rivals Aston Martin and Ferrari to the place.

“It was very unexpected,’ he said. “It’s a huge boost of energy throughout the team.”

Fernando Alonso finished third for the third successive weekend after a race-long pressure campaign on Hamilton failed to bear fruit.

“In terms of pace we were very close to Lewis, also through the race, but every time that I tried to get close he seemed to pick up the pace,” he said. “I try to put some pressure but, you know, he had an incredible race, no mistakes at all, as you probably expect from him, a champion.”

Carlos Sainz was on track to finish fourth but picked up a five-second penalty for spinning Alonso at the botched restart, which demoted him all the way to 12th because of the processional finish.

Lance Stroll was promoted to the place in the second Aston Martin ahead of Sergio Perez, who recovered from a pit lane start to finish fifth, albeit with the help of several red flags.

Lando Norris was sixth after bursting past Nico Hülkenberg for the place late in the race. Both drivers scored their first points of the season.

Oscar Piastri scored his maiden Formula 1 points at his home grand prix after the Alpine drivers crashing into each other moved him into the top 10.

Zhou Guanyu was ninth for Alfa Romeo ahead of 10th placed Yuki Tsunoda, who scored AlphaTauri’s first points of the year.

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