Max Verstappen claimed victory during a wild and action-packed Australian Grand Prix, overcoming battles with the Mercedes drivers, several Safety Cars and three red flags to lead home Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
Verstappen lost out to both George Russell and Hamilton at the original race start, before the Safety Car made two appearances in quick succession due to Charles Leclerc retiring from a collision with Lance Stroll and Alex Albon crashing out heavily.
A subsequent red flag for Albon’s incident brought the field back to the pits, with Hamilton leading Verstappen and Alonso, taking advantage of misfortune for Russell and Carlos Sainz, who were the two front-runners to take on fresh tyres just before the stoppage.
With a free choice of tyres for the restart, Hamilton initially held the lead from Verstappen, but the Red Bull driver soon got within DRS range and moved back into P1, moments before Russell’s misery was compounded by an apparent engine failure.
Verstappen brushed off the early drama to move into a comfortable lead as the race developed, while Hamilton held P2 and set about managing the gap back to Alonso, who was joined by the recovering Sainz and Pierre Gasly in a fight for the podium positions.
But just as the order appeared to be locked in, another Safety Car, and then another red flag, was triggered late on when Kevin Magnussen thumped the wall exiting Turn 2, lost his rear-right wheel and spread debris from his Haas over the racing line.
It meant a third standing start and the prospect of a two-lap shootout on soft tyres, but just a matter of seconds passed before further contact and drama as Sainz tipped fellow Spaniard Alonso into a spin in the Turn 1 bottleneck.
Behind, Gasly took avoiding action and collided with Alpine team mate Esteban Ocon as he rejoined the circuit, putting both drivers out on the spot, while Logan Sargeant ran into the back of Nyck de Vries, and Sergio Perez – who had risen from the pit lane – and Stroll had separate off-track excursions.
After some confusion over how the race would proceed and the results would be determined, proceedings were resumed – and ultimately settled – behind the Safety Car in the order of the previous start, minus the cars that had been eliminated.
A rolling start took the field around to the chequered flag, with Verstappen crossing the line for his first victory in Australia, as Hamilton and Alonso completed the podium ahead of Sainz, Stroll, Perez and Lando Norris.
However, Sainz was hit with a five-second time penalty for his clash with Alonso, promoting everyone behind him as Nico Hulkenberg took P7, from home favourite Oscar Piastri, Zhou Guanyu, Yuki Tsunoda – inheriting the final point – and Valtteri Bottas.
De Vries, Sargeant, Magnussen, Russell, Albon and Leclerc all watched the final lap from the sidelines, as the sun set on a hugely dramatic day at the Albert Park Circuit.
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