It’s always the races that aren’t shown at UK primetime – Albert Park saw a second win of the season for Max Verstappen completed under the safety car, with an extraordinary three red flags dominating the headlines.
A Max Verstappen win from pole position at the Australian GP on Sunday would hardly appear a shock result on the surface, but what emerged as a shock was the catastrophe that unfolded behind him for most of the race. Not one, not two, but three red flags in a single race led to a messy and confused race where eight cars were unable to finish, Carlos Sainz was in tears, Alpine imploded (into one another) and most surprisingly, Lando Norris finished in the top half.
The early part of the weekend was not particularly circumspect, save a strong Mercedes performance in qualifying that saw Lewis Hamilton and George Russell line up behind a typical Verstappen on pole. Sergio Perez’ crash in Q1 was the big story from Saturday, with winner of the Saudi Arabian GP last time out starting in 20th position in disappointing fashion.
How best to talk about an eventful GP? Let’s start with what went wrong, and for whom. The season continues to deteriorate for Ferrari, ending in a penalty for Carlos Sainz at the close of the race relegating him from 4th to 12th, having begun with a collision for Charles Leclerc in the very first lap. The Monégasque, for the classically minded among us, resembles a red-clad Sisyphus so far this season, whose attempts to push his car up the mountain seem to always come back to the very bottom. Sainz’ polite tap of Fernando Alonso upon the third restart resulted in a five second penalty which, noting the congestion of the safety car finish, was damning. Alpine, who’s French pair had survived the numerous restarts intact, turned a promising weekend into disaster as Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon collided in the final melee. Continuing the DNF list, George Russell, who had passed Verstappen with Hamilton on the first lap to actually lead the race for a time, was forced to retire on lap 18 as his Mercedes sputtered and smoked off track and into the paddock. Alex Albon’s crash at turn six ended a promising weekend for Williams and ushered in the first red flag. Alpha Tauri once again found themselves peripheral, while McLaren covertly got both their drivers in the points for the first time this season.
All this together, approaching three hours, overshadowed an almost serene drive for Verstappen out front, as he quickly despatched the challenging Mercedes. Sergio Perez did well to push through the field to 5th, and Fernando Alonso was close to catching his old rival Hamilton but Aston Martin will still be more than pleased with a podium and 4th for Lance Stroll. The discourse post-race follows an age old trend, as many of the decisions of the race directors that emerged from such a chaotic race came under scrutiny from fans and drivers. In particular, the nature of Carlos Sainz’ penalty, coming under the safety car that finished the race following the Alpine collision, provoked strong reactions that will continue to be subject to discussion until the next GP in Azerbaijan.
The scenes released of the three podium sitters in the post-race cooldown room show the trio smiling and laughing, almost out of pure relief, having survived to take the top points. It was just that kind of race – make sure to catch the highlights!
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull): 2:32:38.371
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes): +0.179
3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin): +0.769
4. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin): +3.082
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull): +3.320
6. Lando Norris (McLaren): +3.701
7. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas): +4.939
8. Oscar Piastri (McLaren): +5.382
9. Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo): +5.713
10. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri): +6.052
11. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo): +6.513
12. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari): +6.594
Pierre Gasly (Alpine), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri), Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Logan Sergeant (Williams), George Russell (Mercedes), Alex Albon (Williams), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)