F1: Australian Grand Prix mayhem as four cars crash late in shootout before Max Verstappen win
Sunday’s race was thrown into late chaos with a second red flag creating a two-lap shootout after Kevin Magnussen crashed, casting doubt on the dominant Verstappen’s victory.
However, he held off Hamilton’s lead as the cars spun left, right and center behind. Fernando Alonso was knocked down by Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly’s Alpine slammed into teammate Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll slammed into the gravel with third place suddenly within reach, and even latecomer Logan Sargeant collided with Nyck De Vries.
A third red flag meant another F1 trademark loomed amidst the chaos, as the stewards scrutinized the regulations to determine whether the running order of this restart would even stand.
Alonso was given a massive reprieve with the return of the initial restart order, except those who crashed, for a parade lap to the finish line. Verstappen headed home but not without further drama, after a five-second penalty for Carlos Sainz’s role in Alonso’s spin.
More than two and a half hours earlier, it had promised to be George Russell’s afternoon in Melbourne when, starting second on the grid, he overtook pole-sitter Verstappen at the start and was quickly followed by his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton.
Red Bull’s poor start was at least calmed by a safety car on lap one as Charles Leclerc was tagged by Stroll and spun through the gravel.
On the restart, the Mercs looked relatively comfortable under fierce pressure from Verstappen before Alex Albon crashed out, allowing Russell what looked like a cheap pitstop on lap eight.
However, this strategy was quickly disrupted by a red flag to clear debris from Williams – with Russell stuck in seventh as others were allowed a free tire change.
The restart left Hamilton vulnerable to the imperious Red Bull and the DRS proved the perfect slingshot for Verstappen to launch outside his old championship rival and take the lead from Turn 9 on lap 13.
Mercedes’ initial promise was starting to fade quickly and received a mega blow when Russell, who had moved up to fourth, was forced to retire with a large puff of smoke and flames coming out of his engine on lap 18 .
Hamilton maintained his narrow lead over Alonso as Verstappen pulled away, with Sainz’s advance not far further as Perez surged in the points from his pit lane start.
However, Magnussen’s late crash threw all the best laid plans out the window as a safety car and then a red flag were called, resulting in a two-lap shootout from a standing start.
The ensuing chaos did not prevent Verstappen from sealing his first victory in Melbourne and Red Bull’s first since 2011.