Max Verstappen won the Australian Grand Prix with an absolutely commanding run as he enjoyed a huge pace advantage in Melbourne. The Red Bull driver came back after dropping places at the start but was then untroubled at the front of the field, albeit in a race that was dragged out to over two and half hours with three red-flag stoppages.
Verstappen comfortably beat the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton into second and the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso into third, with his team-mate Lance Stroll in fourth at Albert Park. The Australian Oscar Piastri scored his first F1 points in his debut home grand prix, finishing in eighth place.
The race had opened with some drama as Verstappen lost the lead to Mercedes’ George Russell, who was ultimately forced to retire with an engine issue, but it turned out to be something of a false dawn as the world champion’s pace proved too much for the rest of the field.
Verstappen breezed back to the front and opened up a lead with a race pace that was formidable even by the standards Red Bull have already set this season. Until a late red-flag stoppage closed the field up, he as over 11 secs up the road from Hamilton, a gap that could easily have been even larger.
A late red flag proved tense but Verstappen rode it out with calm control as behind him six cars went out in a chaotic restart – forcing another red flag. It was an unedifying end as confusion reigned as to how the race would finish, with the FIA taking some time to reach a decision before closing on a lap behind the safety car, dragging out the inevitable conclusion with frustrating longevity.
Verstappen now leads the world championship from team-mate Sergio Pérez, who finished fifth after coming back from starting at the back of the grid, by 15 points.
Behind him Hamilton did superbly to hold second place from Alonso who harried him to the flag, with the British driver returning Mercedes’ best result of the season.
This is Verstappen’s 37th career win and a first in Australia for the 25-year-old, who was enormously pleased to finally make it to the top step. Red Bull too had reason to celebrate, with their 350th GP finally ending a drought in Australia that has stretched back to 2011, when Sebastian Vettel last won for them at Albert Park.
Russell made a blistering start, going up the inside of Verstappen into turn one, while Hamilton too took advantage and passed the Dutchman, out-braking him to claim second through turn three.
On an incident-packed opening lap, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc went off, clipped by Stroll at turn three, triggering a safety car. Racing resumed on lap four, Russell holding his lead, with the front three locked together within a second of one another by lap six.
Another safety car called when Alex Albon lost the rear and crashed out in the Williams on lap seven and Mercedes opted to pit Russell early while Hamilton and Verstappen stayed out. A lap later the race was stopped to deal with the gravel on the track, a big advantage for Hamilton and Verstappen who were able to take a free tyre change in the pit lane, while Russell was hugely unlucky with the timing and had dropped to seventh.
Hamilton held his lead when racing resumed from a standing start but could not hold it long. With DRS, Verstappen closed quickly and with a clear pace advantage swept past round the outside heading towards turn nine and Hamilton was powerless to resist. Russell moved through as well making it up to fourth by lap 14 only for his bad luck to be compounded with a power unit issue, flames belching from his car on lap 18 and forcing his retirement.
Out front, however, Verstappen’s advantage was swiftly displayed, as he opened up almost a three second gap on Hamilton within just two laps. Hamilton held second from Alonso but Verstappen, having opened almost a six-second lead, was unchallenged in the clean air, by mid race distance it was up to eight seconds.
With Verstappen gone, Hamilton and Alonso were racing one another, closely matched in lap times as they tried to ensure they could take their tyres to the end of the race before a late red-flag forced a tense restart with two laps remaining. The restart was chaotic, Verstappen held his lead but six cars were involved in incidents, including Alonso clipped by Sainz, who received a five-second penalty dropping him to 12th and the two Alpines taking each other out. The race was stopped again and having not completed a full sector, the order was reset to that of the previous restart, without the cars that had crashed out. A delay but no threat to what had been an inexorable march to victory for Verstappen.
Lando Norris was in sixth for McLaren, Nico Hülkenberg in seventh for Haas, Guanyu Zhou in ninth for Alfa Romeo and Yuki Tsunoda in tenth for AlphaTauri. – Guardian