Defending world champion Max Verstappen won the Australian Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton finished second in an incident-prone race in Melbourne on Sunday.
In a chaotic race that featured three red flags, the race ended under a safety car and in confusion.
The Dutchman fell behind Mercedes duo George Russell and Hamilton early in the race but then claimed his first victory in Australia, dominating before a complicated and controversial finish.
“We got off to a really bad start, and in the first lap I was careful because I had a lot to lose and they had a lot to gain,” Verstappen told Sky Sports afterwards. “After that the pace of the car was fast – it showed straight away.
“We were still there, waiting for the DRS to have the chance to pass. But with those red flags, I don’t know. The first, maybe you can do it, but the second, I don’t understand.
“So it was a bit of a mess, but we survived it all and won, which of course is the most important thing.”
Fernando Alonso, despite finding himself in a spin with two laps to go, finished third. Indeed, the FIA regulations considered that the final finishing positions had to be taken from the last restart, with the last lap contested behind a processional safety car.
The safety car made its first appearance on lap one after Charles Leclerc’s collision with Lance Stroll saw the Ferrari driver retire and then Alex Albon’s crash on lap six saw a second safety car and a red flag.
After the Albon accident, Hamilton initially led, but the speed of the Red Bull car indicated as Verstappen moved up front.
Later in the race confusion set in when the safety car and a second red flag appeared – debris from Kevin Magnussen’s Haas had spilled onto the racing line after it hit a wall . According to the rules, there would be two laps of racing left after the restart.
Carlos Sainz then clipped Alonso, who spun, which led to Pierre Gasly colliding with alpine teammate Esteban Ocon – both were in the points fifth and 10th respectively before the penultimate restart – but was forced abandonned. Sainz then received a five-second penalty.
Another red flag and a long wait followed before the FIA, the motorsport governing body, made it clear that the race order would remain as it was on the restart because there were not enough covered ground to update standings before the red flag is displayed. That dropped Alonso down to third, with Sainz down to 12th because of his penalty.
With the final lap completed behind the safety car, the final standings were the same as the previous restart, except for the cars that had been eliminated.
Verstappen picked up a second victory of the season, with Hamilton finishing on the podium for the first time this year. Russell retired on lap 18. Aston Martin’s Stroll was fourth, while Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was fifth.