3 red flags and 'cancelled lap' chaos as Verstappen wins 'messy' Australian GP


Max Verstappen kept the field at arm's length as carnage unfolded at the 2023 Australian GP, with Lewis Hamilton second and Fernando Alonso third

Verstappen AUS

Verstappen took his second win of 2023

Max Verstappen emerged victorious from a chaotic and controversial day in Melbourne to win the 2023 Australian GP, after four safety cars, three red flags and a penultimate-lap pile-up – which the reigning champion described as a “mess”.

Though Verstappen, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton all led at one point, the Red Bull driver’s clear car performance advantage meant a resurgent Mercedes looked to be fighting a losing battle for much of the race.

However, it was another day marked by stewards’ indecision and confusion, on a weekend when former race director Michael Masi was present as a guest in the F1 paddock for the first time following the 2021 Abu Dhabi debacle, though he is not now involved in grand prix stewarding.

After a lap one safety car for a beached Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon’s heavy crash a few laps later brought out a red flag. While a VSC was used mid-race to remove George Russell’s stricken Mercedes, the race was red-flagged with two laps to go when Kevin Magnussen left debris on track.

A two-lap chase to the flag was set up, but it resulted in a huge pile-up with both Alpines eliminated and the two Aston Martins, which had been running third and fourth, off-track and down the order.

“I don’t understand the second red flag”

The race was red-flagged for a third time, as stewards took over half an hour to decide whether to restart the race and what order the cars should be.

“These red flags, I don’t know the first time maybe you can do it [justify using one],” said Verstappen after the race. “But I think that second one… I don’t really understand, so it was a bit of a mess. But yeah, we survived everything.”

A frantic first start saw George Russell’s brilliant launch allow him to dive down the inside of Verstappen at the first corner.

The Dutchman’s hesitance through the first corner then allowed Lewis Hamilton by and the Aston Martins to close in.

“We had a very poor start,” said Verstappen. “I was careful because I had a lot to lose and they had a lot to win.”

The second Mercedes muscled its way past the Red Bull at Turn 3, whilst Charles Leclerc turned into Lance Stroll, sending the Ferrari into the gravel trap and out of the race.

Australian GP Start

Russell dives past Verstappen at start

After a safety car to remove the stricken Ferrari, the leading trio of Russell, Verstappen, Hamilton hared off.

Hamilton looked to move ahead but so did Verstappen, before a yellow flag was thrown again.

Alex Albon had lost the rear of his Williams into Turn 6, heavily damaging his Williams and bringing out the safety car once more.

At first some, such as George Russell and Carlos Sainz, thought only a yellow flag would be shown and pitted as a result. The Mercedes slotted back out in seventh with Sainz well down the field.

Unfortunately for them the red flag was then shown, which strategically killed the race at that point.

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Nearly the entire field, including Hamilton and Verstappen, was allowed to switch to the hard tyre, leaving Russell stranded without the hope of others pitting.

On the second restart, Hamilton converted first on the grid into the lead, while a struggling Verstappen just held off Alonso, as further back Nyck De Vries briefly went off track after contact with Esteban Ocon.

Verstappen homed in on Hamilton though and by lap 12 was able to easily breeze by down the back straight wth the aid of DRS.

“Max is in another league because his car is so fast,” said Hamilton when interviewed after the race finish. “I mean, he passed me halfway down the street and he was several metres ahead – like 10 metres ahead. I don’t know how they’re so quick on the straight.”

“We will always there waiting for the DRS to open up to have a chance to pass,” said Verstappen. “I think the pace of the car was quick, you can see that straight away.”

Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez were providing the entertainment by slicing through the field, as Hamilton lost contact with the leading Red Bull.

On lap 18 events turned again: Russell, who had climbed to fifth, pulled over on the main straight with his Mercedes a blaze, reporting a power unit failure.

Hamilton Verstappen

Hamilton defends from hard-charging Verstappen

“When it’s not your day it’s just not your day,” he wrote on social media afterwards, bringing out a virtual safety car.

Alonso tried to hurry Hamilton, with his Mercedes team warning him: “Alonso keeps trying to push you to use your tyres. Let’s not fall for it.”

“I think ultimately he was a little bit quicker today behind me but I just managed to hold him off,” commented Hamilton post-race.

For a long period from here, Verstappen was running in clear air, largely untroubled troubled by those squabbling behind, aside from a wobble on lap 47.

The Red Bull, which had front tyre-locking issues throughout the weekend, slid off at the penultimate corner, running through the grass before rejoining.

Verstappen reported it as the same problem that had put Perez out of qualifying. After losing four seconds through the off, Verstappen then put in the fastest lap of 1min 20.342sec to indicate not much more harm had been caused.

His lead was erased right at the death though – with four laps to go Kevin Magnussen ran wide at Turn 2, smashing his rear suspension against the barrier.

A safety car was brought out to clear the debris, which soon turned into a red flag, setting up a sprint to the end.

The front-runners all switched to soft tyres for the two-lap blast from the third standing start of the day – but it all ended in carnage.

Verstappen defended successfully from Hamilton on the third standing start of the day, but Alonso was turned around by Sainz.

Gasly, who rejoined after going off at Turn 1, connected with team-mate Ocon on rejoining, sending both into the wall, while several cars went off at Turn 3 also.

“****, stupid rule,” was Alonso’s summary.

After a third red flag with one lap remaining, confusion reigned as the cars idled in the pitlane. After half an hour, the race stewards eventually decided to restart the race for one more tour around Albert Park under the safety car.

The running order was decided to be that of the previous restart, minus the two Alpines which had crashed out.

The big losers from this decision was Nico Hülkenberg who had moved up to fourth, Yuki Tsunoda who had risen to fifth, with both Alfa Romeos and McLarens in the points too – all were shuffled back down the grid.


Adding to the confusion, Carlos Sainz was given a 5sec penalty for hitting Alonso, creating an unusual situation where he and competitors would potentially race under this one safety car lap. However as the cars ran in formation for one final lap the Spaniard lost out, and eventually finished 12th.

“I prefer not to talk right now,” said an upset Sainz following his pointless finish. “Honestly, I’m disappointed. It’s the most unfair penalty I’ve seen in my life.”

Verstappen sailed over the line behind the safety car to secure the third 2023 win in a row for Red Bull – the first time it has started a season with a hat-trick – with Hamilton and Alonso behind.