Max Verstappen secured his second win in the opening three races despite three red flags and late drama at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, whilst Charles Leclerc’s “disastrous” start to the season continued after a first-lap spin.
The Red Bull remains unrivalled. The much-anticipated return of the Australian Grand Prix, which hasn’t taken place since 2019, quickly turned into a procession for a large period before two late red flags created chaos.
An uncharacteristically cagey Verstappen was overtaken by George Russell into turn one, and the latter’s teammate then made his move down the inside into turn three to relegate the World Champion to third place.
“Certainly not the start to the season I was hoping for.”
However, racing was brought to a halt due to a stranded Leclerc. The Monégasque driver misread the situation at turn three and turned into a Lance Stroll, who had teammate Fernando Alonso on his inside. That sent his Ferrari into the gravel trap, from which he couldn’t escape.
Leclerc has cut a frustrated figure throughout the weekend, and for the second time in three races, it ended in a DNF. “This can’t happen too often. The start of the season has just been disastrous. The retirement in Bahrain, the penalty in Jeddah and now a DNF. It certainly hasn’t been the start to the season I was hoping for,” said the stricken Ferrari driver.
George Rusell and Carlos Sainz caught out
When racing did resume on lap four, Verstappen immediately set about returning to the front of the pack, and as has been the case throughout the season, he had the pace over his competitors. However, before he could refind his rhythm and make the move, the race was halted again.
Alex Albon spun into the barriers, initially bringing out the safety car. Russell and Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz took the chance to pit for fresh tyres and dropped to 7th and 11th respectively. However, disaster struck for both, as those waved yellows turned red, stopping the race entirely and allowing all of their rivals a free stop.
When the race got back underway with a standing start, Russell and Sainz had slipped down the field, and Hamilton cut an isolated figure in his futile fight to fend off Verstappen.
The pivotal move was made in the most mundane of fashions, the Dutchman breezing past the helpless Hamilton with the help of DRS on lap 12. Russell’s afternoon would get worse. After working his way back up to fourth, his car burst into flames, and he, therefore, became the third retiree of the race.
Max Verstappen breezing to victory, until…
The action abated for a large period. Despite some interesting battles in the midfield and the rise of Sergio Perez from the back of the grid to seventh, there was no action up front.
Verstappen constructed a comfortable gap to Hamilton, who maintained a gap of over a second to third-placed Fernando Alonso until the late drama. The frontrunners were coasting towards the chequered flag, but a lapse of concentration from Kevin Magnussen brought out the red flag with three laps remaining. There would therefore be a third restart.
A series of incidents at turn one, two and three, which saw the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly collide and retire caused another stoppage. There would be no fourth standing restart. The drivers were led around the course in Albert Park in a processionary manner, but crucially, in the order in which they lined up for the third restart as the red flag was waved before all the drivers had passed sector one. Alonso, spun by compatriot Sainz was the major benefactor of that decision as he retook his place on the podium, with the latter receiving a five-second penalty.
Ferrari’s disastrous weekend, therefore, ended with further disappointment as Sainz dropped from fourth to twelfth due to his penalty. An underwhelming end to an exciting race that ultimately had a rather predictable outcome.
The task for the entire grid is to close the gap to Red Bull, and they’ll have time to do it, with the next race in four weeks’ time in Azerbaijan.
Photo from Scuderia Ferrari press office