Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton to win triple red-flagged Australian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton at the Australian Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton at the Australian Grand Prix.
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Max Verstappen emerged victorious following a chaotic and confusing finish to the Australian Grand Prix that saw carnage unfold following two red flag restarts with two laps remaining.

Kevin Magnussen's contact with the wall on lap 53 of 58 provided the catalyst for the bizarre finish, as debris from his car, including the carcass of his left-rear tyre, brought out a red flag.

The race restarted on lap 57, but with everything to play for and two laps remaining, carnage unfolded at the first two corners and the race was stopped again, locking in the final result.

Verstappen, who had dominated the race prior to the Magnussen accident, started from pole at the lap 57 restart and made a clean getaway ahead of Lewis Hamilton in second place.

Behind the lead pair, Carlos Sainz clashed with Fernando Alonso fighting for third place at Turn 1, which triggered further accidents involving the two Alpine cars on the exit of Turn 2, and Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant at Turn 1, all of whom retired with one lap remaining.

A red flag was shown immediately after the Alpine's collided and scattered debris across the exit of Turn 2, but with just one lap remaining once the cars got back to the pits there were not enough remaining laps to resume racing and the grand prix finished behind the safety car.

Verstappen took the win ahead of Hamilton and Alonso, who was allowed to take the final restart in third place despite dropping down the order following contact with Sainz as the last confirmed order in the race was the one under the restart.

Sainz himself received a five-second penalty for the collision with Alonso, dropping him to 12th place and promoting Lance Stroll to fourth.

Sergio Perez was fifth, after starting the race from the pit lane due to his disastrous qualifying on Saturday, and also secured the point for fastest lap.

Lando Norris was sixth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Australian driver Oscar Piastri, Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda in the last of the points paying positions. The anticlimactic finish, which saw the safety car lead the cars around the final lap before peeling into the pits at the end of the lap, underlined just how complicated F1's restart procedures remain, after similarly bizarre finishes at last year's Italian Grand Prix and the infamous 2021 Abu Dhabi season finale. 

Rewinding back to the start of Sunday's 58 laps of Albert Park -- which in total took two hours and 40 minutes to complete -- Verstappen lined up on pole position ahead of the two Mercedes drivers of George Russell and Hamilton.

Russell passed Verstappen into the first corner after making a better start, which in turn allowed Hamilton and Alonso to close in on the Red Bull through Turn 2. Alonso was blocked on the exit of corner, but Hamilton got a run on Verstappen down to Turn 3 and muscled past the Red Bull by running the world champion wide on the rumble strip.

"He pushed me off the track," Verstappen protested, but the incident was not investigated by the stewards and the Red Bull driver was forced to fall in line behind the two Mercedes cars.

Just behind the battle for second place, Charles Leclerc was spun into the gravel from sixth place when he made contact with Lance Stroll's Aston Martin. The Ferrari driver was attempting to make a move around the outside of the Aston Martin, but left Stroll without enough space, resulting in a collision and the first safety car period.

When racing resumed on lap four, the presence of the two Mercedes drivers at the front meant Hamilton could gain use of his DRS overtaking aid by being within a second of Russell and use it to defend from Verstappen. But just as the race at the front was looking interesting, Alex Albon in sixth place lost control of his Williams at Turn 6 resulting in a high-speed impact with the wall.

Pierre Gasly and Hulkenberg did well to avoid Albon's car as it rebounded back onto the track, and the incident resulted in an immediate safety car period. Russell took the opportunity to make a pit stop from the lead, which could have been a successful strategy gamble had the first red flag suspension of the afternoon not followed soon after due to the amount of gravel and debris spread across the track.

With the race suspended, all drivers returned to the pits to await the restart, leaving Russell seventh in the queue after his pit stop a lap earlier. Any tyre advantage he gained by his stop was completely lost however, as all drivers were permitted to change tyres under the red flag period.

The race restarted from a standing start, with Hamilton making a good getaway to retain the lead while Verstappen defended from Alonso. But it didn't take long for Verstappen to get back up to speed and when DRS was enabled on lap 12, the Red Bull cruised past the Mercedes on the curved straight before Turn 9 to take the lead.

From that point on Verstappen didn't look back. By the end of the same lap he held a two second advantage over Hamilton, which he extended to just under ten seconds as he measured his pace against the chasing pack. A small mistake at the penultimate corner on lap 47 was the only blip in an otherwise dominant performance, but resulted in nothing more than a bit of grass on his tyres.

On lap 18, Russell's engine failed with a spit of flame from the rear of his car, bringing an early end to what had looked like such a promising afternoon at the start.

With the carnage of the final few laps, a total of eight cars failed to make the finish. Gasly and teammate Esteban Ocon both crashed out of potential points finishes as result of their contact at the lap-57 restart.

Verstappen's victory saw him extend his championship lead to 16 points over teammate Perez.