Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes signal warning shot to the paddock in resurgent display
By Tom Cary, Senior Sports Correspondent, in Melbourne
It turns out all Formula One needed to get back to 2021 levels of chaos and drama was Michael Masi back in the paddock. Perhaps Mercedes will now campaign the sport’s former race director to return full time because his presence – Masi was here working for Australian supercars – also had the effect of restoring the Brackley team’s pace. Not quite to 2021 levels. But this was a significant improvement on their season so far.
An extraordinarily chaotic race – which lasted well over two and a half hours and involved three red flags, three safety cars, and four starts or restarts – eventually finished with Lewis Hamilton in second place behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
That the double world champion was still within sight of Hamilton at the finish line was, admittedly, only because the race finished behind a safety car. But Hamilton did manage to keep Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso behind him for the entire race, an achievement which did not seem feasible in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago. Mercedes’ pace was genuine.
Hamilton’s teammate George Russell would almost certainly have finished on the podium, too, but for some rotten luck amid all the chaos. The youngster had a dream start from second on the grid, blasting past pole-sitter Verstappen into Turn 1 (a move that threw the Dutchman off his stride to such a degree that Hamilton was also able to get a run on him into Turn 3). And he continued to look the part after a safety car was brought out to clear up an opening lap shunt involving Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, getting away well again at the rolling restart.
Russell’s luck changed, however, after Mercedes opted to bring him in for a change of tyres behind a second safety car following a heavy crash involving Williams’ Alex Albon on lap 7.
It was arguably the right call. Indeed, Mercedes insisted after the race that it was the right call.
But it backfired spectacularly when that safety car was upgraded to a red flag just after Russell had come back out in seventh place, allowing everyone else in the field a free pit stop.
To add insult to injury, Russell’s engine then blew up on lap 18, forcing him to retire. “When it’s not your day, it’s not your day,” Russell tweeted later.
By the time Russell back in the garage, Verstappen was back in the race lead. The Red Bull flew past the Mercedes under DRS like a jet plane passing a hot air balloon. Hamilton was utterly powerless to respond, and turned his attention instead to Alonso in third place.
To everyone’s surprise – Hamilton’s included – the 38-year-old managed to keep the gap steady until Kevin Magnussen’s crash four laps from the finish brought out a second red flag.
The ensuing grid start, on lap 56 of 58, resulted in utter pandemonium as the field set off on a two-lap sprint for the finish. Four cars crashed out, including both the Alpines – Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon crashing into each other – while there were numerous other collisions, one involving Alonso and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
The debris from all those incidents brought out one last red flag, with race director Steve Neilsen deciding it would be prudent this time to finish behind a safety car. But only after he had handed Sainz a five-second penalty for causing the collision with Alonso, which had the effect of dropping the Spaniard from fourth to 12th at the finish. Sainz, apoplectic, described the penalty as “the biggest disgrace I've seen in the sport for many years” and marched off to see the stewards who were unmoved.
It will take a while for the dust to settle on this one. Only 12 cars finished (two of them belonging to McLaren who were arguably the happiest team at the finish with Lando Norris sixth and local boy Oscar Piastri eighth) and there will be many questions asked over the next few days as to the red flags and the restart procedures – and whether this is a show or a sport.
To be honest, Formula One is so focused right now on spicing things up it would be no surprise to see the rules amended to ensure that even a final lap red flag does not result in a race finishing behind a safety car, as happened here, but instead sees a one-lap sprint for the finish. Such discussions are for another day. Hamilton preferred to focus afterwards on Mercedes’ improved form. “Max is in another league,” he admitted. “But I think this result gives us a real boost. Having a battle with Aston Martin was amazing. Let's keep pushing. Thank you to everyone in the factory. We can close the gap. It's going to be tough but not impossible.”
Australian Grand Prix, as it happened:
That was the Australian Grand Prix
Three red flags and three standing starts but Max Verstappen wins for the second time in three races to extend his lead in the standings. A fair few incidents to pick through. It was a little confusing at times, but the FIA's strategy seemed to be to red flag if there was a chance of the race "wasting" laps under the safety car. It was consistent, but it did create some chaos.
We thought we were going to get a two-lap shootout at the end on the final standing restart but it lasted barely three corners before carnage ensued and the race was red flagged again...
Anyway, it's nearly a month gap (a spring break, perhaps), before F1 returns with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on the week ending April 30. That is a sprint race weekend so expect more drama.
Hamilton fairly pleased with his second place
Mercedes' first podium of the season.
LEWIS: "I didn't expect to be second, so I'm super grateful for it. For us to be up here fighting with Aston is just amazing at this point of the season" #AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/yISCpeU8pf
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
That's a sickener for Alpine...
On course for a fairly chunky points haul but they are now jumped by the previously pointless McLaren.
Updated constructor standings
Today's result mean every team has scored a point.
Updated driver standings - Top 10
Fernando Alonso reacts to his third podium in three races
"We had a rollercoaster of emotions today, many things going n at the beginning but also the last half an hour it was difficult to understand what was going on. Lewis did an incredible job today... I could not get close enough but I'll take P3. The first red flag did help us because George and Carlos came in... the second red flag probably didn't help. We got lucky again and we have another opportunity again. P3 is just an amazing Sunday."
Australian GP: Classification
OUT: GAS, OCO, DEV, SAR, MAG, RUS, ALB, LEC
I am not sure, after all that, who took the bonus point - if anyone - for the fastest lap.
Verstappen speaks after a strange, strange afternoon
"A win is a win and we'll take it"
MAX VERSTAPPEN WINS THE 2023 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
Eventually! Two hours and 36 minutes after the race began. Hamilton second, Alonso third for the third time this season.
Sainz drops down to 12th and last on the road after his penalty is applied. At least he avoids any frostiness with Alonso... but it's a pointless Ferrari race. Ouch.
For the final lap behind the SC. No overtaking until the start/finish line, so it is just where Sainz finishes after his penalty and then rejigging the order after that, assuming no further penalties.
Currently, as they head to turn nine Sainz would drop to 11th after his penalty. But it will not end exactly like that...
What a mess!
The final lap is about to begin
Again, it will just be the cars leaving the pit lane behind the SC before the SC peels into the pit lane and they roll across the line in order.
I have a bad feeling about this. I don't think the inquiries are going to be done today. Stewards could be busy. Could be some backing up by Sainz, who will then presumably boot it out of the final turn to try and minimise the effect of his five-second penalty.
Sainz on the radio: "No it cannot be... it's unacceptable. Tell them it's unacceptable!"
Sainz not happy about his penalty. He is pleading with his team to tell them to wait. "It's too severe," he says about the penalty. I am not sure I entirely disagree with him there. It's a bit weird that it ends like this.
Normally it would drop a driver a place or two or maybe even three, but as the field are bunched up it is going to drop him down plenty of places. And you wonder whether the cars will bunch up right behind him to try and get ahead of him in the classification. That is risky, though, as you could incur a penalty for overtaking under the SC.
BREAKING: Penalty for Sainz
It's five seconds that will be added to his race time... I am not sure where that is going to drop him back to... possibly out of the points, but it depends on how bunched up they are when they cross the finish line.
Does the Safety Car peel into the pit lane here at the end of the final lap here? I am not sure, actually.
So, it looks like Piastri will score (first F1) points in his home town
A decent weekend. Might have struggled to score them otherwise, but was running in a creditable P11.
So, to clarify...
The final lap of the race will be completed under the Safety Car so they will start and finish in the order below.
All a little confusing there. There might also be some penalties being given out. But as it all happened at a standing start I am not confident of that.
They had to go back to the previous order because the cars did not complete a sector (and thus did not get a representative reference point and order) before the red flag was thrown and the race stopped.
Obviously the cars that crashed at the restart: the Alpines, De Vries and Sargeant, cannot take the final lap.
Race will restart...
Only technically, so the restart (and finishing, if they all make it around for one more lap under the SC) order will be:
Here's another thing
If they choose to restart the race at all, then it changes the situation depending on whether they use the countback system or not.
The two Alpines cannot restart the race, so their only hope of recouping their points is that the race does not restart at all AND they go back to the order that they restarted on lap 56, as it were.
We are about to find out...
Fernando Alonso was all over the rulebook
He recovered his car from the wall and got it back to the pit lane and also queried whether they would use countback to revert the order to how they started that lap rather than how they finished it. He said it was ridiculous to red flag it in the first place, rather than finishing the race under the SC.
LAP 58/58 🚩 RED FLAG 🚩
Fernando Alonso is out of the car and the drivers have returned to the pit lane
We have 4 cars out of the race since the race restart #AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/QFkV56Ox4V
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
Well, the "race" might restart
But it will just be them following the SC around before the chequered flag comes out and no actual racing. So the actual racing is done. They, of course, might not restart it at all.
The question is whether they finished one sector to keep the order as it is here, or whether it will revert to how they started on lap 56.
The race is not going to restart
But now the big question is whether the classification will be as they restarted or as they were as they went through the first sector – if they went through the first sector before the red flag was thrown.
It was all caused by the Alonso/Sainz incident
It rippled through the field then it all got very bunched up...
I am not sure whether the order as it is will stand or whether they go to countback to what was on the grid. It depends whether they went through a sector completely.
Anyway, here is the Top 10 as it stands, without countback.
The restart procedure is under investigation.
Lap 57 of 58 - RACE RESUMES!
CHAOS! AND THIS WILL BE ANOTHER RED FLAG!
Verstappen gets a good start and keeps the lead from Hamilton but it is absolute carnage behind him....
Sainz tags Alonso and he goes around at turn two, the two Alpines appear to have taken each other out and De Vries and possibly Sargeant are in the gravel trap at turn one...
🚩 RED FLAG 🚩
MULTIPLE CARS ARE OUT!!! #AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/zycwEEjlWs
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
Here we go
Verstappen points his car towards the apex of turn one...
The cars leave the pit lane
And follow the SC around. Verstappen starts weaving across the track. Everyone is on used soft tyres in the top six. Perez, Norris and Ocon are on new softs.
Who wins this, then?
Earlier today I predicted a VER, HAM, ALO podium and that is what we currently have. But will it remain that way?
Right, a reminder: the cars will follow the SC round from the pit lane and then line up in their grid spots for a standing start.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Alonso, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Perez and Norris is the top eight. Hulkenberg and Ocon make up the remainder of the top 10.
Verstappen was cruising to victory before that red flag
Well, he did run wide at the penultimate turn and lose nearly four seconds, which gave him a bit of a scare, but he had it wrapped up.
Now he doesn't quite have "it all" to do but he is as vulnerable as he has been. I can't imagine Alonso or Hamilton will be shy about trying a move with a win at stake. Alonso has had more than a decade since his last victory and Hamilton hasn't won since the end of 2022 which is by far his longest drought in F1.
RACE TO RESTART AT 7.56AM BST
OK. Verstappen has not had the best of starts so far today. I am not quite sure who has what tyres left... but it could be mixed up in that regard.
Full order under red flag
OUT: MAG, RUS, ALB, LEC
A few of the drivers surprised with that decision
Again, a reminder as to what will happen. The cars will do a formation lap behind the safety car which will be lap 56. They will then line up on the grid in their current order – though they can change the tyres if they wish – and will get two racing laps assuming no other interruptions.
Lap 55 of 58 - RED FLAG!
Oh, that makes it interesting. Very interesting...
That means we will get a lap or two of racing at the end from a standing start!
LAP 55/58 🚩 RED FLAG 🚩
The race has been red-flagged!
Sit down and buckle up folks, this is gonna be mental 😆#AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/4ef86k417R
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
Is that he right decision? It is consistent with what they did earlier in the race. And nobody wants the race to end behind the Safety Car. But does it feel a bit like doing it for the show?
Lap 54 of 58 - Actually, not sure we're going to restart this race
"There's so much debris out there," Hamilton says. As the SC comes out.
Lap 53 of 58 - Verstappen leads Hamilton by 8.4s
Alonso just can't get to within one second of Hamilton...
But what's this? Magnussen is driving around with three tyres... the tyre has come off and he pulls to the side of the road, near a relief point and marshal's post.
It looks like he's hit the wall. There's a tyre carcass left on the track and that means the Safety Car will be out. It shouldn't take long to clear this... he whacked the wall at turn two and that is a very strange incident. He didn't lose the front or rear end or anything.
⚠️ SAFETY CAR ⚠️
K-Mag is stopped and looks to be missing a right rear tyre#AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/voBWDd69sJ
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
Will anyone pit for fresh tyres and have a go at the end? Piastri, surely...
Mercedes mechanics out... Hamilton stays out though, as does Alonso.
Lap 52 of 58 - Lower order update
Piastri is in 11th but has a 12.3s gap to Ocon ahead, then it's Magnussen, Zhou, Tsunoda, Bottas, Sargeant and De Vries last on the road.
Lap 51 of 58 - Sainz has dropped back out of the fight for third
Gasly has also dropped back from Sainz, two seconds now. Norris tries a move on Hulkenberg at turn 11 again... he can't quite do it there, but continues through turn 12 and gets it done as Hulkenberg runs wide and kicks up some gravel at 12. Hulkenberg went a bit deep into turn 11 and that compromised him.
Lap 50 of 58 - Top 10 and gaps
Lap 49 of 58 - Alonso has dropped back from Hamilton a tad
1.8s the gap. Meanwhile, Norris is very close to Hulkenberg for eighth. The Haas driver puts his car right in the middle of the track heading into turn 11. Hmmm. Hulkenberg probably moved quite late in the braking zone having committed to the inside line and then moving to the middle. Norris not happy about that.
Lap 48 of 58 - Verstappen runs wide!
He loses about 3.3s to Hamilton behind him. The gap down to 7.5s.
Ran wide at the penultimate turn after locking up and then went onto the grass. He has a little grumble on the radio. Still 11 laps to go...
Lap 47 of 58 - No doubt Alonso is going for it
He has just set the fastest lap of the race. Can Hamilton respond?
Lap 46 of 58 - Verstappen stretched his lead to 11s
Perez currently holds the fastest lap bonus point. Alonso sets the fastest first sector to get within 1.1s of Hamilton ahead in second.
Lap 45 of 58 - Not the best Australian GP this
But far from the worst. I mean, there was some interest at the front for the first 10 laps or so...
It's closing up behind Verstappen, though. 4.4s separates Hamilton in second from Gasly in fifth.
Lap 44 of 58 - Verstappen leads Hamilton by 10.1s
Perez takes Hulkenberg for seventh. Stroll the next man ahead. Norris closing up on Hulkenberg for eighth now.
Lap 43 of 58 - Perez goes down the inside at turn eight
Norris slips back to ninth.
We're unsure if @SChecoPerez is driving a @redbullracing car or a rocket-ship?! 😆
He's up into P8 now with a move past Norris!!! 🤯#AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/W7t9Ushxcf
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
Alonso has slipped back a bit from Hamilton ahead, but you wonder whether he is saving tyre life for a big go at the end of the race. Probably.
Lap 42 of 58 - Perez sets the fastest lap
It will take some driving by Norris to hold him behind for much longer but the Briton is driving a superb race so far.
Lap 41 of 58 - Top 10 and gaps
Norris doing well to hold off Perez.
Lap 40 of 58 - Leader Verstappen sets a new fastest lap
An easy afternoon for him in the last half an hour or so. Hamilton extends his lead over Alonso by a tenth.
Lap 39 of 58 - Will everyone go to the end on these tyres?
That is likely the plan. Hamilton has increased his lead over Alonso to 1.6s to give him a little buffer. Sainz is only 1.4s behind Alonso and Gasly is within DRS range of Sainz. Could be a tasty battle in the next 18 laps or so.
Lap 38 of 58 - Alonso sets the fastest first sector of the lap
Verstappen's lead is edging towards 10 seconds now. Will Alonso get DRS by the end of this lap?
Lap 37 of 58 - Hamilton with the fastest lap
That is because Alonso is right behind him.
Lap 36 of 58 - A better day for McLaren
Norris in P8, though I can't see him holding off Perez for very long. Piastri in 11th, but with a fair gap of seven seconds to Ocon ahead. Their race pace has been decent for most of the season, but they have just failed to have a simple race in the first two rounds.
Lap 35 of 58 - Top 10 and gaps
Lap 34 of 58 - Verstappen leads Hamilton by nine seconds
It would be a very interesting race were he to retire...
Lap 33 of 58 - Alonso not really closing in on Hamilton
Not that much anyway.
Lap 32 of 58 - Verstappen leads Hamilton by 8.8s
Alonso only 1.2s behind Hamilton and Hamilton is told that Alonso is trying to trick him into using his tyre life and to "not fall for it". But he is, in fairness, nearly in DRS range...
Verstappen's tactics have been to do a quick lap and then back off to help build the gap, it seems.
Lap 31 of 58 - Verstappen with the new fastest lap
Almost a whole second faster than Hamilton, which means he extends his lead over Hamilton to eight seconds. Ouch.
Alonso now 1.6s behind Hamilton, and lapping faster than Sainz behind him. The Aston Martin preserving his tyres and waiting to pounce?
Lap 30 of 58 - Full order at just over half distance
OUT: RUS, ALB, LEC
Lap 29 of 58 - Stroll within DRS range of Gasly for fifth
Hulkenberg doing a fine job for Haas in P7. Alonso drawing Hamilton in a little, but he has Sainz and Gasly to worry about.
Lap 27 of 58 - Approaching half distance
And Verstappen has extended his lead to nearly seven seconds.
Lap 26 of 58 - Top 10 and gaps
Lap 25 of 58 - Sainz into fourth
He lunges down the inside of Pierre Gasly's Alpine at turn three throwing a dummy down the outside. Nice move and a solid race for the Spaniard so far.
Lap 24 of 58 - Verstappen in push mode
He goes fastest in the first sector to extend his lead to 5.2s. Nearly eight-tenths he took out of Hamilton in the last lap.
"A long way to go on this tyre. I don't feel like it will go all the way," Hamilton says on the team radio. We've heard that before.
Lap 23 of 58 - Verstappen leads Hamilton by four seconds
Perez around the outside of Tsunoda and into ninth. Norris the next man up the road for him. A fairly action-packed first 23 laps but let's see what we get in the remainder of the race... Gasly has his wing mirrors filled with the red of Sainz's Ferrari.
Lap 22 of 58 - Sainz has decent pace in fifth
Gasly is the next man up the road for him. Alonso a couple of tenths slower than Hamilton the last time around.
Lap 21 of 58 - Perez gets Ocon for 11th
A nice move up the inside of turn nine. Verstappen extends his lead to 3.1s.
Lap 20 of 58 - VSC ends
Verstappen's lead has been cut slightly, by about a second, so he now leads by 2.5s. Perez is now making a charge, is putting Ocon under pressure for 11th.
Lap 19 of 58 - Full order under VSC
OUT: RUS, ALB, LEC
Lap 18 of 58 - Big fire at the back of George Russell's car!
It goes from bad to worse... he parks up at the end of the pit lane and that means the Virtual Safety Car is deployed.
Reliability is proving to be a fairly big factor this year. I don't think they will need a full SC given where he has parked his car. Russell was running in fourth and drove a pretty decent race all in all.
Lap 17 of 58 - Alonso closing in on Hamilton
That could be interesting...
Lap 16 of 58 - Verstappen not massively stretching his lead
But he can probably just manage his pace from here. He is, though, at least a few tenths if not more faster than Hamilton.
Lap 15 of 58 - Top 10 and gaps
Lap 14 of 58 - Russell now into fourth
The Mercedes has decent pace today, well compared to everyone but Red Bull.
Lap 13 of 58 - Verstappen leads Hamilton
He is already 2.6s ahead of Hamilton and there, unfortunately, will likely be very little interest in this race when it comes to the lead of this race.
Looks like it might be interesting behind him, though...
Lap 12 of 58 - Verstappen harrying Hamilton
Shame the red flag came out when it did really, as Russell on the hards and on a slightly different strategy to Hamilton and Verstappen.
And Verstappen takes the lead! Around the outside before turn nine! It looked bold and Hamilton fought it but the Red Bull is just so, so fast. He had DRS and just breezed past him before the braking zone. Actually quite an easy overtake in the end.
Lap 11 of 58 - Hamilton leads Verstappen by 0.9s
A fairly disrupted start to this race so far but hopefully smoother from here. This race isn't working out for Perez, he is way down in 16th now. It was Ocon and De Vries who touched at turn three and it was probably De Vries' fault as he didn't give Ocon any room.
Meanwhile, Verstappen is closing in on Hamilton.
Lap 10 of 58 - Race restarts
It's a very good start from Hamilton who comfortably keeps his lead.
Alonso tries to go around the outside of Verstappen at turn one but thinks better of it in the end. Gasly in fourth, Russell up into fifth ahead of Stroll and Hulkenberg.
De Vries looked to have contact with someone at turn three but he carries on. He has dropped to 17th.
The SC leads the drivers out of the pit lane
They will do a formation lap under the Safety Car and then line up for a standing restart. Everyone is on the hard tyre save for De Vries and Sargeant.
Verstappen saying that Hamilton is more than 10 car lengths away from the SC leading the pack around and he is not wrong. Has Hamilton gone into formation lap mode, when there is no SC.
The SC is in the pit lane and Hamilton is just coming around turn 11...
There was a bit of an incident as the cars slowed massively in the middle of the pack at turn seven, some going through the gravel and some jumping ahead of others as the cars behind came across stationary cars...
That free tyre change under the red flag rule...
...just seems wrong. I don't see why it is allowed, really. Yes, it's when there might be debris but maybe there should be some kind of check that has to be passed before the FIA approve a tyre change and then only should you be allowed to use the same compound. But then you have the issue of how much wear there is. It's not easy but there has to be a better way.
Leclerc's disastrous start to the season goes on
Two DNFs and just six points from the first three rounds.
This could ruin the strategic options
Otmar Szafnauer of Alpine reckons that everyone is just going to run on the hards until the end of the race. Well, more that that is the best strategy. With a cold standing restart, I am sure that some drivers will put on the softs to gain track position at the start. I'd give it a go if I were down the grid a bit.
UPDATE: Race to restart at 6.33am BST
The sweeper truck is out there. I wonder if the decision was because we would have lost plenty of racing laps waiting for the debris to be cleared.
Looks like Hamilton and Verstappen did touch at turn three, but there will be no further investigation of the incident.
ALEX ALBON IS OUT OF THE RACE! ❌
It's all over for the Williams Racing driver at Turn 7 #AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/3oGMyiovrX
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
The red flag is, apparently, because of the gravel that has been deposited on the track. Not entirely sure about that call. It is at a high speed part of the track.
RED FLAG - Here's the order
OUT: ALB, LEC
Lap 8 of 58 - Hamilton leads Verstappen
Hamilton says he's been put at a massive disadvantage by not pitting... but perhaps not as out comes the red flag! That means the cars will return to the pit lane and there will be a standing restart...
That has absolutely screwed Russell, for want of a better phrase. Firstly, he will be seventh on the grid instead of the lead and everyone can change their tyres for free between now and the restart. I feel for Russell there, but that's always the risk you take.
Lap 7 of 58 - Russell has a bit of a moan on the radio
He says his team are asking him to manage his tyres when he has Hamilton right behind him. He has a point.
And there's a yellow flag! Albon has hit the wall and that brings out the Safety Car. At turn seven it was. A lot of gravel across the track now. He was running in sixth...
Russell comes into the pits as the SC comes out! And Carlos Sainz!
Lap 6 of 58 - Russell has Hamilton on his rear wing now...
And Hamilton now has Verstappen right up his diffuser...
Alonso sets a new fastest lap.
Lap 5 of 58 - Russell leads Hamilton and Verstappen
DRS will be enabled on the next lap. Verstappen still harrying Hamilton.
Meanwhile, my colleague Tom Cary spotted a few familiar faces on the grid...
"Very pleasant day after all the cold wet weather. And a good atmosphere too. We always get given the list of celebs attending and I've never known a worse one when it was sent to us on Friday. Wasn't so bad after all. Kylie, Kokkinakis and Greg from Succession."
Lap 4 of 58 - Russell leads Hamilton as the race restarts
No real issues or action at the front under the rolling start. Sergio Perez and Logan Sargeant have stopped again, actually, and have gone onto the hard tyres in the hope of getting to the end of the race on them.
Hamilton already under a fair bit of pressure from Verstappen behind...
Russell is 0.8s up the road at the end of the lap.
Lap 3 of 58 - Russell leads Hamilton under the SC
A poor first lap from Verstappen, who thinks that Hamilton pushed him off at turn three. He didn't, really. It's hard but fair racing. Verstappen compromised his run down to turn three in trying to keep the lead at turn one and got a bit wobbly...
Anyway, the race is about to restart as the SC comes in...
Lap 2 of 58 - Order under the SC
It was a collision between Stroll and Leclerc that forced the Ferrari into the gravel. Leclerc went wide at turn three, Stroll was sandwiched between the Ferrari on his left and Alonso on his right and just had to negotiate that. Leclerc turned in to take the corner and tagged the front left of the Aston Martin.
Anyway, here's the top 10... a Mercedes 1-2...
A fair few drivers (OCO, ZHO, BOT, SAR, PER) taking the chance to pit and go onto the hard tyres.
THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX IS GO!
It's a fine start for Russell who keeps the inside line... Verstappen gets away well too, going wide and trying to chop across the front of Russell but the Briton keeps the lead!
In the run down to turn three Verstappen gets a little swamped on both sides and Hamilton puts one down the inside... they very nearly touch but it's close and Hamilton gets second!
Leclerc goes off backwards into the gravel, that is surely his race over...
Yes, it is. And that is now a safety car as his Ferrari is beached.
Here we go...
Verstappen pointing fairly aggressively at the racing line and towards Russell...
Formation lap under way...
It's formation lap time!
WHO'S READY (and awake)?! 🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩#AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/qHhECEiqFm
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 2, 2023
Starting tyre types
Everyone on mediums apart from Gasly, Ocon and Bottas who are on the softs and De Vries, Sargeant and Perez who are on the hards. Alonso on used mediums at the front, as is Stroll.
Right, under 10 minutes until we get going
Predictions? I feel we are going to be saying it a lot but it would be no bad thing if say, Verstappen were to DNF in this race... even were he to lose the lead at the first corner that car surely has the pace to dominate.
Would be good to see Mercedes get on the podium, though, so my top three is going to be: VER, HAM, ALO
Alexander Albon speaks to Sky Sports
"It's a different ball game today. Our race is more in our rear-view mirrors today. The car feels different on track, so we just have to adapt. I feel that yesterday we did a better job than most people. Now I think everyone is going to come to us."
Albon starts eighth but, as he pointed out, the conditions are as warm as they have been all weekend and in great contrast to yesterday's cool weather.
It has been a difficult season for McLaren so far
They have been nowhere in qualifying, generally, but have had a couple of problem-filled races too. I think there is some pace in that car but they have not really been able to show it yet. Lando Norris starts 12th today with Melbourne home boy Oscar Piastri down in 16th. They have yet to score any points this year, could today be the day?
Strategy options today
A one-stop strategy is likely to be the most effective for the #AusGP 🇦🇺
But which combination of compounds to use? 🤔 #Fit4F1 pic.twitter.com/dTiNfyTbzE
— Pirelli Motorsport (@pirellisport) April 1, 2023
A boring one-stopper? A reasonable chance of a safety car here so maybe not... but this race does not tend to be the most exciting of the season.
Team-by-team qualifying head-to-heads so far this season
A few notable stats: Russell has out-qualified Hamilton three times in a row now as has Hulkenberg against Magnussen at Haas.
James Vowles: Do I regret joining Williams? No – I was too comfortable at Mercedes’
Too comfortable? “I like to challenge myself,” he adds. “And I found I just wasn't any more. And for me, I wasn't in a situation in my life where I wanted to accept several more years without properly challenging myself. That is when the opportunity came up at Williams. And well, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Tom Cary spoke to new Williams team principal James Vowles about life at his new team. Read the full interview here.
The starting grid
How they line up for today's race:
1. VER 2. RUS
3. HAM 4. ALO
5. SAI 6. STR
7. LEC 8. ALB
9. GAS 10. HUL
11. OCO 12. TSU
13. NOR 14. MAG
15. DEV 16. PIA
17. ZHO 18. SAR
PIT LANE: BOT, PER
Oof - nearly a collision between Bottas and Perez on their recon laps
Well, nearly might be pushing it a tad but they got within a few feet of one another as they came into the final few corners...
How the teams' raw pace looks after three rounds
This gives a good idea of how a team has performed in qualifying so far this year.
You can see that there are a few steps to the grid so far: Red Bull alone out front, then Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin, then Alpine and Haas, then McLaren and Williams before finally AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo.
How Perez's session ended early yesterday
Red Flag! 🚩
Sergio Perez's day goes from bad to worse! 😲 pic.twitter.com/O0dNO0DRfu
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) April 1, 2023
Not sure he will be able to make the progress that Verstappen made from 15th in Jeddah two weeks ago, but a top-six is not out of the equation.
Lewis Hamilton speaks before the race
"I really don't know [where the pace has come from], but I am very grateful for everyone back at the factory just continuing to work. Bit by bit we are just starting to extract more and more from the car. We still have a long way to go.
"You will see the Red Bull is too hard for us to hold on today but we are still going to give it a really good [shot]. Flat out, flat out... taking all the risks today."
Current constructor standings
Current championship standings - Top 10
Difficult to see how Verstappen does not extend his lead today, barring a reliability issue or a crash. He does not actually have the best record at Albert Park – his best result is third in 2019.
Here's what Toto Wolff had to say about Mercedes' prospects
"Good starting second and third, it's been a while since we've had nobody in front of our line in P2. We need a little bit of happiness and at least for the Saturday we got some of that."
It's more a "we'll take it" rather than anything much more optimistic. I think, and everyone else, knows that the lap times for yesterday were more Red Bull not optimising their session rather than a new reality...
Bottas, as well as Perez, will start from the pit lane
CONFIRMED: @ValtteriBottas will start the @ausgrandprix from the pit lane following changes made to suspension components on his C43. 🔧#F1 #AusGP pic.twitter.com/yR8DU1XSir
— Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake (@alfaromeostake) April 2, 2023
Times after qualifying
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Netherlands, 1 minute, 16.732 seconds.
George Russell, Mercedes, Great Britain, 1:16.968
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Great Britain, 1:17.104
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Spain, 1:17.139
Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, Spain, 1:17.270
Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, Canada, 1:17.308
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 1:17.369
Alexander Albon, Williams, Thailand, 1:17.609
Pierre Gasly, Alpine, France, 1:17.675.
Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Germany, 1:17.735
Esteban Ocon, Alpine, France, 1:17.768
Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Japan, 1:18.099
Lando Norris, McLaren, Great Britain, 1:18.119
Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Denmark, 1:18.129
Nyck De Vries, AlphaTauri, Netherlands, 1:18.335
Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Australia, 1:18.517
Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo, China, 1:18.540
Logan Sargeant, Williams, USA, 1:18.557
Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, Finland, 1:18.714
Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Mexico (no time set)
A very good and very early morning to you, F1 fans
Welcome to our coverage for the 2023 Australian Grand Prix from Albert Park in Melbourne, which kicks off in a little over an hour at 6am BST.
Yesterday's qualifying session was certainly an interesting one. Even though the final result was the one we expected – Max Verstappen on pole for Red Bull – it also threw up a few surprises throughout the field.
Perhaps the biggest of them all was the failure of Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate to even set a lap time. Sergio Perez, fresh off an encouraging pole-to-flag victory in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago, crashed at turn three, beaching his car in the gravel. He will start from the pit lane for today's race after changing some parts on his car and incurring a penalty.
There were a few other surprises at the front, too. Mercedes put in their best qualifying performance of the season by some margin, with George Russell a little more than a couple of tenths away from Verstappen and team-mate Lewis Hamilton behind in third. Aston Martin and Ferrari, their immediate rivals, were a little further adrift.
Does this give them hope that they may be able to fight closer to the front this season? Well it, sensibly, did not really seem that way though both drivers were buoyant as soon as they stepped out of their cars. The conditions being colder than usual and tyre warm-up difficult and tyre wear low meant the set of circumstances are atypical. Red Bull, on a more usual day, would have been a bit further away.
There was also a decent showing from Williams in the form of Alexander Albon. He took a point here last year for the team but had his best qualifying for Williams, regularly challenging the top-end of the time sheets early on and finishing eighth overall.
What can we expect from today's race? Well, the Red Bull has realistically been somewhere close to a second a lap faster than its rivals in race trim so far this year. But if the conditions are like they were yesterday, and say, Russell or Hamilton get their nose in front at the start, then it could make life a little more tricky for Verstappen.
It is hard to see his job being all that difficult for very long at all, though...