Verstappen beats Hamilton to claim chaotic first win in Australia
Max Verstappen continued Red Bull's fine start to the Formula One season as he won his first Australian Grand Prix in a chaotic race on Sunday.
The double world champion did not have it all his own way after dropping from pole position to third as he was passed by George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in the resurgent Mercedes on the opening lap.
There were three red flags, with Russell losing the lead amid the drama around the first and he was later forced to retire, with Verstappen overtaking Hamilton to go in front on lap 12.
Verstappen charged clear from there to claim a second win from three races. He finished ahead of Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, though there was more drama and confusion before the final result was confirmed.
Sergio Perez started in the pit lane after opting to change his car under parc ferme regulations due to his issues in qualifying, but he was able to salvage a fifth-place finish.
Russell overtook Verstappen down the inside of the first corner and with the Dutchman on the back foot Hamilton forced his own way through.
Last year's winner Charles Leclerc was in the gravel after contact with Lance Stroll, ending the Ferrari driver's race and bringing out the safety car in a thrilling start.
The safety was car called out again on lap 7 after Alex Albon hit the wall, with leader Russell diving into the pits.
However, that move backfired when a red flag followed soon after, leaving Hamilton and Verstappen – who had not stopped – with an advantage and Russell down in seventh.
Russell promptly got back up for fourth after the restart, but it was not his day as he then lost power with the back of his car on fire.
At the front, Verstappen clearly had the most pace and easily reclaimed the lead by sweeping past Hamilton round the outside in a DRS-assisted move.
A Verstappen victory rarely looked in doubt from there until a late crash for Kevin Magnussen caused a second red flag.
In a dramatic restart, contact between Carlos Sainz and Alonso caused an immediate third red flag and looked to have ended the Aston Martin veteran's podium hopes.
A period of confusion then followed as the FIA determined what rules would be applied and Alonso was reprieved as it ordered the race to finish with the same order as existed before the restart, with Sainz receiving a time penalty.
RED FLAG CHAOS IN AUSTRALIA
It was a pivotal moment when Albon collided with the wall, taking the safety car out for the second time in quick succession.
Leader Russell and fourth-placed Sainz dived into the pits hoping to take a quick stop and steal a march on their rivals, with Hamilton promptly complaining on radio he had been left disadvantaged after staying out.
But Hamilton's fortunes changed dramatically moments later as race stewards then issued a red flag, citing debris and gravel on the track, bringing all cars back into the pits.
It left Hamilton, Verstappen and Alonso in the top three and able to change their tyres without losing any time. Russell in seventh was despondent to find his chances of victory over, while Sainz had fallen all the way down to 11th.
The last two red flags came in quick succession at the end. Alonso thought he had lost out on his podium, but Sainz ended up the man to miss out, as a time penalty under safety car conditions pushed him out of the points entirely to seal a miserable day for Ferrari.
MERCEDES BACK ON TRACK
While there was frustration for Russell, Mercedes will be buoyed by his pace and an impressive second place from Hamilton.
The team had started an F1 season without a podium in the first two races for the first time since 2012, but that worrying run has come to an end.
Alonso, meanwhile, has secured three straight podiums, the veteran's best streak since 2013. The last time he reached the podium in the first three races of the year was 2005 and 2006, the years when he won the world championship.
VERSTAPPEN EXTENDS LEAD
Red Bull remain the team to beat in 2023. While they could not land a third straight one-two, Verstappen extended his championship lead to 15 points in a car that looks a class apart.
Team-mate Perez is his nearest rival after a good recovery drive that also saw him also claim the fastest lap point.
Oscar Piastri, the only Australian on the grid this season, claimed his first F1 points. He finished eighth in a race that will live long in the memory.
IN THE POINTS
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
4. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
6. Lando Norris (McLaren)
7. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
8. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
9. Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
10. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 69
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 54
3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 45
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 38
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) 20
1. Red Bull 123
2. Aston Martin 65
3. Mercedes 56
4. Ferrari 26
5. McLaren 12