Formula 1 in Australia: only Verstappen escapes the chaos – sport

A few laps before the end, the safety car came out again for the Australian Grand Prix, again this Sunday. Kevin Magnussen went too far off the track in turn two and crashed into the barriers with his Haas, sparks flew, his rear right suspension broke, and the Dane steered a tricycle from then on: his fourth tire was in the middle of the road, and parts at that his car. The race was not just interrupted, it was stopped. Red flag, all cars in the pits at Albert Park Circuit, all new.

“What the hell, what do you mean, red flag?” Max Verstappen cursed over the radio. The reigning Formula 1 world champion had gained a lead of more than nine seconds on his pursuer Lewis Hamilton. Now there would be a standing start. With that, his big advantage was gone – and the excitement for the remaining two laps and about 10.5 kilometers increased considerably.

That was also not good news for Verstappen because he had gotten away badly from the parking bay in Melbourne this Sunday. The situation had already existed twice before: once regularly, once after a crash. The third time, however, the 25-year-old got off much better, he prevailed against Hamilton and continued without any problems – in contrast to various others further back. This restart was extremely chaotic, cost some teams a lot of money and sparked discussions in the paddock.

Carlos Sainz’s left front wheel touched the rear of Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin, which spun but did not collide with anyone else and was able to continue the Grand Prix. It was so tight that Sergio Perez didn’t know what else to do but dodge his Red Bull onto the gravel bed. In the next corner, the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon slammed into the wall, debris flew around. The pink painted cars: total loss. The race: canceled again, red flag!

And now? Would race control ask the entire field back onto the straight and order another restart behind the safety car? The angry Alonso demanded this on the radio. Or would she abandon the Grand Prix and count the score at the time of abandonment? While the race management bent over the rules and debated what they considered the right decision, many a driver stayed in the car, Alonso chatted with his mechanics, Hamilton sat on a chair in the garage and listened to music, Verstappen stood at the command post with its engineers. After a few minutes it was finally clear: There would be a rolling restart behind the safety car with Verstappen, Hamilton and Alonso in the front seats.

A relaxed lap of honor later, Verstappen celebrated his second win of the season in the third race ahead of Hamilton and Alonso. In the overall standings, Verstappen now leads with 69 points ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez (54) and Alonso (45). “I didn’t expect this second place,” said Hamilton. “Three world champions on the podium. I think that’s a great thing for Formula 1.” The only regular German driver, Nico Hülkenberg, scored World Championship points for the first time since his comeback in seventh place because he still benefited from a penalty against Sainz. Only twelve out of 20 cars crossed the finish line. “These red flags, I don’t know, you can give the first one, the others – it was all chaotic,” said Verstappen after the race. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff found: “If the rule says so, then you have to do it that way.”

For Ferrari, the misery also continues in Australia: Charles Leclerc retires early

When nobody could have guessed anything about this course, Verstappen started from pole position for the first time at this Grand Prix and had the familiar, but recently rare neighborhood around him: the two Mercedes joined him, George Russell started second, behind the 25-year-olds lurked Lewis Hamilton. “It’s absolutely unexpected. It feels great,” said the seven-time world champion after qualifying, adding an announcement straight away: “We’re two against just one Red Bull.”

And indeed, the Silver Arrows got away better: Russell passed Verstappen on the inside in the first corner. As if that wasn’t enough, the Dutchman saw Hamilton pass him on the right in the third corner. But the two Mercedes couldn’t pull away too far; further back it was so close immediately before this maneuver that Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari and Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin touched first, without consequences, before the cars of their teammates Charles Leclerc and Lance Stroll came in close contact, with consequences.

Leclerc ended up in the gravel bed, yellow flag, race was stopped. This continued the misery of the Scuderia, which was supposed to end this year. Last year Leclerc had won at the Albert Park Circuit and led the World Championship, but after that little came together – a pattern that will continue in the first three races of 2023. Fourth place for Carlos Sainz in Bahrain was the best result so far under the new team boss Fred Vasseur, a repetition of this was prevented by the time penalty. “Another race without points,” said Leclerc. “It’s very frustrating and really the worst start to the season.”

Hamilton’s lead, lost to Verstappen, is soon the lesser problem for Mercedes

While he was heading towards the paddock, the first of his competitors used the break to change tires. The race was restarted three laps later – only to be interrupted again in the seventh run. This time, Alex Albon was slammed into the barriers exiting Turn 6, in sixth place with the prospect of points, which was particularly bitter for the not-so-successful Williams team.

And because the impact was so violent and too much gravel flew onto the track, the yellow flag became a red one and all cars had to go into the pit lane. With that, the advantage of the actually clever move of changing tires during the yellow flag, which Mercedes had chosen with Russell and Ferrari with Sainz, was gone. “That put me at a massive disadvantage,” Hamilton reported to his pits after his colleague changed his tires. A few minutes later, Mercedes team boss Wolff had to radio Russell: “Sorry, George, we messed it up.”

Because the red flag gave all drivers a free pit stop without risking their position. The new leader Hamilton and now second-placed Verstappen benefited from this. Russell was only seventh behind Haas von Hulkenberg.

Engine broken, Grand Prix over: George Russell left the race track in a kink.

(Photo: Simon Baker/Pool via Reuters)

The second standing start of the day took place on the ninth lap, again things did not go well for Verstappen, Hamilton pulled away, but Verstappen was able to keep third-placed Alonso behind him. But he kept stalking his way forward until he was able to use the speed of his company car: In the twelfth lap, Verstappen passed Hamilton – and then he was up and away, second by second he increased the gap.

But the lost lead soon became the lesser problem for Mercedes, because further back Russell slowed down and lost one place after the other until flames erupted from his W14. The prospect of a great day at work can quickly turn into a damned one. Russell had to pull over at the end of the pit lane exit, marshals rushed over with fire extinguishers, and the Grand Prix came to an early end for him too.

After the virtual safety car, Hamilton had to look in the rear-view mirror as the distance to the Aston Martin shrank. “Alonso is pretty fast,” Hamilton radioed. “I don’t know if the tires will last until the end.” He no longer saw Verstappen, who had already gained a lead of more than seven seconds and was beginning to lap others. The reigning world champion was able to do what he had done so many times before: manage the lead. Until Magnussen lost his tire. But even the end of this curious Grand Prix with a total of three crashes and safety car phases could not take away his 37th Formula 1 victory.

source site