Formula 1: Red Flags dominate as Verstappen wins in Melbourne


Three red flags, three standing starts, and a two-lap shootout to the finish were the highlights of Max Verstappen’s first victory in Melbourne over the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.

The Dutchman lost out early on the first start of the race, being passed by both Mercedes, when the first safety car came out for the Ferrari of Charles LeClerc who was knocked out in a racing incident with Lance Stroll in the first corner. Soon there after, the Williams of Alex Albon crashed heavily, scattering gravel across the track, forcing a red flag and a second standing restart with Hamilton leading. With the free choice of tires, Hamilton initially took the lead after the second restart, but the superior pace of the Red Bull allowed Verstappen to soon pass and take over the lead of the race.

With his comfortable lead soon established, Verstappen pulled away as the rest of the field settled in with Hamilton in second and Alonso in third, when the Haas of Kevin Magnussen lost his right-rear tire and wheel, scattering debris across the track. This brought out the third red-flag of the race, and forced the FIA to make a call on how the race would end. Echoing issues seen first in Abu Dhabi 2021 and then again in Monza 2022, the FIA had two options. They could force a green/white/checkers restart that would lead to a 2 lap shootout for the win, or they could end the race under yellow-flag conditions.  After a lengthy debate, the grid reformed with 2 laps remaining.

As soon as the lights went out, chaos ensued as within seconds Carlos Sainz spun the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso off the track and the Alpine duo took one another out, as Pierre Gasly collided with teammate Esteban Ocon in an attempt to avoid the spinning Alonso. Further down the field, Logan Sargeant in the remaining Williams speared the back of Nyck de Vries’s Alpha Tauri and in separate incidents the Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who had worked his way back up to 5th from a pit lane start, and Lance Stroll has their own off-track issues.

The FIA called for a Safety car and the grid was determined to be frozen from the point of the final restart, with the field being led to the checkered flag by the safety car. Verstappen from Haliton from Alonso would form the podium, with Alonso’s teammate Stroll in 4th. Sergio PErez kept his 5th place finishing position, while the McLaren of Lando Norris finished 6th, his best of the year.  The remaining Haas of Nico Hulkenburg found himself in 7th with rookie and Melbourne-native Oscar Piastri finished 8th at his home grand prix; which  Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda would finish out the top 10.

Formula 1 starts its first break of the season, as the race in China was suspended due to Covid-19 protocols. We return to action in Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 28th-30th.