Max Verstappen Cruises Away From the Chaos in Melbourne


George Russell got an early look at the lead. Lewis Hamilton got a brief taste of it. But once Max Verstappen got his hands on first place at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, he never gave it back.

Verstappen snatched the lead from Hamilton with a ruthless early pass and was gone, powering his way to his second victory of the season that offered the latest evidence of Red Bull’s significant competitive advantage over its rivals.

Verstappen’s dominant performance, delayed only by a late restart that made the final margin closer than it had been in two hours of racing, reinforced the idea that Red Bull’s team might just be unbeatable this season. Verstappen sure looked as if he could not be caught, opening a lead of more than 10 seconds at one point, lapping slower drivers with ease and then holding off a last-lap challenge on a final crash-laden restart.

“It was a bit of a mess but we survived everything,” Verstappen said. “We won, which is of course the most important.”

Hamilton, a seven-time world champion in the midst of a frustrating season, held off Fernando Alonso for second. On Sunday, that qualified as its own kind of win.

A red flag on Lap 9 stopped the race for 16 minutes and, crucially, gave Verstappen a free run at the early leader, Hamilton. He took it almost immediately, passing Hamilton like a roadside fruit stand and continuing to pull away. The gap was soon two seconds, then four, then eight. The racing, at least for first place, was effectively over.

Alonso finished third again, the same spot he has held in each of the season’s first three races. That was position was briefly in doubt, though, after he was spun by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on the last competitive restart of the day. That led to some tense minutes as race officials reviewed video, considered penalties and decided the order for the last, slow-speed lap that ended the day. “We had a roller-coaster of emotions today, many things going on at the beginning, and the last half an hour,” Alonso said. “Mercedes were very fast and Lewis did an incredible job. I could not match the pace, but we’ll take P3.”

Charles Leclerc. His race ended before he could complete a lap, nudged off the track and into the gravel in a collision with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll on Turn 3. That is two DNFs in three races for Leclerc. (Ferrari’s forgettable day somehow got worse when a five-second penalty on Carlos Sainz for causing a last-lap crash sent him down to 13th, and Ferrari out of the points.)

George Russell. If Leclerc had a nightmare start, but Russell’s day wasn’t far behind. He took the lead from Max Verstappen on the first run but barely got a chance to enjoy the view as he soon came under pressure from his own teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Then he went in for an early pit stop and got trapped there, in a frustrating seventh place, when Alex Albon’s crash spread gravel across the track and brought a red flag. The nadir? His engine caught fire on Lap 18 and that was that. His day — good, then bad, then terrible — was over.

Alpine. It had been a bright day for the pink cars of Alpine, but it all went dark on the last restart after Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon — running fifth and 10th — came together in a chaotic few moments that scrambled the race order and took out six cars. Within seconds, both were sliding along a wall in the grass, wondering how such a positive afternoon, and the promise of some valuable points, had gone so very wrong. “Unbelievable,” was about all the team principal, Otmar Szafnauer, could say.

Two weeks after Verstappen rallied from 15th place to finish second, his Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez got a turn to show there appears to be no way to keep Red Bull down. Sent to the back of the starting grid after beaching his car in a sea of gravel during qualifying on Saturday, Pérez started in the pits after some equipment fixes and then methodically clawed his way through the field all day. He wound up sixth, salvaging some points and saving his weekend.

  • “There’s not way I’m losing out to him.” — Lewis Hamilton, on the radio, focused on the driver behind him (his old rival Fernando Alonso) rather than the one in front of him (Verstappen).

  • “What?!?!?” — Multiple drivers, after the race was red-flagged — for the second time — with two laps to go. The decision was caused by debris on the track after Kevin Magnussen clipped the wall and destroyed his right rear tire.

  • “No, it cannot be, it’s unacceptable!” — Carlos Sainz, of Ferrari, after learning he was assessed a five-second penalty for spinning Alonso on a late restart. The penalty pushing him out of the top five, and the points.

April 30: Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku City Circuit