The 2023 Australian Grand Prix will be remembered for the chaos that caused three red flag sessions, clashes, crashes and retirements. Through it all, the gravel and carbon fiber strewn temporary street circuit of Albert Park, Melbourne, Verstappen emerged to take victory from the jaws of defeat. After qualifying Mercedes emerged as a kind of part time threat to Red Bull. Indeed Red Bull struggled to find the perfect car balance all weekend, but such is their performance margin that even a barefoot walk in the park meant pole position, albeit by a fairly narrow margin by recent Red Bull standards.
The Mercedes lined up second and third, Russell and Hamilton respectively, with Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin narrowly behind and narrowly ahead Carlo Sainz’s Ferrari. Indeed the top 10 runners were separated by just over 1 second, the top two by a quarter of a second. Russell was in a buoyant mood ahead of the race and sensed victory. But the mind’s ethereal capacity to imagine a perfect race can not imagine the reality of what will be.
At the start, Russell out-dragged Verstappen in the run-up to turn one and raced into the lead, he left behind a flustered Verstappen who found himself swamped on either flank by Hamilton, Alonso and Sainz and a gaggle of other cars fighting for position. Hamilton swept into second as a somewhat distracted Verstappen was uncharacteristically cautious and yielded the position to old foe Hamilton going into turn two.
Charles Leclerc wasn’t cautious in the run-up to turn 2 and ended up beached in the gravel trap, an early retirement after an overzealous attempt to overtake. Seven laps later the race was red-flagged to clear the mess left behind by Alex Albon wiping out his Williams. Russell pitted before the race was red-flagged and demoted himself down the order. That meant Hamilton was the de facto leader at the restart but he soon found himself demoted to second as the superiority of Red Bull’s DRS came into play on lap 12.
Russell’s race ended early as the one-time leader retired with engine failure on lap 18, by now Verstappen was beginning to slowly but surely assert himself. But even Verstappen had a temporary meeting with Albert Park’s grass run-off area on lap 47. The red flag was waved for a second time on lap 55/58 to clear up stray debris and a tyre after Kevin Magnussen slammed his rear tyre into the barriers.
The race was red-flagged for a third time after a melee of first-lap incidents during the second restart. Fernando Alonso was third and soon found himself facing the wrong direction after being tapped at the rear by Sainz in the run-up to turn one. Then down the following straight leading up to turn two both Alpines crashed into each other burdening the red flag waver’s tiring arms yet again.
Because the second restart ended before one lap was completed the grid order for the third restart was reformed from the previous order. Confusing? yes, but rules are rules. However, with one lap remaining, the third restart resumed and ended behind the safety car. Confusing? yes indeed it was.
2023 Australian Grand Prix Results:
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing
2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.179
3 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.769
4 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +3.082
5 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +3.320
6 Lando NORRIS McLaren +3.701
7 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +4.939
8 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +5.382
9 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +5.713
10 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +6.052
11 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +6.513
12 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +6.594*
[*5-second post-race penalty applied]
Did not finish
Esteban Ocon Alpine lap 57 – crash
Pierre Gasly Alpine lap 57 – crash
Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri lap 57 – crash
Logan Sargeant Williams lap 57 – crash
Kevin Magnussen Haas lap 54 – crash
George Russell Mercedes lap 18 – engine failure
Alex Albon Williams lap 8 – crash
Charles Leclerc Ferrari lap 1 – crash