Championship leader Max Verstappen recovered from losing two positions at the start and survived three red flag periods to win the Australian Grand Prix, taking his 37th career victory.
The victory was Verstappen’s first in Melbourne, as Red Bull took top spot in the first three races for the first time in their history.
Sergio Perez, Verstappen’s teammate, and closest title challenger, recovered from a pit-lane start to finish fifth.
The 24-year-old said: “We had a very poor start, Lap 1 I was careful as I had a lot to lose. After that, the pace of the car was quick. With these red flags, I don’t know, I don’t really understand. It was a bit of a mess but we had a good pace and we won, so that’s important. It’s great to win here, my first win (here) as well.”
The Dutchman beat old rival Lewis Hamilton, after overtaking the British driver on Lap 12 for the lead, before also holding off the Mercedes driver at the final restart.
Much of the race had been plain sailing for Verstappen, who also won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but the Dutchman was passed by both Mercedes on Lap 1.
In an exciting race, the first red flag came when Alex Albon crashed his Williams on Lap 9, the second when Kevin Magnussen’s Haas hit the wall on Lap 54, and then after multiple incidents at the Lap 57 restart.
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso finished third despite being spun around in the Lap 57 chaos by fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz, thanks to the stewards determining that no order could be ascertained from the restart and ordering the cars according to the Lap 57 positions.
Ferrari failed to score as Charles Leclerc spun out on Lap 1 and Sainz was demoted from fourth on the road to 12th having been awarded a five-second penalty.
George Russell, who had taken the lead at the start, also didn’t finish with a power-unit failure.
Verstappen in control despite chaos behind
Given the dominant speed of the RB19, Verstappen was expected to win this race from pole position, but a standing start can undo everything.
And when first Russell, then Hamilton, forced their way by on the opening lap, Verstappen was put well and truly on the back foot.
The Dutchman had not found a way past the British pair when former teammate Alex Albon lost control of his Williams at Turn 6 and caused a safety car, where Russell pitted for hard tyres with the aim of going to the end of the race.
That safety car became a red flag, heavily compromising the early race leader and leaving Hamilton in the lead.
Verstappen failed to find a way past the man he beat to the 2021 World Championship, but as soon as DRS was enabled, the 24-year-old breezed past and was soon out of sight.
Managing a lead of several seconds, Verstappen was unchallenged although a small lock-up at the penultimate corner got nerves fluttering on the Red Bull pit wall.
However, the Dutchman was confused when the second red flag was called, as it gave Hamilton a prime opportunity to snatch an unlikely victory.
Verstappen covered the Mercedes at the final restart, with a third red flag preserving the victory, which was finally confirmed under safety car conditions.