Three red flags, crossing the finish line behind the safety car: Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen stopped his curse on Australia in a memorable and ultimately highly controversial race.

Undeterred by the attacks of his rivals and a historic three race stoppages at the Melbourne Grand Prix, the Dutchman is heading for his third consecutive World Championship title early in the season in his dominant Red Bull.

The 25-year-old’s first victory Down Under will be remembered mainly because of the chaotic circumstances towards the end of the race. Record champion Lewis Hamilton came second in the Mercedes, Fernando Alonso was third in the Aston Martin. A total of eleven world titles make it onto the podium (Hamilton seven, Verstappen and Alonso two each). In the standings, Verstappen extended the lead in the World Championship again with his debut win in Melbourne and the 37th Grand Prix win of his career.

“It’s great to win here. I’m very, very happy,” said Verstappen, who summed it up: “It was pretty chaotic. We survived everything and won, that was the most important thing today in the end. Our speed was really good .”

Hamilton was just as happy with his strong race: “Getting these points is really incredible. And we have three world champions in the top 3 – that’s really mega.”

Restart one lap before the end

There had been a restart one lap before the end, leaving angry drivers, puzzled fans and millions of dollars in scrap on the track. Several cars flew off the track in the turbulent finale, causing another interruption. Eventually, the race management, headed by the German chief Nils Wittich, decided that the Grand Prix should end behind the safety car. The line-up from the last restart was used for the result, only the eliminated drivers were taken out.

In the third race of the year, Nico H├╝lkenberg behind him secured World Championship points for the first time since his comeback. The veteran from Emmerich steered his Haas racing car into seventh place because he still benefited from a penalty against Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.

Verstappen was duped on pole position at the start by the strong Mercedes drivers. First George Russell overtook him from second place, then Hamilton, who was third in qualifying, came and overtook. Because last year’s winner Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari flew off into the gravel bed and stopped after touching Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin, the safety car drove onto the track early on. When the race was released again, the Silver Arrows, which were painted black again this year, initially retained the lead over Verstappen.

Verstappen’s first victory Down Under

For the first time in his career, the two-time champion started from the front in Australia. In 2015, Verstappen made his Formula 1 debut on the Albert Park circuit and was the youngest driver in the racing series at just 17 years old. In the following years it was never enough to win, he had only made it onto the podium in third place in 2019. Now it was time.

The third Grand Prix of the season remained hectic at first. Alexander Albon crashed his Williams into the barriers after a driving error, the car had to be recovered with a crane. The safety car came out for the second time. In the accident, however, the track was so dirty that the Grand Prix had to be interrupted with a red flag. All drivers returned to the pits during the 15-minute cleaning job.

And that was bitter for leader Russell: Before the mandatory break, the Briton had pitted to change his tires and dropped back, while the veteran Hamilton took over the lead. At the standing restart, Verstappen could not get past the record champion, Alonso put pressure on him from behind. But that was it with the tension: In lap twelve, Verstappen playfully overtook Hamilton and easily pulled two seconds away in half a lap.

As a result, Verstappen’s Red Bull was so strong that the competition could despair. The rest of the field had no chance, a double lead was the only thing that prevented Sergio Perez from messing up qualifying on Saturday. The Mexican had to start from the back of the field after the 33-year-old won in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago. Overtaking is difficult on the fast track in Melbourne, so it was difficult to get to the front.

Russell out early

Meanwhile, things got worse for Russell, who retired on lap 18 of 58 after his engine burst into flames. While the rear of the car was on fire, the 25-year-old got out in frustration. The third retirement also helped H├╝lkenberg: The 35-year-old was seventh in the middle of the race and was able to assert himself in this area. In Bahrain and Jeddah it was only 15th and 12th.

At the front, Verstappen controlled the pace and kept the field at bay. In Saudi Arabia he had to fight his way up from 15th place after problems in qualifying and finished second thanks to a strong race to catch up. He now enjoyed a relaxed afternoon, primarily in the second part of the race. Hamilton had no chance to catch up and had to defend himself against 41-year-old Alonso, who made it onto the podium for the third consecutive time with his new team.

Shortly before the end, the Dane Kevin Magnussen had an accident in the Haas in which he lost a tire on the 55th lap. The clean-up work had to be stopped again – and with only one lap left there was another standing start. This was completely chaotic and resulted in several accidents.