Melbourne, Apr 2 (IANS): Red Bull driver Max Verstappen claimed his second win of the 2023 season, emerging first amid drama in a wild and action-packed Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit here on Sunday.
Verstappen, who won the previous race in Saudi Arabia and had finished second behind teammate Sergio Perez in the season-opener in Bahrain, battled with the Mercedes drivers and overcame several Safety Cars and three red flags to lead home Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
This was Verstappen's first victory in the Australian GP as he continued to lead the standings in the Drivers' World Championships.
The Dutch driver lost out to both George Russell and Hamilton at the original race start, before the Safety Car made two appearances in quick succession due to Charles Leclerc retiring from a collision with Lance Stroll and Alex Albon crashing out heavily.
A subsequent red flag after Albon's crash brought the drivers back to the pits, with Hamilton leading Verstappen and Alonso, taking advantage of misfortune for Russell and Carlos Sainz, who were the two front-runners to take on fresh tyres just before the stoppage.
With a free choice of tyres for the restart, Hamilton initially held the lead from Verstappen, but the Red Bull driver soon got within DRS range and moved back into first position, moments before Russell's misery was compounded by an apparent engine failure.
Verstappen brushed off the early drama to move into a comfortable lead as the race developed, while Hamilton held the second spot and set about managing the gap back to Alonso, who was joined by the recovering Sainz and Pierre Gasly in a fight for the podium positions.
But just when it appeared that some order has returned to the race, another Safety Car, and then another red flag happened after Kevin Magnussen thumped the wall exiting Turn 2, lost his rear-right wheel and spread debris from his Haas over the racing line.
It meant a third standing start and the prospect of a two-lap shootout on soft tyres, but within a matter of seconds another disruption happened when Sainz tipped fellow Spaniard Alonso into a spin in the Turn 1 bottleneck, according to a report on the f1 website.
Following closely behind them, Gasly took desperate avoiding action and collided with Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon as he rejoined the circuit, putting both drivers out on the spot, while Logan Sargeant ran into the back of Nyck de Vries, and Sergio Perez - who had risen from the pit lane -- and Stroll had separate off-track excursions.
After some confusion over how the race would proceed and the results would be determined, proceedings were resumed -- and ultimately settled -- behind the Safety Car in the order of the previous start, minus the cars that had been eliminated.
A rolling start took the field around to the chequered flag, with Verstappen crossing the line for his first victory in Australia, as Hamilton and Alonso completed the podium ahead of Sainz, Stroll, Perez and Lando Norris.
However, Sainz was hit with a five-second time penalty for his clash with Alonso, promoting everyone behind him as Nico Hulkenberg took P7, from home favourite Oscar Piastri, Zhou Guanyu, Yuki Tsunoda -- inheriting the final point -- and Valtteri Bottas.