The ‘nightmare’ scenario that Formula 1 avoided in Melbourne

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by Peter van Egmond/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by Peter van Egmond/Getty Images) /

Formula 1 has been blasted for the way they handled the end of the Australian Grand Prix, but the single worst-case scenario was avoided.

The decision to throw the red flag in an attempt to end the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park Circuit under green flag conditions was met with mixed reviews. On one hand, you never want to see a race end under caution, but on another, Formula 1 is sport before entertainment, and there wasn’t exactly a dire need to halt the race after Kevin Magnussen’s late shunt.

Nevertheless, it was within the FIA’s right to make the decision they made, setting up a starting restart with just two laps remaining around the 14-turn, 3.28-mile (5.279-kilometer) Melbourne road course.

The restart saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen start from pole position alongside Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who was going for his first win since December 2021 in an attempt to end a career-long 25-race win drought.

Against a Red Bull that had struggled in the race’s two earlier standing starts, there was a sense of optimism in the seven-time world champion’s camp that this could finally be the day. Verstappen, however, got off the line well and held the lead, while chaos ensued behind the pair.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso was spun out of third place by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., who later received a five-second penalty for the contact, one which should have promoted Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg from fourth to a surprise first ever podium.

But because the field hadn’t completed the first sector by the time the red flag was thrown (again) after this particular melee, the order was reverted to what it was before the restart.

The race was stopped again, and the final lap was then run behind the safety car, with Verstappen securing his 37th career win, his 17th win in the last 23 races, and his second win of the year.

The decision left many Formula 1 teams and drivers feeling slighted.

Why were the wrecked Alpines not credited with where they were running at the restart if the wreck effectively didn’t count? Why was Sainz penalized for an incident that technically didn’t happen? Given the fact that it did, in fact, happen, and the penalty reflected such, why wasn’t Hulkenberg credited with his — and Haas’ — first ever Formula 1 podium?

But despite the controversy, Formula 1 did manage to avoid the worst possible scenario: what if Hamilton had passed Verstappen on the restart, and then the order had been reverted?

We all saw the contentious duel between the two during the 2021 season, which ended with another interesting last-lap sequence in the championship decider in Abu Dhabi while the two were level on points at 369.5 apiece.

Can you imagine the fallout if Hamilton had taken the lead and then had his first win in two years taken away on a technicality, with Verstappen, of all people, being the beneficiary?

I’ll answer that for you: no, you can’t. And you don’t want to.

Fortunately for all parties involved, that scenario did not unfold. Verstappen held on to the lead and solidified his spot atop the podium, with Hamilton finishing in a season-best second place ahead of Alonso in third.

dark. Next. All-time Formula 1 wins list

Verstappen holds a 15-point lead over teammate Sergio Perez in the driver standings through three of 23 races on the 2023 schedule. Alonso sits in third place, a further nine points back, with Hamilton in fourth, seven points behind him. Red Bull have opened up a 58-point lead over Aston Martin in the constructor standings, with Mercedes a further nine points back.