Max Verstappen accuses Lewis Hamilton of dodgy act after Australian GP

The sight of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton fighting at the front of the F1 field resulted in some predictable fireworks.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are pictured, with an inset of their on-track F1 battle on lap one.
Max Verstappen felt Lewis Hamilton drove him off the road in lap one of the Australian Grand Prix. Pictures: Getty Images/Formula One

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton's opening lap brawl at the Australian GP was a throwback to a few F1 seasons ago - but the Dutchman wasn't happy with how he was raced by the Mercedes champion. Verstappen qualified on pole but was overtaken by both Mercedes cars on lap one.

The reigning world champion had driven conservatively into turn one, letting Hamilton's teammate George Russell past after being narrowly beaten off the line. Compromised somewhat on his exit from turn two, Verstappen was forced to defend on the outside into turn three, where Hamilton muscled his way past.

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Hamilton had braked very deep into the corner, while Verstappen had again been circumspect with the majority of the field thundering behind him. This allowed Hamilton to draw alongside Verstappen through the corner, but the Red Bull was run wide on exit - although the two didn't make contact.

As the field went through turn four it was the Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton leading the GP, with Verstappen finding himself down in third. He was immediately on team radio, telling his engineer that Hamilton had forced him wide unfairly.

It was reminiscent of the several notable clashes between the two under very similar circumstances, with Hamilton and Verstappen having banged wheels, or worse, when battling in the past. Eventual rules clarifications put more onus on drivers to leave space on the track for drivers on their outside, something Verstappen believed should have come into play, despite him ultimately claiming the win ahead of Hamilton.

“From my side, I just tried to avoid the contact, it’s quite clear on the rules what is allowed to do now on the outside, but clearly, it’s not followed,” he said. “But that’s OK. We had good pace, we passed (Hamilton) anyway but it’s something for the next race to take into account.”

Russell had been on for a potentially great finish for Mercedes, but was brought undone first by an untimely red flag which ruined his race strategy, then by an engine failure down the main straight which left flames shooting out of the rear of his Mercedes. His loss was Hamilton's gain however, with the British champion leading roughly the first third of the race before Verstappen took control.

For Hamilton, it was ultimately a welcome return to the F1 podium, given Mercedes have been left disappointed by the overall pace of their car this year. He's made a number of comments this season already imploring his team to improve, after the world champion outfit fell behind Ref Bull and Ferrari in 2022.

While the Mercedes might be a shadow of the F1-dominating outfit it had been since 2014, they still have a package capable of going toe to toe with the Red Bull. Hamilton disagreed with Verstappen's assessment that he'd been pushed wide, saying it was simply good hard racing between the pair.

“I thought it was pretty decent. He braked early and I braked late. I was fully up to his side and I think we both left space for each other,” he said. "I didn’t run him off the road, he didn’t turn in on me. We didn’t touch and that’s racing.”

The victory was Verstappen's maiden win in Melbourne and Red Bull's first in Australia since Sebastian Vettel triumphed in 2011. Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez sliced through the field to come fifth after qualifying last due to brake issues and started from the pits.

Red flags see wild Australian GP end in controversy

The race was red-flagged twice, first when Alex Albon crashed his Williams on lap seven and sprayed gravel all over the track, and again on lap 56 when Haas driver Kevin Magnussen ran wide coming out of the first turn and hit the wall, showering the track with debris.

While the standing restart after Albon's crash went off without a hitch, the second restart was absolute chaos. With just two laps left to run, Alpine's race was ruined after Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon crashed trying to avoid other incidents at turn one, resulting in the third red flag of the race.

Fernando Alonso had been spun around by Carlos Sainz and his Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll had out-braked himself and run into the gravel at turn three - creating a situation where both Aston Martins and both Alpine's had dropped out of the points.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri drives in the Australian Grand Prix.
Australian driver Oscar Piastri picked up his first F1 points after steering his McLaren into eighth place at Albert Park. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

However, since the second restart was red-flagged before the field completed the first sector of the track, the race was restarted using the grid order from the previous restart - albeit without the Alpines, which promoted Australian driver Oscar Piastri into the points in his Albert Park debut.

"It was a crazy race," the 21-year-old said. "It's the first race I have had three red flags and I think it's probably most people's first race like that."

Piastri, after finishing last (20th) and 15th in the first two races of his rookie season, now has four points in the bank.

"Definitely happy to get my first points on the board, especially here at home," he said. "We kept ourselves out of trouble and ended up in the points."

A record 444,631 spectators attended the Albert Park circuit over the four days, eclipsing the previous best aggregate crowd of 419,114 set last year.

With AAP

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