Verstappen, Perez critical of red flags in dramatic Australian race

Formula One F1 - Australian Grand Prix - Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, Melbourne, Australia - April 2, 2023 Red Bull's Max Verstappen in action during the race REUTERS/Darrian Traynor

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - World champion Max Verstappen and team mate Sergio Perez were among drivers to criticise the officiating at a chaotic Formula One Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, which finished under a safety car after the race was restarted three times.

Verstappen won his second race of the season at Albert Park, ahead of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso third, following a series of incidents that led to only 12 cars finishing.

Red Bull's Verstappen told reporters the decision to restart the race from the grid a second time, for what should have been a two-lap sprint to the finish, led to multiple collisions that took four cars out of the race.

"I think if we would have had a safety car and then just have a normal rolling start, we wouldn't have had all these shunts, and then you have a normal finish," he said.

"They (race officials) created the problems themselves at the end of the day."

Team mate Perez, who battled from last on the start line to finish seventh, said restarting the race from the grid rather than under a safety car was incentive for drivers lower down the field to gamble in the opening corners, putting other drivers in jeopardy.

"It's people taking massive risk and it was quite difficult for me," he said.

F1 has boomed in popularity after a thrilling 2021 season was decided by a controversial officiating decision on the final lap of the last race.

But the increased interest from casual fans - lured in part by Netflix documentary "Drive to Survive" - has led critics to argue authorities are seeking to manufacture drama in the closing stages of races.

"The whole point of red flagging, it feels like it was just to put on a show," McLaren's Lando Norris, who finished sixth, told reporters.

"So we've gone all the way to Australia, put in so much hard work, drive 56 laps perfectly. And because they try and put on a show, (you can) just get unlucky and everything can get taken away from you all of a sudden.

"I just think it needs a small rethink."

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in Melbourne, editing by Ed Osmond)

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