In a chaotic race which featured three red flags, the race finished under a safety car and amid confusion.
The Dutchman fell behind to Mercedes duo George Russell and Hamilton at the very start of the race but went on to secure his first win in Australia, dominating before a complicated, controversial finale.
“We had a very poor start, and lap one I was careful because I had a lot to lose and they had a lot to win,” Verstappen told Sky Sports afterwards. “After that, the pace of the car was quick - you could see that straight away.
“We were always there, waiting for the DRS for the chance to pass. But with these red flags, I don’t know. The first one, maybe you can do it but the second one I don’t understand.
“So, it was a bit of a mess, but we survived everything and we won, which, of course, is the most important thing.”
Several safety cars and red flags
Fernando Alonso, despite finding himself in a spin with two laps to go, was third. That was because FIA regulations deemed that the final finishing positions be taken from the last restart, with the final lap competed behind a processional safety car.
The safety car made its first appearance on the opening lap after Charles Leclerc’s collision with Lance Stroll, which led to the Ferrari driver’s retirement, then Alex Albon’s crash on lap six saw a second safety car and a red flag.
After Albon’s crash, Hamilton initially led, but the speed of the Red Bull car told as Verstappen moved into the front.
Late on in the race, confusion ensued as the safety car and a second red flag appeared – debris from Kevin Magnussen’s Haas had spread over the racing line after he had driven into a wall. According to the rules, two racing laps would remain after the restart.
Carlos Sainz then clipped Alonso, who spun, which led to Pierre Gasly colliding with his Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon – both were in the points at fifth and 10th respectively before the penultimate restart – but were forced to retire. Sainz went on to receive a five-second penalty.
Another red flag and a long wait followed before the FIA, motorsport’s governing body, made clear that the race order would remain as it was at the restart because not enough ground had been covered to update the classifications before the red flag was shown. That moved Alonso back up to third, with Sainz down to 12th because of his penalty.
Since the final lap was completed behind the safety car, the final standings were as they had been in the previous restart, except for the cars that had been eliminated.
Verstappen enjoyed a second win of the season, with Hamilton finishing on the podium for the first time this year. Russell retired on lap 18. Aston Martin’s Stroll was fourth, while Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was fifth.