Valtteri Bottas pulled off a supreme drive to win the Australian Grand Prix by a massive 21.379 seconds from teammate Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull Honda’s Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel finishing fourth.
Whilst Bottas was left celebrating his fourth grand prix victory and first at Albert Park, there was disappointment for the thousands of attending Australian fans as Daniel Ricciardo retired from the race on lap 31, having dropped down the field after damaging his front wing on the opening lap.
“As a team in practice we knew we were strong both in short runs and long runs and we saw the raw pace yesterday in qualifying, and today the race pace was strong, stronger than expected,” said Bottas afterward. “So obviously it’s good news and shows we have definitely done all the right things in testing concerning the direction of the car and also for myself, it’s definitely the best race I’ve had in my life.”
Whilst it had been teammate Hamilton who had pipped the Finn to pole position with a stunning late lap, there would be no stopping Bottas after he got the jump on the defending champion into the first corner. In setting the fastest lap, Bottas also netted an extra point in the new scoring system.
“The key thing for me was the race start and to get into the lead and then being at the front I could show some pace, pull a gap and stop a bit later because the car was feeling so good today,” added Bottas.
What a display from @ValtteriBottas! 💪
BOT 📻: "How about that! ****** yeah!"
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 17, 2019
From then on, it was the proverbial walk in Albert Park, Bottas stretching his lead before maintaining his advantage after the first set of pit stops as Hamilton was left bemoaning a lack of grip and questioning the decision of his team to bring him in first.
“I don’t really remember much of it, to be honest,” said a deflated Hamilton. “Maybe I got wheel spin but Valtteri got a better start and then once we got into the first corner, the good thing is that we held position and Valtteri did an exceptional job throughout the race so congratulations to him and after that it was all about bringing the car home. I wasn’t entirely happy with the balance I had but it wasn’t the end of the world and wasn’t a problem for me to finish second.”
Vettel was also left scratching his head after losing position to Verstappen’s Red Bull and then coming under pressure from young teammate Charles Leclerc at the finish. Kevin Magnussen was an excellent sixth for Haas ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat rounding off the points scoring finishers.
It was a supreme effort from Racing Point new boy Lance Stroll in particular, the Canadian gaining seven places after a drive that will have had the Acronis Mission Control Centre in Silverstone purring.
“I am really pleased with my race today – it has been a great day at the office,” commented a delighted Stroll. “It’s really nice to pick up some points on the first weekend of the season, but it wasn’t easy. It was a really challenging afternoon, chasing Hulkenberg and Raikkonen ahead of me while also keeping Kvyat and Gasly behind me for most of the race.
“I was under a lot of pressure and it was very tight, but I am glad we managed to pick up two points. We were always planning to go long with our strategy: we were starting out of position so we knew the key was to make a good start and gain some places in the opening stages, which we did. After that, we had good pace and managed to hold off the cars behind us on softer tyres than ours. We saw today that it’s going to be really close in the middle of the grid, but we are definitely in the fight.”
— SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) March 17, 2019
It was Bottas who got the perfect start, out dragging Hamilton into the opening corner whilst the fast-starting Leclerc did well to back off and avoid contact with his illustrious teammate, a collision that would have left the Ferrari garage red-faced.
Nico Hulkenberg was another fast starter, making up three places, but the big story for all Australian fans was the fate of Ricciardo, the new Renault recruit enduring a disastrous start, pushed wide onto the grass to avoid contact with Perez and losing his front wing as a result. After that, it was always going to be an uphill struggle and the Australian’s race ended in retirement
Whilst Leclerc may have done well to avoid contacting his teammate at the start, he then ran wide over the grass, losing time in the process. Worse was to befall Carlos Sainz on his McLaren debut, the Spaniard grinding to a halt with a smoking engine at turn 16.
Raikkonen was the first to stop for a set of yellow banded tyres on lap 13, banking on running to the end of the race. Two laps later, Vettel followed suit in an ultimately failed attempt to undercut Mercedes. A flurry of pit stops ensued, Hamilton coming in before his teammate but a slow stop due to a sticking wheel gun scuppered Grosjean’s chances of a points finish before the Frenchman’s race ended in retirement with a front suspension failure on lap 32.
With the new 2019 regulations aimed at improving the racing spectacle, the midfield battles provided plenty of entertainment, young Brit Lando Norris involved in a fantastic scrap with fellow rookie Antonio Giovinazzi, finally diving past the Italian on lap 28.
Back at the business end of proceedings, Bottas’ first stop for the medium compound rubber was always going to be decisive, the Finn pitting for fresh tyres on lap 24 and coming out comfortably ahead of his clearly frustrated teammate, Hamilton questioning why they pitted him so early. Worse was to follow, the champion complaining of a lack of grip but managing to just about keep the charging Verstappen at bay by the chequered flag.
But any Hamilton complaints would have been doing an injustice to the supreme Bottas, and this was certainly his day. The Finn has often shown glimpses of brilliance without sustaining a run of results, but after a perfect start like this, perhaps this will be the season that he mounts the first serious challenge Hamilton faced since Nico Rosberg upset him to win the title back in 2016.
Whilst Bottas will invariably gain the plaudits for his dominant drive, and rightly so, the driver who finished last of all also deserves a special mention. It’s been a long and painful road back to Formula One for Robert Kubica since the terrible accident during the Ronde di Andora rally almost cost him his life in 2011.
The race was never going to be about competing for serious points but gaining critical lap time and learning more about the 2019 car. That both Kubica and teammate George Russell made it to the chequered flag is a big tick in the reliability box, especially as the Pole lost his front wing on the opening lap.
“It definitely wasn’t an easy race and we knew that before the start,” said Kubica. “We opted to start on the hard tyre to get experience on them but, I got a good start for those tyres. In turn one, I was on the inside and on the exit of the corner one of the Red Bull’s moved right to avoid another contact and we touched, damaging my front wing so I had to come in to box.
“Additionally, on lap three, I lost one of my mirrors, so the blue flags weren’t easy. I was not in the best shape with some damage but, I know it sounds strange and I thought I would never say something like this, although it was very difficult, I think there were some positives. I want to thank again everyone in the team.”
Whilst it may only be the start of a long season, the Australian Grand Prix also marked the culmination of one of the greatest comebacks the sport has seen.
🇬🇧A week to return to compete in a GP!
🇵🇱Tydzień na powrót do rywalizacji w GP! pic.twitter.com/kQs89NwcTw
— Robert Kubica (@R_Kubica) March 7, 2019