Credit: Artes Max from Spain [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
Lewis Hamilton was only second as his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas dominated the season opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix to win in Melbourne.
The Finn overtook polesitter Hamilton down at turn one, and never really looked challenged on course to the 4th win of his career.
Ferrari disappointed many, as their promised pace from pre-season testing never really materialised. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were an underwhelming 4th and 5th.
Red Bull confirmed their status as championship challengers this season, with Max Verstappen finishing 3rd, after passing the slow moving Ferrari of Vettel.
The Dutchman’s teammate, Pierre Gasly, was a disappointing 11th in his first race for Red Bull, having started 17th.
The race was fairly uneventful as far as overtakes and drama go.
It is difficult to gauge how effective the design changes to the 2019 cars have been to promote closer, more exciting racing, as Melbourne is traditionally a circuit where it is hard to overtake.
Bahrain in 2 weeks will provide a better test of the racing of this year has to offer.
Bottas shows his steel
Bottas, who is from Finland, endured a disappointing 2018, consistently being outclassed by Hamilton.
His dominant showing this weekend shows signs that Bottas might finally be ready to give Hamilton a credible challenge for the world championship this year.
The Finn also earned the distinction of being the first driver in F1 history to be awarded an extra championship point for recording the fastest lap of the race. The initiative is new to the sport this year.
Home favourite Daniel Ricciardo endured a nightmare debut for Renault.
During the start, Ricciardo was pushed out onto the grass by Sergio Perez and lost his front wing. He made it back to the pits but sustained damage in the crash, and lacked the pace to climb up the order. Ricciardo would go on to retire his Renault.
Deja vu at Ferrari (and Haas)
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) March 17, 2019
In a display not seen since the days of screaming V10’s, and Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari appeared to enforce team orders during the race.
During the closing stages, Leclerc was rapidly gaining on Vettel, who appeared to have some undiagnosed mechanical issue. Leclerc, who was over 0.3 seconds a lap quicker than his teammate, was right on the Ferrari’s rear wing.
However, the Monegasque quickly pulled back and kept the gap at around 2 seconds. Many assumed that Ferrari had told the junior driver not to overtake his senior. This harks back to the days of Schumacher and Barrichello when the latter would be ordered to physically relinquish wins to the former, for the good of the team.
Meanwhile over at Haas, it was an unwelcome repeat of last year.
When Romain Grosjean came in for his pitstop, there was a problem with the front left wheel which resulted in the Frenchman stood stationary for over 10 seconds. 15 laps later, he retired due to a problem with the front left tyre, which had been worsened by the pit stop debacle.
Team Principal Guenther Steiner says that the pitstops must be “jinxed”.
Mixed signals at McLaren
McLaren’s fortunes in Melbourne were mixed.
Carlos Sainz was running in 14th when the Renault engine in his McLaren let go spectacularly, forcing the Spaniard to retire. His teammate Lando Norris finished outside the points in 12th, after sparring throughout the race with the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi.
Kimi Raikkonnen made his Alfa Romeo debut, the Finn finishing 8th after his departure from Ferrari. Haas, Renault, Racing Point, and Toro Rosso also got points on the board.
The sport now takes a 2 week break, before reconvening for the Bahrain Grand Prix on the 31st of March.
Although slightly understated, Melbourne has showed us a glimpse of the stories, battles and drama that will unfold over the coming year. For all things F1, Nerve Sport is the place to be.
Written by Jamie Downes (@JamieDownes11)