Valtteri Bottas claimed an emphatic victory at the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, which the delighted Finn described as his ‘best race ever’.
The Mercedes driver made a brilliant start from the front row of the grid to jump his pole-winning teammate Lewis Hamilton, pulling away to a lead of almost half a minute over the Briton who struggled with wearing rear tyres for much of the race.
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen followed in Hamilton’s slipstream across the finish after earlier overtaking Sebastian Vettel. Both Ferraris struggled with pace and finished almost a minute adrift in fourth and fifth, with Vettel narrowly ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc.
It was the fourth win of Bottas’ Formula 1 career in what was a flawless performance on Sunday. Having been beaten to pole position by Hamilton to the tune of just 0.112 seconds on Saturday afternoon and with the points handed out on Sunday, he made a brilliant getaway as the starting lights went out to lead the field into Turn 1.
Hamilton slotted into second place ahead of Vettel, Verstappen and Leclerc, with replays later showing a fast-starting Leclerc was shoved wide by his teammate as he tried to pass around the outside of Turn 1.
At the end of the opening lap, Bottas had pulled clear of a potential DRS threat from Hamilton, with Vettel, Verstappen, Leclerc and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen giving chase.
There would be disappointment again for the Australian fans. Daniel Ricciardo started from twelfth position in his Renault and his prospects of a points’ finish on home soil went in the same direction as his front wing, which was broken after he was squeezed onto the grass at pit exit trying to pass Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez.
The Australian was forced into the pits at the end of the opening lap – along with Williams’ Robert Kubica, who had his own front wing damaged after being clipped by Pierre Gasly – and after a replacement nose he returned to the race in last place. With the Renault team discovering further damage to his barge board, they opted to retire his car at mid-distance as a precaution.
By that stage Carlos Sainz Jr. had parked his McLaren with smoke, and then flames, emanating from its rear end after he had progressed to 14th place after starting from the penultimate row of the grid.
It would prove to be a frustrating race for McLaren, with the team’s sole runner Lando Norris – who had qualified a superb eighth on Saturday – losing ground through the pit stop shuffle and finishing twelfth after being held up for lap after lap behind Antonio Giovinazzi’s yet-to-stop Alfa Romeo.
A lap after Ricciardo pulled into his garage to retire, Romain Grosjean parked his Haas Ferrari up the Turn 15 escape road. The Frenchman had run seventh prior to the pit stops, but a slow left-front wheel change raised fears that his car would suffer a repeat of the wheel nut failures that cost he and teammate Kevin Magnussen certain top-six finishes. Replays showed that his left-front wheel had indeed come loose…
Towards the sharp end of the field, Bottas ran a longer first stint on the Soft Pirelli tyres than either Hamilton or Vettel. The Ferrari team blinked first by pitting the German at the end of Lap 14, with Hamilton called into the pits a lap later to cover their strategy.
Bottas, meanwhile, stayed out until Lap 23 and rejoined in second place behind Verstappen, who would himself make his compulsory pit stop two laps later and promote Leclerc into second place.
Once Leclerc had pitted and rejoined the race in fifth at the end of Lap 29, Bottas’ lead over Hamilton – who it later turned out was nursing a damaged floor – had stretched to over 15 seconds, with Vettel a further three seconds behind and falling back into the clutches of Verstappen.
The Dutch driver clearly had the quicker car and zeroed up to the back of the four-time World Champion. Vettel blocked an attack into Turn 1 on Lap 31, but his slower exit was enough to give Verstappen a DRS-assisted pass around the outside of the Ferrari as they approached Turn 3.
Verstappen quickly pulled clear and within two laps had pulled within DRS range of Hamilton. Over the next 25 laps he remained stuck under Hamilton’s rear wing – the combination of his Honda engine’s comparative lack of horsepower to Hamilton’s Mercedes unit and the difficulty of following another car around the Albert Park circuit ensured that he never stood a real chance of getting by.
Vettel continued to slip back and fell into the clutches of teammate Leclerc in the final laps, although the Monégasque driver had similar difficulties getting by his teammate. The young pretender would have to wait until later to show up his senior.
There was an interesting final act in the battle over who would claim the race’s fastest lap and the bonus point that came with it among the top-ten finishers. Bottas held sway for much of the race until Verstappen popped in a later effort of 1:26.540; the Finn the counter-attacked on the penultimate lap of the race with a rapid 1:25.580 to put any other challenge beyond doubt.
Kevin Magnussen finished ‘best of the rest’ in the sole remaining Haas Ferrari in sixth place and the last of the unlapped runners. The remaining points’ positions were claimed by Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen (who was forced to pit early after a visor tear-off flew into a radiator), Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.
They all raced in close formation and incredibly eight of the grid’s ten teams finished in the points, showing the remarkably close competitiveness of this year’s midfield.
Gasly, who started the race from 17th place after a strategic bungle in qualifying, fell victim to another poor strategy call by Red Bull Racing during the race. The team opted to put him on a long opening stint to help give him track position and use fresher Soft tyres for a short final stint. He finally pitted on Lap 37, but was overtaken by Kvyat on his out-lap and found himself stuck behind the Russian for the rest of the race.
Having qualified inside the top-ten, Sergio Pérez finished thirteenth after – like Norris – getting stuck behind the yet-to-stop Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, whose defensive driving skills varied between ultra-robust and ultra-brittle.
The Italian was not helped by his team’s decision to put him on a long opening stint on the slower Medium-compound tyres and finished an unimpressive fifteenth behind Toro Rosso rookie Alexander Albon, with the Anglo-Thai driver similarly stuck behind the Alfa Romeo before eventually getting past.
The two Williams’ ran more laps consecutively than they’d managed for the whole of pre-season testing, but were well off the pace. George Russell was sixteenth and two laps adrift, a lap ahead of teammate Kubica whose racing return was ruined by Ricciardo’s front wing.
|FORMULA 1 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX 2019 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (58 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||58||1:25:27.325||26|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||58||+ 20.886||18|
|3.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||58||+ 22.520||15|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||58||+ 57.109||12|
|5.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||58||+ 58.230||10|
|6.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||58||+ 1:27.156||8|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||57||1 lap behind||6|
|8.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||57||1 lap behind||4|
|9.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||57||1 lap behind||2|
|10.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||57||1 lap behind||1|
|11.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||57||1 lap behind|
|12.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||57||1 lap behind|
|13.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||57||1 lap behind|
|14.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||57||1 lap behind|
|15.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||57||1 lap behind|
|19.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||56||2 laps behind|
|20.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||55||3 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||29||Wheel Nut|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||28||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||9||Engine|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Valtteri Bottas is awarded an additional 1 championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race by a points’ finisher.
Images via Ignite Image (© MotorsportM8)