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Bottas Dominates The F1 Season Opener In Australia
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
The victorious Valtteri Bottas was in a class of his own
After the winter break and pre-season testing in Spain this year’s Formula 1 world championship has sprung into life in Australia on the race circuit around the lake in Melbourne’s Albert Park. The event was overshadowed by the unexpected and sudden death in Melbourne of longtime Race Director, Permanent Starter and Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting last Wednesday, but come race time it was Valtteri Bottas who claimed a dominant victory for his Mercedes team.

In Friday’s opening free practice session reigning champion Lewis Hamilton had set the fastest time in his Mercedes, although the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were both less than a tenth of a second adrift. There was encouragement too for the Honda powered Red Bull team as Max Verstappen completed the leading quartet.

Hamilton (right) outpaced Bottas in qualifying, but not in the Grand Prix
Mercedes blitzed the subsequent second free practice period, with Hamilton and team-mate Bottas being a mighty 0.8 seconds faster than best of the rest Verstappen and the brace of Ferraris only managing to set the fifth and ninth fastest times. The question being asked around the paddock was whether the red cars from Italy were holding back on their true pace or not, but everyone at least knew the following day would provide the answer.

Come Saturday’s final practice session Hamilton again topped the timesheets, but second placed Vettel had narrowed the gap to just over a quarter of a second. The all-important qualifying process followed to determine the grid positions for the next day’s Grand Prix and it was Hamilton who claimed a sixth consecutive pole position at the Albert Park venue, with the other Mercedes pedalled by Bottas set to start alongside him.

Vettel and Verstappen made the second row of the grid their own and Leclerc, in his first ever qualifying session for Ferrari, was next quickest. British rookie driver Lando Norris put in a superb effort to qualify in eighth position on his F1 debut for McLaren.

The Ferraris have much to do after being soundly beaten in Melbourne
When the red lights went out at the start of the race Hamilton made a good start, but Bottas made an even better one and led the field into the opening corner, with his team-mate and Vettel snapping at his heels.

Back amongst the pack the home favourite Daniel Ricciardo, starting his first race for Renault after choosing to leave Red Bull, was instantly in the wars as he ended up venturing onto the righthand grass verge and lost his front wing, with barge board damage too to compound his woes. After pitting for a new front wing at the end of the first tour the Australian subsequently retired on lap 31.

As the Grand Prix developed Bottas asserted his authority over his team-mate, with Verstappen’s Red Bull sandwiched by the two Ferraris. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who had endured a difficult qualifying session, sadly soon exited the fray after a fiery failure of the car’s Renault power unit.

Vettel was the first of the leading runners to make a pit stop, switching from soft to medium compound tyres on lap 15 and Mercedes immediately responded by bringing Hamilton in for the same change to cover off any risk of an undercut by the German driver. Seven tours later the leading Bottas made the same stop and rejoined the circuit in second place behind Verstappen who had yet to head down the pit lane.

Young British rookie Lando Norris impressed on his F1 debut in a McLaren
Once all the frontrunners had made their stops the leading Bottas had a significant lead over Hamilton and Vettel, the latter being pressured by the chasing Verstappen and on lap 31 the young Dutch charger swept past the Ferrari into third position at the approach to Turn 3.

As the race progressed towards its conclusion the Ferrari team’s management was left wondering why Vettel in fourth place was still almost a minute behind the leading Bottas, a scenario they had very much not been hoping for before the Australian weekend.

Over in the Red Bull camp there was excitement that Verstappen was doing his best to take second place from Hamilton, but it was not to be and the British multiple champion held on to the runner’s-up spot, if over 20 seconds behind the victorious Bottas at the chequered flag. The team later discovered some floor damage on Hamilton’s car which may have been part of the reason for his inability to match the pace of his team-mate.

Daniel Ricciardo endured a difficult Renault debut at his home Grand Prix
As for the rookie drivers, Norris had to settle for 12th position after a solid debut Grand Prix and British/Thai driver Alex Albon was 14th for Toro Rosso. With the woes of the Williams team continuing, British racer George Russell (last year’s Formula 2 champion) had to accept being the next to last runner at the end of the race. The other Williams driver, Robert Kubica, sadly had anything but a fairytale return to Formula 1 eight years after suffering horrendous injuries in a rallying accident and was the last to reach the chequered flag.

With effect from the start of this season an additional point is being awarded at every Grand Prix for whoever sets the fastest race lap (providing he finishes in the top ten) and the chase to achieve this became quite intense during the closing stages of the race as the fuel load went down on the cars. The first recipient was Bottas, completing a perfect day for the likeable Finn. He has had his doubters, but fully deserved his Australian success.

As soon as the chequered flag had flown the teams were busy packing up and getting ready to relocate round the world for the next race in just two weeks’ time at a very different venue - the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain. Will Bottas extend his early season lead or will his rivals fight back? We’ll know shortly.

2019 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix

Also by Graham Read...
Hamilton Dominates In China
Heartbreak For Ferrari’s Unlucky Leclerc
Northern Motor Racing Legend David Cox
Obituary: Charlie Whiting 1952-2019
Vettel’s Ferrari Tops The Timesheets In Pre-Season Testing
1 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1hr25m27.325s
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +20.886s
3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +22.520s
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +57.109s
5 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +58.230s
6 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1m27.156s
7 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Lapped
8 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
9 Lance Stroll (Racing Point) Lapped
10 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) Lapped
11 Pierre Gasly (Red Bull) Lapped
12 Lando Norris (McLaren) Lapped
13 Sergio Perez (Racing Point) Lapped
14 Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) Lapped
15 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
16 George Russell (Williams) Lapped
17 Robert Kubica (Williams) Lapped
18 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Retired
19 Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) Retired
20 Carlos Sainz (McLaren) Retired

2019 Formula 1 Drivers Championship (after 1 round of 21)

1 Valtteri Bottas 26
2 Lewis Hamilton 18
3 Max Verstappen 15

2019 Formula 1 Constructors Championship (after 1 round of 21)

1 Mercedes 44
2 Ferrari 22
3 Red Bull 15

Bottas Dominates The F1 Season Opener In Australia, 17th March 2019, 14:49 PM