MELBOURNE (Agenices): Valtteri Bottas has wasted little time in making amends for his winless 2018 campaign, taking an utterly dominant victory for Mercedes at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Bottas narrowly missed out on pole position to teammate Lewis Hamilton on Saturday, but it took him less than 100 metres to put his car in front of the five-time world champion as the field raced down to Turn 1. The Finn then led all but one lap at Albert Park — even setting the fastest race lap to earn an extra world championship point under a newly-introduced rule for 2019 — before taking the chequered flag a massive 20.8 seconds ahead of Hamilton, with Max Verstappen finishing third for Red Bull.
Once Hamilton was passed by Bottas at the start, he looked a shadow of the driver who had, up until race day, dominated the weekend. Hamilton was forced into an early pit stop to cover Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and it didn’t take long for him to begin complaining of a lack of grip as his medium tyres started to wear as his second stint unfolded. Verstappen managed to get within a second of Hamilton at various stages but never really attempted an overtake and eventually settled for third after a crucial mistake at Turn 1 in the closing laps.
The thought heading to Melbourne was that Ferrari had the quickest car, but it’s clear the Scuderia still has plenty of work to do. Vettel dropped from third to fourth when Verstappen eased around him at Turn 3 midway through the race, and that’s where he remained.
The German crossed the line a staggering 35 seconds adrift of Bottas, while Leclerc came home just behind in fifth.
Kevin Magnussen gave Haas something to smile about with P6 and eight world championship points, but it was a case of déjà vu for the American team with Romain Grosjean retiring with a wheel issue for the seconds year running in Melbourne.
The Frenchman was on the tail of Magnussen when he entered the pits but was held for over 10 seconds as mechanics scrambled to fit his front left tyre. He dropped down to ninth and a few laps later pulled off the track with his loose tyre.
Like Haas, Renault had a mixed day. Nico Hulkenberg recovered from a Q2 exit on Saturday afternoon to finish seventh, but home hero Daniel Ricciardo endured a horror debut with the team. The Australian took an excursion onto the grass on the run to Turn 1, losing his front wing, which forced him to pit at the end of the opening lap. He returned to the track in last place before eventually retiring on lap 31.
Kimi Raikkonen finished eighth for Alfa Romeo after completing a race-high 45 laps on the medium tyre. The Finn led home Lance Stroll, who kicked off his stint at Racing Point with P9, and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10 for Toro Rosso on his return to Formula One.
Pierre Gasly may have missed out on points, however the Frenchman fought back well to finish eleventh after Red Bull misjudged the track evolution in qualifying and he wound up starting P18.
Rookie Lando Norris, who qualified an impressive eighth, dropped back to finish in P12 for McLaren. The Englishman lost two places on the opening lap, but the time he lost battling with Antonio Giovinazzi ultimately cost him. Norris was unable to find a way past and lost time to his rivals who pitted later. McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz didn’t even make it through nine laps before the Renault engine in his car caught fire.
Coming home in 13th was Sergio Perez for Racing Point ahead of Alexander Albon, who was also on debut for Toro Rosso. Giovinazzi finished in P15 with the Williams cars of George Russell and Robert Kubica finishing two and three laps behind, respectively.