Australian GP: Valtteri Bottas beats Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari struggle
Bottas dominates Australian GP, 20s ahead of Hamilton; Ferrari one minute off the pace, Verstappen third; Norris finishes outside points, Sainz retires for McLaren; Ricciardo and Grosjean also DNF
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 18/03/19 8:09am
Valtteri Bottas crushed the competition to win the Australian GP as Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari struggled at the F1 2019 season-opener.
Bottas, a distant fifth in the championship and without a victory last year, overtook Hamilton off the line and went on to win the race ahead of his pole-sitting team-mate by more than 20 seconds.
The Finn also took the maximum 26 points available after setting the fastest lap.
"It was definitely my best race ever," said Bottas.
Hamilton never seemed comfortable in his Mercedes, which the team subsequently claimed was damaged, and only just held off a charging Max Verstappen in the Red Bull for second place.
Verstappen's impressive display in Red Bull's first race with Honda engines included a sensational overtake on Sebastian Vettel, with Ferrari finishing almost a minute behind race-winner Bottas.
Vettel challenged Hamilton at the start of the race but drastically fell back, and was fortunate to hold onto fourth place as Ferrari instructed Charles Leclerc not to attack.
Where did it go wrong for Hamilton?
Although second place and sealing a Mercedes one-two was decent consolation for Hamilton, it's certainly not what the world champion had in mind when lining up on pole position.
The world champion's start was solid, but Bottas' was spectacular. And from there the Finn put his foot down, immediately opening up a one-second advantage. Hamilton didn't manage to match his team-mate's pace until Lap 11 and by that point Bottas was already three seconds ahead.
That gap would normally see Bottas given preference on a pit-stop but Mercedes brought Hamilton in first, on Lap 16, as they responded to Ferrari's early stop with the chasing Vettel.
But Hamilton's pace slowed on the medium tyre, while Bottas pumped in fastest lap after fastest lap as he stretched his first stint. Hamilton was losing a second a lap.
"What's the reason we stopped so early?" asked Hamilton on Lap 22. Five laps later, a worried Brit said: "I don't think I'm going to make it to the end of the race on this tyre."
The gap was 20 seconds when Bottas finally made his first stop, and soon after, Hamilton was under pressure from Red Bull's charging Verstappen, who had just passed the now-struggling Vettel.
Hamilton got temporary respite on Lap 49 when Verstappen made an error and ran wide onto the grass, but the Dutchman closed to within DRS range again in the final few laps.
Hamilton held on in the end, but a 20-second advantage is some marker from Bottas in the first race of the season.
When Hamilton said he is braced for the toughest title battle of his career this season, he was talking about Ferrari. But on this evidence, Bottas is a credible championship candidate.
Red Bull capitalise on Ferrari's lack of pace
Coming into the first race of the season, the paddock's verdict was clear: Ferrari were the favourites. But they finished the Melbourne opener almost a minute off the pace.
"Ferrari have got to ask questions of themselves," said Sky F1's Paul di Resta.
Both Vettel and Leclerc suffered.
The German, who started third, was close to the Mercedes in the opening laps and was two seconds behind Hamilton after the first pit-stops, but from there his pace fell off a cliff.
"I guess we were just slow," said Vettel, who didn't receive immediate answers from his team.
Leclerc, meanwhile, on his Scuderia debut, made mistakes at the start of the race - almost colliding with his team-mate at Turn One and then running off-track when chasing Verstappen - but then closed in on fourth at the end, such was Vettel's decline.
Intriguingly, Leclerc dropped off Vettel as soon as he entered DRS range. The radio messages were telling:
Leclerc: "Should I stay behind Sebastian? Yes or no?"
Ferrari: "Yes and back off to have some margin."
Red Bull swooped in to become Mercedes' closest challengers at Albert Park, thanks to a superb drive by Verstappen.
Pierre Gasly may have finished outside the points due to a disappointing grid position and a tight street circuit, but Red Bull couldn't have asked for a much better start to their Honda partnership.
"I think we've overperformed in the race," team boss Christian Horner told Sky F1.
Haas looking strong, Ricciardo's nightmare
Haas lived up to their pre-race expectations, with Kevin Magnussen an impressive sixth. But it wasn't a perfect day for the team - they suffered another Melbourne pit-stop nightmare and Romain Grosjean later retired from the race.
Nico Hulkenberg was seventh for Renault, while Kimi Raikkonen, Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat - all either returning or making debuts for their respective teams - completed the top 10.
Lando Norris will have been disappointed to finish outside the points after such a strong qualifying, and it was a tough day for McLaren with Carlos Sainz the first DNF of the race due to a MGU-K engine failure.
Daniel Ricciardo also had a debut to forget. The Australian, Renault's new star recruit from Red Bull, lost his front wing off the line after edging off the track, and failed to finish his home grand prix.
Australian GP: Standout stats
- Bottas wins for the first time since November 2017, a wait of 22 races
- Hamilton's wait for another Australian GP win continues: that's four runner-up finishes in a row from four consecutive poles
- Verstappen finishes on the Melbourne podium for the first time
- Honda secure a first podium since their return to F1 / Red Bull's first Australia podium since 2013
- Ferrari miss out on Melbourne podium for first time since 2014
- Lance Stroll scores two points on Racing Point debut
How the race unfolded
Lap 1: Bottas overtakes Hamilton off the line, while Vettel and Leclerc almost come together. Ricciardo loses a front wing after edging off the track - having to pit immediately
Lap 8: Bottas lead stretches to over two seconds, with Vettel unable to keep up with the Mercedes in third
Lap 10: Leclerc makes a mistake at Turn One and drops well behind Verstappen
Lap 11: Sainz suffers an engine failure in his McLaren and has to retire from the race
Lap 13: Raikkonen starts flurry of pit-stops
Lap 15: Vettel is the first of the leading five to come into the pits, taking the medium tyre
Lap 16: Mercedes respond immediately by bringing Hamilton in. More pit-stop drama for Haas in Melbourne, and a slow tyre change costs Grosjean crucial positions in the midfield
Lap 18: Bottas continues to set an eye-catching pace out in front on his first stint, but Vettel posts new fastest lap to close to within two seconds of Hamilton
Lap 22: Hamilton asks Mercedes why they pitted him so early, and is told it was to cover Vettel
Lap 23: Bottas pits from the lead and now holds a +10s advantage over Hamilton and the chasing Vettel
Lap 26: That stop momentarily put Verstappen in front, but the Red Bull comes in for his first tyre change. He's not far behind Hamilton and Vettel
Lap 27: "I don't think I'm going to make it to the end on this tyre," Hamilton tells his Mercedes team
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Lap 29: Leclerc stops for the first time, and Ferrari bolt on the hard compound tyre - a different strategy to their rivals
Lap 31: Verstappen overtakes Vettel for third with a swooping overtake into Turn Three. Ricciardo and Grosjean, meanwhile, are forced to retire
Lap 33: Bottas is almost 20s ahead of Hamilton, who is now being chased down by Verstappen as the Red Bull enters DRS range
Lap 35: Hamilton manages to hold off Verstappen and picks up his pace slightly, but is still only 1.5s ahead
Lap 37: Ferrari's race not going to plan. Vettel is 28s off the lead in fourth with Leclerc a further 10s back
Lap 38: Kvyat runs onto the gravel in his Toro Rosso when trying to overtake Lance Stroll. Red Bull try take advantage, bringing in the struggling Gasly in for his first stop but though the Frenchman initially gets past and into the points, Kvyat takes the place back.
Lap 43: "Why are we so slow?" asks Sebastian Vettel as he slips nine seconds behind Verstappen. "We don't know at the moment," is the Ferrari reply. Leclerc is only six seconds behind Vettel now
Lap 49: With just nine laps remaining Verstappen runs wide and loses two seconds to Hamilton, slipping three seconds behind.
Lap 51: Leclerc enters DRS range of Vettel. Ferrari have a decision to make...
Lap 52: Bottas is told he can slow down, with an advantage of 25s over Hamilton. But the Finn says "I want 26 points" as he looks to secure a fastest lap point
Lap 55: Verstappen sets fastest lap of the race, closing gap to Hamilton back down to 1,3s.
Lap 56: Hamilton then says: "I need that extra point." But Verstappen is within DRS range again...
Final lap: Bottas posts fastest lap and wins by 20s. "He couldn't have wished for a better race," says David Croft.
Australian GP Timesheet
|1) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes|
|2) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+20.886|
|3) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+22.520|
|4) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||+57.109|
|5) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+58.230|
|6) Kevin Magnussen||Haas||+87.156|
|7) Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||+1 LAP|
|8) Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1 LAP|
|9) Lance Stroll||Racing Point||+1 LAP|
|10) Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||+1 LAP|
|11) Pierre Gasly||Red Bull||+1 LAP|
|12) Lando Norris||McLaren||+1 LAP|
|13) Sergio Perez||Racing Point||+1 LAP|
|14) Alex Albon||Toro Rosso||+1 LAP|
|15) Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+1 LAP|
|16) George Russell||Williams||+2 LAPS|
|17) Robert Kubica||Williams||+3 LAPS|
|Did not finish|
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