Valtteri Bottas dominated the 2019 season-opening Australian Grand Prix with fine style after such awful luck last season. He passed team-mate Lewis Hamilton on the start and drove off into the distance to earn his first Formula 1 victory since 2017.
Hamilton beat Bottas in qualifying but lost his advantage almost immediately after a slower getaway.
The defending champion was able to resist pressure from Sebastian Vettel and latterly Max Verstappen to complete an one-two for Mercedes, while Verstappen claimed Honda’s first podium finish since the 2008 British Grand Prix on its maiden race with Red Bull.
Bottas outdragged Hamilton into Turn 1 and was left untroubled for the entirety of the race, aided by Mercedes being forced to react to an early Vettel pitstop and switch Hamilton to an inferior strategy.
Vettel stopped on lap 14 of 58, with Mercedes bringing in Hamilton one lap later to protect against the Ferrari’s fresh-tyre advantage.
However, neither was able to lap as quickly on new medium tyres as Bottas on old soft compound, which allowed Bottas, Verstappen and Charles Leclerc to run several laps longer.
Bottas finally stopped eight laps after his team-mate and continued unimpeded throughout the race, crushing the opposition by 20.8 seconds to win for the first time since the 2017 season finale in Abu Dhabi and produce the perfect response to his winless 2018 season.
The gap was flattered slightly by Hamilton having to nurse his mediums to the end to preserve second place, but the five-time world champion saw off Vettel in the middle phase of the race.
Hamilton then kept Verstappen at arm’s length once the Red Bull driver had cleared Vettel with ease around the outside of Turn 3 on lap 31.
Verstappen hounded the Mercedes, running 1.5 seconds behind for most of the second half of the race, before running wide at Turn 1 and bouncing over the grass.
He dropped back, continued to push and set a new fastest lap of the race in the closing stages but was unable to overhaul Hamilton.
However, Bottas hit back on the penultimate tour to steal the first bonus point of the season and take his haul from the opening race to 26 points.
Ferrari’s pre-season promise translated into fourth and fifth in Melbourne as Vettel slipped further and further back, eventually only finishing just ahead of Leclerc.
Vettel finished 50 seconds behind race winner Bottas, with Leclerc – who had a trip across the gravel at Turn 1 earlier in the race – only fifth after appearing to back off once he caught his new team-mate.
Kevin Magnussen had a lonely run to sixth to earn best-of-the-rest honours for Haas and avenge the team’s horror show in Melbourne one year ago.
He shook off the race-long attention of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who slipped back in the final part of the race and only just held on at the head of a five-car train.
Kimi Raikkonen was next up, finishing eighth on his Alfa Romeo debut, with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll also scoring points on his first start for a new team.
Returning Toro Rosso Daniil Kvyat capped his F1 comeback with a point for P10, keeping the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly at bay.
Gasly started near the back after a qualifying blunder from Red Bull and emerged from a late pitstop ahead of Kvyat, but was passed by the Russian into Turn 3 on his out-lap.
Qualifying surprise Lando Norris was unable to grab points on his F1 debut but did finish top rookie in P12 as McLaren’s pace dropped come race day.
There were three retirements: Carlos Sainz the first of the new season after a fiery exit in his McLaren-Renault.
Home favourite Daniel Ricciardo was next to go, a precautionary non-finisher after breaking his front wing taking to the grass on the run to the first corner.
Romain Grosjean stopped on track in his Haas after running in the points early on before slipping outside the top ten because of a slow pitstop.
Behind 15th-placed Antonio Giovinazzi, whose very long first stint held up early stoppers and played a big part in settling the final points, the Williams were a very distant 16th and 17th.
Robert Kubica lost his front wing on Gasly at the first corner and was a lonely last on his F1 return for most of the distance once passed by fellow early-pitter Ricciardo.
So a fantastic result for Valtteri Bottas after such a disappointing last season. To finish miles ahead of your rivals is so satisfying and such a good morale boost. Well done Bottas.
As for Ferrari, this was such a frustrating race after promising speed in pre-season testing. Hopefully Vettel and Leclerc are more competitive in the next race.
Australian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 58 1h25m27.325s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 58 20.886s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 58 22.520s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 58 57.109s
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 58 58.230s
6 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 58 1m27.156s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 57 1 Lap
8 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 57 1 Lap
9 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 57 1 Lap
10 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Honda 57 1 Lap
11 Pierre Gasly Red Bull-Honda 57 1 Lap
12 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 57 1 Lap
13 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 57 1 Lap
14 Alexander Albon Toro Rosso-Honda 57 1 Lap
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 57 1 Lap
16 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 56 2 Laps
17 Robert Kubica Williams-Mercedes 55 3 Laps
– Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 29 Suspension
– Daniel Ricciardo Renault 28 Retirement
– Carlos Sainz McLaren-Renault 9 Power Unit
1 Valtteri Bottas 26
2 Lewis Hamilton 18
3 Max Verstappen 15
4 Sebastian Vettel 12
5 Charles Leclerc 10
6 Kevin Magnussen 8
7 Nico Hulkenberg 6
8 Kimi Raikkonen 4
9 Lance Stroll 2
10 Daniil Kvyat 1
11 Pierre Gasly 0
12 Lando Norris 0
13 Sergio Perez 0
14 Alexander Albon 0
15 Antonio Giovinazzi 0
16 George Russell 0
17 Robert Kubica 0
1 Mercedes 44
2 Ferrari 22
3 Red Bull-Honda 15
4 Haas-Ferrari 8
5 Renault 6
6 Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 4
7 Racing Point-Mercedes 2
8 Toro Rosso-Honda 1
9 McLaren-Renault 0
10 Williams-Mercedes 0