Bottas delivers crushing Melbourne victory as Ferraris fade
Valtteri Bottas secured a dominant victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix 25 seconds clear of team-mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton, while Max Verstappen finished ahead of both Ferraris to secure the first podium for a Honda-powered car since 2008.
Despite being pipped to pole position by Hamilton, Bottas was the more aggressive off the line and squeezed into the lead heading into turn one.
Bottas set a blistering pace in the early phase of the race, setting the fastest lap of the race in each of the opening 10 laps as he opened up a lead of almost four seconds over his world champion team-mate.
While Hamilton stopped on lap 16 to cover the Ferrari of Vettel who had pitted a lap earlier, Bottas extended his stint for a further seven laps, pushing the gap over his team-mate to just over 10 seconds.
Hamilton appeared to have no answer for Bottas’ red-hot pace in the second half of the race, voicing concerns over his car’s rear-tyre life as he fell further back from the lead and questioned the team’s decision to pit him early.
With Bottas holding a comfortable lead entering the final few laps, the Finn upped his pace yet further to grab an extra point for the fastest lap of the race after earlier telling his race engineer: “I want 26 points today”.
Bottas crossed the line almost 21 seconds clear of his team-mate to deliver without a doubt the finest win of his F1 career to date, and a clear statement that he won’t play second fiddle at Mercedes this year as he bids to secure his future with the team.
Verstappen scored the first podium for a Honda-powered car since the 2008 British GP as Red Bull began their partnership with the Japanese manufacturer with third place, but crucially ahead of the two Ferraris.
Verstappen started the race from fifth on the grid, but showed strong pace in the opening half of the race to keep Vettel ahead in check. On lap 31, Verstappen used DRS to close on the German on the approach down to turn three and made the move stick around the outside with a stunning move.
From there on, Vettel faded badly and Ferrari debutant Charles Leclerc was able to cut the gap significantly to his team-mate in the closing stages before seemingly being told to hold station as the Ferraris finished just a second apart in fourth and fifth.
It was a bitterly disappointing start to the season for Ferrari who finished 57s behind race-winner Bottas as Vettel was heard to ask his engineer: “Why are we so slow?” in the closing stages of the race.
BOTTAS: "I don't know what just happened... I don't know what to say! It was definitely my best race ever. I felt so good and the car was so good" #AusGP ???????? #F1pic.twitter.com/FUsLl3vArN
Kevin Magnussen banked a solid points haul for Haas with sixth place, but it was a mixed day for the team as Romain Grosjean retired with a front-left wheel issue after the pair had started from sixth and seventh on the grid.
Nico Hulkenberg was the sole Renault car to finish after converting his 11th place grid slot to an excellent seventh place finish in the race. Team-mate and home hero Daniel Ricciardo suffered a nightmare debut for his new team after losing his front wing at the start before being forced to retire later on with damage.
F1’s youngest ever British driver, Lando Norris, ended up outside of the points after starting eighth. It was a disappointing start to the year for McLaren who also lost new signing Carlos Sainz through a fiery MGU-K failure early in the race.
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