Valtteri Bottas started the 2019 season with victory in the Australian Grand Prix after beating teammate Lewis Hamilton into Turn 1.
Hamilton had secured pole position on Saturday, taking his eighth pole at Albert Park to join Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna with the most poles at one circuit. He’s only managed to convert two of those into victory, however, and that record didn’t change as wheelspin at the start saw Bottas get comfortably alongside before Turn 1 and take the lead down the inside into the first corner.
Hamilton quite quickly dropped back from his teammate and was then forced into an early pit stop to cover off Sebastian Vettel, who had held position in third place off the line. Vettel’s stop proved a problem for both drivers, as Hamilton was forced to nurse tires to the end of the race and not chase down Bottas, while Vettel struggled much more on the medium compound.
With a fastest lap point available, Bottas pulled away with ease in the opening stint and it was Max Verstappen who moved up to second place after the early stops for the two drivers ahead of him. Verstappen was then able to pit 10 laps later than Hamilton and Vettel, and quickly reeled in the Ferrari on fresher tires.
Vettel was lacking pace in the second stint and Verstappen struck quickly, getting the Ferrari out of position at Turn 1 and then using DRS to cruise past on the run to Turn 3 — and a Honda power unit strong enough to ensure the move was complete before the braking zone.
With Vettel dispatched, Verstappen set off after Hamilton and set the fastest lap of the race with four remaining to close right up on the Mercedes. Hamilton was comfortable in defense and held on to second place, while Bottas responded on the penultimate lap to pick up the extra point available for the fastest lap and secure the maximum haul of 26 points.
Charles Leclerc had to settle for fifth on his Ferrari debut but it could have been much better for the 21-year-old, as a strong start saw him alongside Vettel and attempting to take third on the exit of Turn 1. There wasn’t space for two cars and Leclerc ran onto the grass, losing momentum and dropping behind Verstappen.
Such were Vettel’s struggles, Leclerc then closed right up in the second stint and looked set to overtake before being told to hold position, with the two Ferraris coming home in formation in fourth and fifth.
Kevin Magnussen finished sixth as Haas went some way to banishing the demons of 12 months ago, but there was a dramatic sense of deja vu when Romain Grosjean retired with a front left tire problem. A slow pit stop with that tire — the same one that took him out of the race as both cars retired last year — dropped Grosjean back in the field and he then suffered a front left suspension failure that showed the tire to be loose and forced his retirement.
The new aerodynamic regulations saw cars following closely but there was still little in the way of overtaking due to the short braking zones in Melbourne, with Nico Hulkenberg finishing seventh at the head of a train of cars after making up three places on the opening lap. Kimi Raikkonen was eighth as both drivers enjoyed drama-free runs from lights to flag, while Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10.
Pierre Gasly was right behind the Toro Rosso as he attempted to recover from a disastrous qualifying session, but couldn’t find a way past as all five cars had DRS and could defend against each other.
Stroll and Kvyat benefited greatly from a slow Antonio Giovinazzi, who damaged his front wing on the opening lap but then carried out a long first stint and held up a number of midfield drivers. That dropped the likes of Lando Norris and Sergio Perez out of contention for points as they were held up after their first stops — necessitated by qualifying in the top 10 and having to start on the soft compound — opening the door for Stroll, Kvyat and Gasly to run longer and emerge from their later stops in the gap Giovinazzi had created.
There was more home disappointment for Daniel Ricciardo as he took to the grass on the run to Turn 1 and saw his front wing break off as he bounced over a strip of tarmac. An immediate pit stop left him at the back of the field, and although he soon overtook Robert Kubica — who also stopped for a new front wing at the end of the opening lap — he was later forced to retire as a precaution.
The other retirement was Carlos Sainz, who suffered an MGU-K failure having jumped from 18th to 14th in the opening laps, and parked at the pit entry with his car on fire.