After a long winter break, Formula One finally returned to Down Under for the Australian GP.
Qualifying made clear that the testing results from Barcelona weren’t very representative. Gasly didn’t make it through to Q2, as Red Bull thought his first run was good enough. A big surprise for McLaren was the eighth place for rookie Lando Norris, showing that McLaren are ready for points again.
In front it was the big question if Ferrari and Red Bull indeed closened the gap to Mercedes. After three Free Practice sessions it still wasn’t clear, but the third qualifying session did clear things up. Mercedes are still the ones to beat, Ferrari are behind them and Red Bull are still third, although Max Verstappen (P4) qualified in front of new Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc (P5). Lewis Hamilton took pole by a sensational 0.7s to rival Vettel (P3), with Bottas close behind him.
A dramatic start for the local hero Daniel Ricciardo, who lost his front wing after a good start trying to overtake but had to go onto the grass were there was a small bump.
In front it was Bottas who took the lead from Hamilton and immediately created a gap. Charles Leclerc tried to overtake on the outside through turn 1, but had to be cautious with his teammate in front.
Pierre Gasly tried to make his way through the field, which wasn’t an easy task at this circuit as he struggled to get past the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.
In lap nine Leclerc made a small mistake into turn 1, going through the gravel and losing three seconds to Verstappen ahead. One lap later one of the Renault engines failed, causing the McLaren of Carlos Sainz to catch fire.
The first regular pit stop of the race was for Kimi Räikkönen in lap thirteen, opting for the mediums. Next lap Nico Hülkenberg pitted for the hard tyre, so already there were different strategies.
Vettel went to the mediums as well in lap fifteen. Meanwhile Netflix documentary F1: Drive to Survive rivals Magnussen and Hülkenberg were battling each other heavily on track out of the pits.
Another pit stop drama for Haas as the front left tyre of Grosjean didn’t go on quickly, costing him a few seconds.
In the midfield Norris tried to get past Alfa Romeo rookie Antonio Giovinazzi, showing that the new aero regulations made for closer racing. The Giovinazzi train grew bigger with Grosjean, Albon and Perez joining the battle. In lap twenty-six Norris finally passed the Italian, who was defending his place like his life depended on it.
Twenty-nine laps in and Leclerc finally made his first pit stop, going for the hard tyre which seemed like a strange decision.
Local hero Ricciardo had to retire the car in lap 31. At the same moment it was Grosjean parked his car behind the barriers, the bad pit stop seemingly the cause of the retirement.
An overtake attempt by Kvyat on Perez ended up in the gravel trap, but he could go on. Gasly immediatly pitted, but couldn’t get past the Russian.
With fifteen laps to go Vettel was really struggling for pace in P4, asking his team: “Why are we so slow?”
After fifty-eight laps it was Valtteri Bottas who took the first win of 2019 (and his first since Abu Dhabi 2017), outclassing his teammate Hamilton. Verstappen should be happy about his third place, and Hamilton should be worried about second due to the twenty-two second gap to his teammate.
The biggest worries, however, should be at Ferrari. No real impressive race pace and Leclerc almost out finished
his teammate albeit a gap of over ten seconds before the pit stops.
The first winner of the extra point for fastest lap was Valtteri Bottas, leaving Australia with the full twenty-six points. Next race is Bahrain, will we see a revival of Ferrari or are Red Bull ahead of the reds? We’ll see in two weeks time.
image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports