Marc Marquez was back with his incredible skills at saving his Honda from crashing, once again during the qualifying.
It was Jorge Martin (Ducati) who pipped him to the post to take his 3rd pole this season and an all-time lap record (1:27.767), with Marquez following closely behind him. Finishing the front row was Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) and the other championship contenders Fabio Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro behind him, in 5th and 6th.
If qualifying was anything to go by, we were going to be in for a treat on Sunday.
Rain had poured during the night, but it was glorious sunshine that greeted everyone at Phillip Island in the morning. This race had been 3 years of anticipation and audiences were excited to see what was in store:
Lining up on the grid Bagnaia appeared to have trouble with his start device, he just about managed to sort the issue before lights went out. When the lights went green, it was Martin who led Marquez and Espargaro into turn 1. Bagnaia went backwards to 4th place but by turn 2 he was up to 3rd, passing one of his championship contenders.
Home-Hero, Jack Miller (Ducati) started to carve his way through the pack and on lap 2 of 27 he had made his way up to 6th, passing Alex Marquez (Honda) and Luca Marini (Ducati) in the process. His championship hopes weren’t quite done with yet.
Marini fought back on ‘Miller Corner’ (having been named after Jack during the weekend). Miller soon took the place back though, knowing he couldn’t let the championship leaders get away. By lap 3 he had managed to also pass Espargaro to sit behind his teammate. Would team orders come into play?
The answer is no – Miller passed Pecco to take 3rd a lap later. But Pecco was having none of it and fought back.
Meanwhile, behind them Quartararo lost another place to Marini but seconds later Fabio made a mistake and was forced to go onto the grass verge, entering back into the race in 22nd place, behind his teammate Franco Morbidelli.
While this was all happening Alex Rins (Suzuki) had taken fastest lap and was up into 7th place behind Marini. He soon passed him to take 6th. Rins was seemingly on a charge. Not content with his new spot, he soon took another one, this time from Espargaro in 5th. Could he make it to the podium?
With 22 laps still to go Martin led Marquez and Bagnaia.
All eyes were on Suzuki-man Rins as he caught Miller by surprise, claiming his spot too (for 4th) and on lap 8 he also passed Bagnaia for 3rd. Could he manage to conserve his tyres to make it to the end of the race after pushing so hard? Only time would tell.
Miller seemed to be in the wars as Espargaro passed him for 5th (and took fastest lap), on lap 9. Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati) also managed to push Miller back to 7th. Alex Marquez tried his luck too but instead he hit Miller from behind, narrowly avoiding hitting Marini as well, sending them both into the gravel, on ‘Miller Corner’ ending both their races early. (It was later confirmed that A. Marquez would get a long-lap penalty next round for ‘riding in an overly aggressive manner’).
Back at the front of the race Rins and Bagnaia had a tussle for 3rd with Bagnaia being the victor this time round.
By lap 10 Fabio had made it up into the points positions (15th) but on the next lap on turn 2 he made a mistake and crashed out of the race, taking zero points at Phillip Island. Has the dream for a second championship gone?
On the same lap Rins managed to pass Bagnaia and Marquez. Martin then led Rins, Marquez and Bagnaia into lap 12.
Rins was clearly up for fighting for the win and on lap 14 he saw his opportunity to get into the prime position, taking 1st from ‘The Martinator’ smoothly. While positions were being swapped behind him – Bagnaia passed Marquez and Martin and then Marquez also passed Martin – he had gone from 1st to 4th in only 2 turns.
Marquez was the only rider though to have taken a gamble with a soft rear tyre. Would the gamble pay off?
Martin soon lost yet another place, this time to Bezzecchi and in-front of him Bagnaia had had enough of watching Rins and had taken the lead. On the next corner Marquez also followed suit and passed Rins.
With 13 laps to go Bagnaia led Marquez, Rins and Bezzecchi. How much more drama could there possibly be? If crowds weren’t on the edge of their seats already, they soon would be:
Just 11 laps until the end and Rins seizes his opportunity to pass Marquez for 2nd and Martin passes Bezzecchi back. Blink and you would miss the action!
Martin had found his second wind and managed to also pass Marquez for 3rd but lap 19 Marquez got his spot back and brought Bezzecchi with him, who managed to also claim a position from Martin, pushing him back to 5th. On the next lap a battle commenced between Bezzecchi, Marquez and Martin. Bezzecchi managed to claim Marquez’s spot and Martin also passed him, but Marquez fought Martin off to keep 4th. While back at the front Rins had managed to claim first position.
With only 8 laps to go Rins now led Bagnaia, Bezzecchi and Marquez.
So much action on track, no-one knew where to look!
Yet there was still more to come:
Bagnaia powered past Rins on the start-finish straight to re-take the lead and to start lap 21. Rins then got swallowed up by both Bezzecchi and Marquez to go back to 4th. The same thing that had happened to Martin moments ago.
With 6 laps to go Rins and Marquez fought for 3rd but it ended with Marquez going wide and Martin passing through, sending Marquez back to 5th. Could he still put up a fight with his soft rear tyre? If there was an issue with the soft tyre Marquez was ignoring it as he soon passed Martin back for 4th.
Bezzecchi seemed to be in trouble with Rins, with 3 laps until the end on turn 2 Rins managed to make his pass stick and was soon hunting down Bagnaia again. Meanwhile Marquez had also passed Marco to take 3rd. Marquez wasn’t letting Rins get away – they tussled for 2nd place, but Rins won.
Bagnaia led Rins, Marquez and Bezzecchi over the line but Rins passed Bagnaia shortly after and Marquez followed him. Could Marquez make the pass to snatch victory?
No, he couldn’t – Alex Rins took the chequered flag for a fairytale win for Suzuki. Followed closely by Marquez and Bagnaia.
Top Ten Finishers:
It was such a close race between the top ten racers. But it was all about celebration: Rins became the 7th different winner this year, Marquez took his 100th premier class victory and Bezzecchi became Rookie of the Year!
Top Four in Championship:
We have certainly missed Phillip Island these past 3 years – but wasn’t it worth the wait?!
The first round of the 2019 Formula 1 season is complete – here we look at Australian GP driver ratings:
Valtteri Bottas – 9
Sunday was near perfect, with a lightning start allowing him to jump his team mate and from then he just went off into the distance, getting an extra point for fastest lap as well. He wasn’t necessarily the winner we expected from pre-season testing but he was without a doubt the driver of the day.
Lewis Hamilton – 7
Hamilton is well known for having the Saturday pace which generally puts him in good stead for Sunday, but he was beaten fair and square during the race. Still, he’ll take the podium along with the equal record for the most poles at one circuit.
Max Verstappen – 8
Verstappen put in the best performance for Honda in the whole of the hybrid era with his podium finish. He managed his tyres well and made an easy move on Vettel. A mistake at turn one hindered a late attack on Hamilton, but he will leave Melbourne with a smile on his face.
Sebastian Vettel – 7
Vettel had a solid start and was quick in the first stint, attempting to attack with an undercut which ultimately didn’t work. You can guarantee an investigation will be underway at Ferrari to figure out how they ended up 57 seconds behind the winner.
Charles Leclerc – 6
A great start by Leclerc but he was rather ambitious to attempt a move on his team-mate which could have ended in tears. Unlike his team-mate, he was slow in the first half of the race but fast in the second, and caught up to Vettel before being told to hold position. He showed he had speed in Q2 but the Ferrari doesn’t seem to be the package everyone thought.
Kevin Magnussen – 8
Magnussen was best of the rest in Australia, with solid pace and what seems to be the fourth quickest car. It was a better result than last year with no faulty pitstops, even if he was outqualified by his team-mate.
Nico Hulkenburg – 7
It was another result in a familiar place for the German. He started 11th so had free choice of tyres, which benefitted him in the race as he got the move on a few other drivers.
Kimi Raikkonen – 8
Raikkonen did exceptionally well considering where the team was last year, with a very aggressive package seeming to suit him well. He got the car into Q3 and kept that momentum going into Sunday.
Lance Stroll – 7
Stroll always raises eyebrows due to how he got into the sport, but in the race he showed he was fully deserving of the seat at Racing Point as he was in the thick of it all weekend. He scored the team’s only point, having some great battles whilst keeping the car clean.
Danil Kvyat – 6
A good return to the sport, ignoring a mistake at turn three. He was ambitious to run the hard tyre and defended well from faster cars behind, taking his car deeper into the race and allowing him to overcut the majority of them for the last point.
Pierre Gasly – 4
Australia will be a race to forget for Gasly. A mistake on Saturday by the team cost him dearly and he spent most of the race staring at Kvyat’s rear wing, unable to get past even on the softest tyre.
Lando Norris – 7
It was a great Saturday from Norris, but an early stop in the race in reaction to others put him in traffic. He was unable to pass Giovinazzi for several laps and just missed out on the points. Expect big things from Norris this season.
Sergio Perez – 5
It was an off-day for the Mexican on Sunday as he was classified down in 13th. He got caught up in the midfield battle which let others overcut him. The car looks great though, so there will be plenty more opportunities for him.
Alex Albon – 6
Despite being the first to spin this season in similar circumstances to his incident in testing, Albon did a good job. He matched Kvyat for outright pace on Saturday but was just caught up in the ever-so-tight midfield squabble. A good Sunday debut.
Antonio Giovinazzi – 5
The returning Italian was a pain for most at Melbourne, stuck on a confusing strategy with his tyres were ruined, and becoming a replacement for the infamous ‘Trulli train’. He showed true grit in terms of defence but not a lot of outright speed, though this is only his third ever race in F1.
George Russell – 6
Russell blitzed his much more experienced team-mate, but that’s not saying much considering Kubica is really the only competition he has due to Williams being so far behind the others. He finished his debut race and hopefully get in the mix, sooner rather than later.
Robert Kubica – 3
A race to forget and move on from for Kubica. He hit the wall twice on Saturday and then hit Gasly at turn one on the first lap of the race. Williams will have collected some data though, and Kubica will get quicker and quicker throughout the season.
Romain Grosjean – 7
Another pit stop failure resulted in early retirement for the Frenchman, after being on course for a good points haul. A long delay in the pits pushed him down the order, and he then had to stop the car on track due to a ill-fitted left-front tyre.
Daniel Ricciardo – 5
For the first time in Melbourne in the turbo era, Ricciardo failed to get through to Q3 on Saturday, and his race – his first for Renault – was pretty much over in a few seconds when he pushed wide onto the grass and broke his front wing. He decided to retire the car.
Carlos Sainz – 4
Sainz was beaten by his rookie team mate on Saturday comprehensively, and was the first to retire on Sunday. Because of the nature of the track he had been unable to make up much ground prior to the retirement. He is a fighter though, and will be back for Bahrain.
Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel are in party mode, after an unexpected victory in the first race of the 2018 season in Melbourne.
The German driver, qualified third, behind his team-mate and the 2017 world champion, Lewis Hamilton. The Italians took a risk and split the strategy between the drivers, Kimi Raikkonen pitted on lap 21, switched from ultrasofts to softs, Mercedes called Lewis Hamilton into the pits right after Kimi’s stop. Sebastian Vettel, remained on track for some extra laps, on the 25th lap Kevin Magnussen pitted from the fourth position, a few meters after Kevin re-joined the track, forced to step aside and park his car due to an error during the pit-stop.
A couple of laps later, Romain Grosjean pitted for a fresh set of supersofts tyres, but he copied his team-mate exact footsteps, Romain parked his car and retired from the race, for the same reason as Kevin Magnussen, loose wheels, after the pit-stop. The wheels on both cars were not being placed correctly before the nuts were tightened.
The only difference between Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, retirement, was the Grosjean’s car could not be easily recovered, hence the VSC deployed followed by a safety car.
During the VSC period, Sebastian Vettel pitted, that gave him a 10 second advantage over Lewis Hamilton. The German, re-join ahead of the Mercedes and he was leading the race. Hamilton pushed hard, after the SC, to catch and pass Vettel, the British champion was very close to Vettel’s Ferrari, but a small driving error cost him time and he also lost pace in the final laps of the race.
Sebastian Vettel celebrated a second consecutive victory in Australia and started the 2018 year with the same way he did in 2017.
A poor strategy, cost the chance to Red Bull to be competitive and score a podium in Australia. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen started the race on supersofts, Verstappen and Ricciardo qualified fourth and eighth respectively. A three place grid penalty was given to Daniel Ricciardo for failing to slow down for a red flag, during free practice.
The Dutch, was not quick enough to challenge the two Ferraris in the opening lap, at turn one on the tenth lap, Max spun his Red Bull and lost places. He was unable to recover, as he was also facing unbalance issues caused by the damaged floor on his car.
Daniel Ricciardo wanted to finish on the podium in his home race, after the retirement of the two Haas, the Australian was fourth behind Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, had to defend his position as Daniel was on his tail for most of the time in the final laps of the Grand Prix.
At the end, Ricciardo finished fourth and Max Verstappen sixth, behind Fernando Alonso.
Double point finish for McLaren
For the first time since 2014, McLaren scored points in Melbourne. The fifth place that Alonso took matched his best ever result in three years with Honda power. McLaren, couldn’t imagine a better start, Alonso and Vandoorne scored 12 points combined in the opening race of the 2018 season.
Furthermore, Fernando Alonso had the pace to hold back a Red Bull and he finished ahead of Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes.
The outcome of the race affected by the VSC and Haas retirements, personally I was impressed with the pace the American team showed in the first laps of the Grand Prix and I would like to see them racing until the chequered flag.
It is still too early to judge, but I will take the risk to say that Asia will play a key role in the championship. If Ferrari has learnt from their mistakes, this year will be very interesting till the final chequered flag.