There is no two without three: that's what Sebastian Vettel expects ahead of the Australian Grand Prix that will inaugurate the Formula 1 World Championship on Sunday, March 17th 2019. In Melbourne, the German has won in the last two years, so it is normal that the feelings are positive:
"On this track I have great memories. Obviously the best ones are related to the last two seasons, when we won as many victories, but I also like to remember my first podium with Ferrari, achieved here in 2015 at the debut with the Maranello team. The track is very particular because you have to find harmony with it: you have to remember the trajectories well, it is not always easy to identify the perfect point for braking and in addition the road surface is often bumpy. We drivers like it though, if we were asked if we would like it to be resurfaced we would probably say no, because it is unique. I think Melbourne is the perfect place to start the championship: there is a great atmosphere and the people are nice and welcoming''.
Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari SF90 will be called Lina. This is revealed by the German driver himself on Wednesday, March 13th 2019 during the opening ceremony of Formula 1, in the square in Melbourne. The champion of the Maranello team is used to give a name to his single-seaters before the start of the World Championship. The previous Maranello cars driven by the German had been christened Eva (2015), Margherita (2016), Gina (2017) and Loria (2018). While when he raced for Red Bull the names were Suzie (2014), Randy Mandy (2010), Kinky Kylie (2011), Abbey (2012) and Hungry Heidi (2013).
"It's definitely a new challenge, we're trying to obviously turn over a new leaf. We had our weaknesses last year here and there and obviously we're trying to fix them and do much better this year. So far, the spirit is right, the team is on the right track, the car is good, let's see how we start the year. The environment is charged, there is optimism and desire to win. The tests in Barcelona went well and I am optimistic. We are better prepared and I think we can only improve. At the beginning of the season there is a bit of nervousness, because we have to understand where we are at. Better prey or hunter? We are all prey and hunters at the same time now. Hopefully when we get out of here we'll be the prey, it would mean we're ahead".
On last year's placement with some media criticism and fan expectations, Vettel cuts to the chase:
"I don't think the media can make a big difference on championships and giving points. But it's a new season, with new rules, we'll try to stay focused. There is passion in the team and we want to express it through victories. But the path is long, there are so many races and so many things we depend on. However we try to depend on ourselves. There is a good atmosphere around the team and we will try to maintain it throughout the season. Of course if you finish second you can look at it as a disaster, but even if you finish fourth, we will try to change things this year".
The German also talks about his relationship with his new teammate, Charles Leclerc:
"We're free to race and we're trying to do the best for Ferrari to try to get it back there where we've tried to push it these seasons anyway.
Binotto said that as well. But the season is long, now it is difficult to imagine these scenarios".
From Vettel's memories, we move on to Charles Leclerc's excitement about his debut with Ferrari.
"Obviously this is a very special race for me, I will be making my debut and that makes this Australian Grand Prix unique. I already have good memories linked to Melbourne because it was at Albert Park that I made my Formula 1 debut last year. I'm satisfied with the work done during the tests, and I can't wait to get on track because it's in the race weekend that you have to reap the benefits of the work done during the winter with a good result. The track is particular, because it is a city track but it has almost the characteristics of a permanent track, with wide run-off areas and quite high speeds. It's great to come to Melbourne, the city and the people are special. In Australia you can breathe a different culture and the atmosphere is very pleasant".
Melbourne will also be the first for Ferrari's new team principal, Mattia Binotto:
"The race that marks the start of the season is always very important and this year's is even more so because in 2019 Scuderia Ferrari turns ninety. We are really happy to be able to count on a pair of extraordinary drivers like Sebastian and Charles. Having archived the winter tests, the whole team is eager to get on track to measure itself against opponents that we know are very strong. We are at the first of a long series of stages and our task is to try to put in trouble those who last year proved to be stronger. It will be a challenging season, it's important to get off to a good start knowing that we have twenty-one equally important appointments ahead of us. The championship ends in December, so every point can be precious".
It is a world championship with many stories the one that starts in Melbourne on Sunday, March 17th 2019, to conclude after twenty-one races in Abu Dhabi on December 1st 2019. The usual duellists, Lewis Hamilton and Vettel, the new rivals, the young faces, the great returns. Ferrari's desire for redemption, changed at the top with the new team manager Mattia Binotto and which is counting on a talented second driver, 21-year-old Charles Leclerc. The unquenchable hunger of Mercedes, winner of the last five constructors' titles, which once again relies on the British champion. The new rules, from aerodynamics to favor overtaking, to the award system for the fastest lap, and the new ideas already under discussion. So there are many reasons to follow Formula 1.
Sebastian Vettel versus Lewis Hamilton: it's the two of them again. The German driver of Ferrari, thirty-one years old, back from a season of too many mistakes and regrets after dominating in the first part of 2018, seeks revenge with the SF90 that he christened in Melbourne with the name Lina. Sebastian, four-time World Champion with Red Bull, had excellent feedback from his car in the winter tests in Barcelona, net of an accident due to a mechanical problem in the second session in February. He won the 2017 and 2018 Grands Prix in Melbourne. An increasingly muscular Hamilton, after his 34th winter with new physical exercises and sports including windsurfing, will immediately try to mark territory despite a Mercedes that appeared more hidden than late.
"Ferrari is ahead now, but there is an energy in my team that is inspiring. We have to work. After the tests you analyze everything that happened trying to be attentive to what you have done. New car, updated parts. And it will be the same for everyone else, so it will be interesting to understand everyone's situation. We didn't get lost in nonsense in testing, because we had and have work to do. The team has great people and the energy there is inspiring. Toto Wolff has charged everyone up, we see passionate people. They are soldiers and they will give everything to keep improving".
Max Verstappen, the terrible boy of Formula 1 is the usual unknown in the chessboard: fourth in the 2018 World Championship, this year the 21-year-old Dutchman has a Red Bull with a new engine (Honda), which anticipates in this race the debut of the package of updates that was expected to make its debut in the Chinese Grand Prix, and a field completely free of internal rivalries with the exit of Australian Daniel Ricciardo and the entry of French Pierre Gasly, twenty-three years old, promoted from Toro Rosso.
"I'm happy with the winter testing, we didn't have many problems, I'm happy with the work and also with how the engine integrated with the chassis. I managed to do almost all the kilometers planned, you can always go better, it could have been better in Barcelona as well, but that goes for everyone. But here in Melbourne we'll understand more about where we are".
The SF90, in a more opaque red than usual and with a livery that will celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the Scuderia Ferrari, appeared to be an immediately convincing single-seater. A car that is not a revolution, but an evolution of the one from the previous year. Simple lines, especially in the front wing, which is wider to comply with the new regulatory rules on aerodynamics designed to facilitate overtaking, longer wheelbase and leaner at the rear.
Charles Leclerc, 21 years old, the Monegasque driver who comes from the Ferrari Academy in Maranello and who made his rookie debut last year on the Alfa Romeo Sauber, finishing an excellent thirteenth place, is the bet for the future of the Scuderia Ferrari, which has chosen him to work alongside Vettel in place of Kimi Raikkonen, who has moved to Alfa. He has shown to have talent, coolness and ambition to aim at important projects. The deliveries are to help his teammate, although he will certainly not be prevented from winning. Charles has already shown an excellent feeling with the car and impressive times at the winter tests.
With Antonio Giovinazzi, twenty-five years old, from Martina Franca in Puglia, an Italian returns to Formula 1 after eight years. With a tricolor helmet he will be at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo next to thirty-nine year old Kimi Raikkonen. Apart from Mercedes and the Ferrari-powered Haas (with Frenchman Grosjean and Dane Magnussen), all the other teams have changed formations, including Ferrari. The Australian Daniel Ricciardo went from Red Bull to Renault, the Canadian Lance Stroll from Williams to the new Racing Point, the team of a consortium led by his millionaire father, Lawrence. Daniel Ricciardo, who switched to Renault, says he is confident:
"In the second week of testing we had encouraging answers, but I wouldn't know how to assess our position compared to the top three teams, I don't even know how strong they are. I could use the help of the others at this stage of the season, but there is a possibility to make some overtaking. I don't think I can start from the front row often, but being a chaser will be fun this year, I'll have to try to keep up with the others".
We will see new faces, all British, all young, all winners in the minor series, all grown up in the nurseries of the big teams: George Russell at Williams after winning Formula 2, Lando Norris, the youngest of all, at McLaren after winning Formula 3 in 2017, Alexander Albon at Toro Rosso. Robert Kubica, the thirty-four-year-old Polish driver, after serving as a reserve, miraculously returns as a starter in a car, in Williams, after eight seasons away since a 2011 accident that left him with such severe injuries to his hand, shoulder and right arm that his future was in question.
"I'm excited, it's been a long time since my last race in Formula 1. I couldn't think about it that much, I have to try to be ready and learn a lot of new things. We didn't have a perfect start in winter testing and there are so many things to check. In the tests in Barcelona we were late and had a lot of problems, you can't recover in a couple of weeks, but on the track and in the factory we are doing everything we can in the current situation, we can't change things. We have to try to focus on what we have and do our job. That's the approach everyone is taking, we'll try to make the most of every opportunity that comes along".
In addition to the changes in aerodynamics, from this year the minimum weight of the single-seater increases by a further seven kilos, with the minimum weight of the driver including the equipment not being less than eighty kilos. Any difference with respect to this minimum weight must be compensated with ballasts. The amount of fuel on board also increases, from 105 kilos to 110 kilos.
Starting from the Australian Grand Prix, the assignment of a point to the driver who makes the fastest lap, and finishes within the tenth place, is reintroduced; a system used from 1950 to 1959. The point will contribute to both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships: twenty-one more points will therefore be available during the season. We are also studying the possibility, from next year, to have four qualifying rounds instead of the current three, without lengthening the duration of each round, but rather reducing it by one minute. For this race, Pirelli, the sole supplier of tyres, brings hard (called C2), medium (called C3) and soft (called C4) compound tires. From this year the colors of the shoulder of the tires are the same for each Grand Prix, with white for the hardest compound, yellow for the medium and red for the softest.
The FIA establishes three zones in which the Drag Reduction System can be activated, confirming what happened in 2018: in addition to the finishing straight and the stretch of track between Jones and Whiteford turns, turns 2 and 3, with the point for determining the gap between drivers set before turn 14, also the stretch between turns 12 and 13. In this case the point for determining the gap between drivers is set before turn 11. Finally we are here: on Friday 15th March 2019 it will be understood if the Mercedes that was seen during the Barcelona tests was hiding its performance or, for the first time since the advent of the hybrid engine, it does not have a dominant project in hand. The first races will be decisive, but it would be a mistake not to consider the Anglo-German team as the one to beat.
And in fact, the first free practice of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne immediately put Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes in the lead in the morning with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc following. While in the afternoon the Silver Arrow of the British driver scores a time of 1'22"600 after the 1'23"599 of the first session, with teammate Valtteri Bottas behind at only 48 thousandths, leaving the Ferrari of the German driver fifth at eight tenths, with the two Red Bulls in front and behind the former teammate Kimi Raikkonen, switched to Alfa Romeo. The Monegasque driver's Ferrari is ninth, at over a second. Have the Anglo-Germans covered the gap with Ferrari accused in the winter tests in Barcelona, and reiterated in the Australian eve, or are the Maranello cars hiding their potential?
"We are surprised that Mercedes was so fast. At the tests it hadn't been bad, but it had shown some normal things. As far as we are concerned, it was a difficult day, because the car does not behave as it did in Barcelona in terms of driveability. However, I know that it goes fast and I hope we can find the reasons for these difficulties. The night is long and our engineers are very smart, so I think tomorrow will go much better".
Sebastian Vettel admits; and Leclerc, in his first free practice as a ferrarista, is also convinced.
"Yes, it's certainly something special to get on track the first time for a Grand Prix dressed in red, but I've remained focused on the work to be done. I think for all the cars on the grid it was more difficult during FP2 because there was more wind, it didn't go as we would have liked, we had some problems in the short runs but we know what to change. No panic, hopefully we are right about the changes we will make for tomorrow. However, we did everything we set out to do, we're happy and I'm satisfied. We found difficult conditions and for sure also our opponents didn't try the fast lap, so we will see how things will be after the qualifying".
Certainly Mercedes did not appear to be struggling, as Lewis Hamilton admits:
"The sensations are positive, the car gave me the same answers as in Barcelona which is positive since they are two very different tracks. There are many things to improve, but I would say that as a start it is not bad. We have completed our work program without mistakes with both cars. Now we have to study and analyze everything, as we always do on Friday night".
Valtteri Bottas is also the author of an off track incident, without consequences, during FP1. The first red flag of the season is caused by an accident for Alexander Albon, of Scuderia Toro Rosso, who crashed into the barriers at Turn 2. The Thai driver loses his front wing, but managed to return to the pits with his car independently. Nico Hülkenberg, who closes FP1 with the tenth fastest time, faced the track only in the final part of the session, due to technical problems with his car. During FP2 it is instead Pierre Gasly's car to suffer from a drop in power of the power unit, in the final part of the session.
On Saturday 16th of March 2019, any doubt regarding the potential of the Maranello and Brackley cars thins out, as Hamilton is the fastest driver in the third free practice session as well, with a non-significant improvement compared to Friday's times, even with less wind on the track. Behind the British driver, with a gap of a couple of tenths, is Vettel, who also makes a mistake on his fastest lap. The German is two tenths ahead of his teammate Leclerc. Behind the two Ferraris there are two other cars with engines produced in Maranello, the Haas of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, while the other Mercedes driver, Bottas, closes with the seventh time, preceded also by Pierre Gasly. Verstappen finishes ninth, after his chassis was replaced due to a fuel tank problem.
The Williams continues to present problems, with Robert Kubica touching the barriers during his return to the pits, while McLaren is fined 5.000 euro for having sent Lando Norris back on track when the Polish Williams driver arrived, but managed to avoid a collision. As some scripts already seen, at the end of the qualifying Lewis Hamilton with a last lap snatches the pole position from his teammate Valtteri Bottas, to whom he gives back a tenth marking a 1'20"486 that records the new track record crushing his own, which was 1'21"164.
The British driver starts from where he finished: the first pole position of the 2019 World Championship, the 84th of his career, the eighth at Albert Park in Melbourne, the sixth in a row considering those that last year brought him his fifth title, is his. Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari is third, with a very heavy gap of seven tenths, and will start from the second row, flanked by Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen. Charles Leclerc is fifth at nine tenths for a disappointing last session, after having shown in the first two sessions that he could be very competitive.
The Haas of Romain Grosjean and teammate Kevin Magnussen finish sixth and seventh ahead of the surprising McLaren rookie, the nineteen year old English driver Lando Norris. Ninth the Alfa Romeo of former Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen, ahead of the Racing Point of Sergio Perez. The two Renaults are eleventh with Nico Hulkenberg, and twelfth with Daniel Ricciardo. The Italian Antonio Giovinazzi on Alfa Romeo, in his first Grand Prix as a starter., will start from fourteenth position Bad start to the Red Bull adventure for Pierre Gasly, immediately out of Q2 and only seventeenth.
In Q1 Lando Norris is the first driver to face the track. The British driver's time is beaten by Sebastian Vettel, in turn preceded by his former teammate Kimi Räikkönen. Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc and Daniil Kvjat then take the lead. The arrival on track of the Mercedes upsets the ranking, with Lewis Hamilton who lowers the limit to 1'22"681, then filed by his teammate Bottas. Vettel runs two fast laps, on medium tires, placing himself two tenths behind Bottas, behind Hamilton.
Max Verstappen gets between Hamilton and Vettel, just before the British driver takes the lead again with 1'22"043. The drivers at risk of elimination try to improve, and Lando Norris climbs up to third place. Giovinazzi is third, while Kvjat is fourth. Leclerc even manages to beat Hamilton, and take the lead. Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly (who fails to make a last attempt in the final moments of the session) are eliminated, then Carlos Sainz Jr., who precedes the two Williams; Kubica also touches a wall in the final part of the session.
In Q2, despite a small driving error, Lewis Hamilton scores 1'21"861. The time is approached by Vettel, but beaten by Leclerc. The Monegasque's time is beaten, however, by the other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas. In the following attempt Hamilton lowers the track record, in 1'21"014. Further behind Grosjean is fifth, while Norris rises to ninth place. Giovinazzi is only thirteenth, Kvjat does not improve, while Daniel Ricciardo is eleventh.
The two Renaults do not get enough time to qualify for the decisive phase, beaten by Norris and Pérez. Alexander Albon, Giovinazzi and Kvjat are also out of Q3. In the decisive phase Bottas is able to go under the wall of one minute and twenty-one seconds (1'20"598), well ahead of Hamilton, (who stops at 1'21"055). Vettel is two tenths from Hamilton, while Leclerc is two tenths slower, in turn, from Vettel. He precedes Verstappen, author of a driving error at the last corner.
In the last fast lap Hamilton goes down to 1'20"486, setting the track record, while Bottas is unable to improve his time. Also the two Ferrari drivers are not able to improve their first lap time; Verstappen is instead able to overtake Leclerc, and enter the second row. The two Haas are sixth and seventh, while Norris, at his debut, is eighth; at the end of the practice Haas is fined 5.000 euro for sending Kevin Magnussen back on track while he was engaging Sergio Perez in the pit lane. The Dane is not penalized on the starting grid.
For Hamilton it is the eighth pole position on the Australian track. Only Ayrton Senna in the San Marino Grand Prix and Michael Schumacher in the Japanese Grand Prix managed to get eight pole positions for the same Grand Prix. For the reigning World Champion it is the thirteenth year in a row with at least one pole position start, thus equaling Schumacher's record, who obtained at least one pole position between 1994 and 2006.
So the first image of 2019 is the same as the last of 2018? Not even two weeks ago at the second test session in Barcelona, Mercedes seemed to be struggling, and the Ferraris flying, to the point that the Anglo-German team quantified the delay from the Ferraris in half a second. In fact, Hamilton, who made a mistake at the first exit of the last stage by bumping the bottom, said this immediately after coming down sweaty and with headphones from the car:
"We thought we were closer honestly. Coming out of testing we had no idea that was the situation. Clearly we hoped to be so far ahead, we tried to optimize the balance, from Barcelona to here we have made a great improvement in the set-up and it seems to have worked, but we did not expect this difference in performance. Here between us and the others there is almost a second and it is all very positive, we could not start better, we expect an exciting season. Eighth pole better than Senna and Schumacher? I didn't know, it's very nice. I have my family here and I could never have done this without my father, who taught me everything".
Teammate Bottas, who came close to taking pole before Hamilton threaded the last lap, also said:
"We made some great progress after a very difficult PL3 for me. We changed something that made us go much better in qualifying. The whole session was great and the first lap in Q3 was really very good, I liked it a lot. It wasn't enough for the pole because Lewis was very fast in the second lap while I struggled a bit, but it was fun and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I would have liked to be on pole. The race is tomorrow, as a team we have made a great turnaround after some complicated testing".
For Ferrari, and for Vettel sending the car into the gravel and onto the grass in Q3, are these signs to worry about?
"I don't know if it's disappointing. First of all, congratulations to Mercedes, Lewis and Valtteri. I went off the track in Q2, which was obviously not expected, but I had no damage, the car gave good feelings. The race is tomorrow, we think we have a good car and this track is particular, so we don't have to worry too much, but clearly today's result is not great. We would like to be closer to Mercedes: I'm surprised about the gap with them, I think everyone is and they are too. We have some work to do to understand the car I think it is better than what we saw today. Clearly Mercedes is favored, but tomorrow is another day. Last year we had a little bit of luck, but we have a good car and we are in good shape. Hopefully we'll get a good start and see how it goes".
While his young and rookie teammate Leclerc takes responsibility for the mistake he made during the last attempt:
"I wasn't good today, I made a mistake in Q3; I didn't live up to what I did in Q1 and Q2. It's a shame, we could have done more. I made a mistake, the top three was possible. Let's see tomorrow. The car wasn't bad in terms of balance, the temperatures didn't bother us too much. Is it possible to compete with this Mercedes? Nothing is impossible, I will push from the start, it is very difficult to overtake, it takes a good start and we hope for some luck with the strategy. But we have to work to improve for the next races".
Sunday, March 17th 2019 brings with it a new beginning, and hope for an exciting championship full of surprises. Once the cars are positioned on the grid, after the formation lap, the first race of the Formula 1 World Championship begins as the lights go out. Lewis Hamilton starts in the first position, but he doesn't have a good beginning and his teammate, with a perfect start, gets ahead of him. The British champion risks to lose his position also on the Dutchman who launches himself to the attack, but the latter does not succeed in his intent, remaining busy in a fight with the two Ferraris.
Vettel has the better of it and Verstappen can do nothing but queue up, while Leclerc to avoid a clash with his teammate remains in fifth position. In the back of the field the clashes are not less: at the start of the race, in an attempt to overtake Perez, Ricciardo goes slightly off on the grass, unexpectedly losing his front wing and ending up last on the grid, with damage to the bottom of the car; on the other hand his teammate has a great start, moving up to eighth position. The Australian is then forced to anticipate the pit to change nose and compounds at the second lap, putting the hard, hoping that the problems found on the bottom of the car will not be decisive during the race. Together with the Renault driver also Robert Kubica stops.
After the excellent start, Bottas begins to score fast lap after fast lap, creating a gap from his teammate; a gap that leads to three seconds towards the ninth lap. Two laps later, Carlos Sainz Jr., author of a good start that had brought him to fourteenth position, is forced to retire due to an engine overheating, while Räikkönen stops at the pits and switches to medium compound tires. At the thirteenth lap the series of pit stops begins: the first to enter are Hulkenberg and Perez, who return respectively fourteenth and seventeenth opting for hard tires.
At lap 15 Ferrari calls Vettel to the pits, mounting medium tires: the Ferrari driver loses three positions and returns sixth. Vettel's strategy pushes Mercedes to call Hamilton back to the pits, who returns fourth ahead of the Ferrari driver, who has gained one position after Grosjean's pit, who in the meantime has lost precious seconds when mounting the left front tire. In the meantime Bottas leads a race all by himself, lengthening the gap from the second place to thirteen seconds and lapping Ricciardo on the eighteenth lap, all this without having pitted yet.
In the back of the field, after a fierce fight between Giovinazzi and Magnussen, the Danish driver finally manages to overtake the Alfa Romeo driver, who goes wide and loses his position also on Hulkenberg and Kimi, finding himself dueling with the British McLaren driver. Only at the 23rd lap Mercedes calls Bottas back to the pits, despite the Finnish driver still had something to give. Thanks to the gap created, once the medium tires were mounted, Bottas was second behind Verstappen, who had not yet pitted.
On lap 25, the positions see Verstappen leading the race, followed by Bottas, Leclerc, Hamilton, Verstappen, Stroll, Kvyat, Gasly, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Norris, Grosjean, Albon, Perez, Russel, Ricciardo and Kubica. It is during this lap that Verstappen pits and gives back the first position to the driver of the silver arrow, returning to the track in fifth place. On lap 30 Bottas leads with 16"9 seconds on Hamilton, 19"0 on Vettel, 19"4 on Verstappen and 35"0 on Leclerc. Giovinazzi starts having problems with his tyres, by now worn out, and loses three positions before finally returning to the pits to change tires, followed by Leclerc who returns in fifth position.
With new tyres the Dutchman goes to attack Vettel and once caught up after a close battle he manages to overtake him on the outside, moving up to third position and starting his chase for second position. Unfortunately it's a weekend to forget for Daniel Ricciardo, who is forced to retire during the 28th lap due to the problems found on the bottom at the beginning of the race; the same destiny for Romain Grosjean, who after an unlucky pit stop has to stop the car during the 29th lap due to the front left wheel not properly fixed.
On lap thirty-six Pierre Gasly, who is sixth, stops at the pits: the Frenchman rejoins the track behind Daniil Kvjat, tenth, while Max Verstappen ruins his pursuit of Hamilton with a mistake on lap forty-second. When there are a few laps to go both Red Bulls struggle to catch up with their respective rivals, Verstappen against Hamilton and Gasly, even, against former teammate Daniil Kvyat, who manages to keep him behind him.
"Why am I going so slow?"
This is the question that Sebastian Vettel exposes via radio to his engineers while Leclerc catches up with his teammate, decreasing the gap to only half a second. This request is not followed by a clear answer. Moreover, despite the fact that the Monegasque driver has more pace, he is ordered to maintain his position and not to risk an overtaking.
At the end of the fifty-eight laps Bottas crosses the finish line winning the first race of the championship with a twenty-five seconds gap from his teammate, securing the fastest lap during the penultimate turn. In second position Hamilton, followed by Verstappen, Vettel, Leclerc, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen (who regains the points zone for Alfa Romeo, an event that had not happened since the 1984 European Grand Prix), Stroll (who gives the newborn Racing Point its first points) and Kvyat, who closes the top ten, while just outside the points the French driver Pierre Gasly concludes the race, followed by Norris, Perez, Albon, Giovinazzi, Russel and Kubica.
The first Formula 1 weekend at Albert Park ends with a Mercedes totally dominant in all three days. The 2019 World Championship starts as the 2018 one ended, but this time it's the Finn Valtteri Bottas to cross the finish line at Albert Park as a winner: his fourth career victory, ahead of his teammate and outgoing World Champion Lewis Hamilton, who managed to overtake him already at the start thanks to a perfect sprint against the skidding of the rear of Lewis' Arrow.
Third the rampant Max Verstappen with his Red Bull, who started from the fourth place on the grid and tried to get the second position. Out of the podium the Ferraris, fourth the one of Sebastian Vettel who lost a position compared to the start and fifth the one of the rookie in red Charles Leclerc. Is this the year of Bottas? The Finnish driver showed that he can manage a race to perfection without making the slightest mistake, winning 26 points.
"The race of my life? I don't know, I have no words. It was for sure my best race ever, I was feeling great and the car was running perfectly".
The Finnish driver also wins the extra point for the fastest lap, which was reintroduced this year as it was once in use. He had to battle with Verstappen, who was snatching it from him in the final laps, but finally Bottas scored a 1'25''5 that allows him to win 26 points.
"I'm very happy, also for the fast lap and now I'm looking forward to the next race. All the work I've done since last year paid off today. I enjoyed it, with a great car and an amazing team. I really don't know what happened. At first I tried to manage, then I saw that I started to increase the gap and it was nice. I've done it before, I just have to keep expressing myself like this with one with the car".
Hamilton also compliments him, even if perhaps in the friend who last year acted as his squire on several occasions, he must also see the enemy.
However Hamilton is not to be outdone, and in fact brings home a second position and the pole position; Mercedes never fails and from this weekend you can easily guess its great potential, if there were any doubts.
"I know it's a good weekend for the team, great work from everyone. Valtteri did an incredible performance today and thoroughly deserved the win. We have some work to do, but it was a great start to the season, more than we could have hoped for. I have some ideas about what I missed, I will talk with my engineers. Definitely the start was a bit frustrating, and it's a shame on such a good weekend".
Finishing behind Bottas, Hamilton however was satisfied with his race:
"Our strategy wasn't ideal but I think I did a decent job with what I was given. The season is long and there is a lot of data we can take from this race, I try to see the glass half full".
Mercedes arrived in Australia with an alleged delay that they estimated at half a second on the Ferrari, but right from practice and then in qualifying they turned the situation around.
In third position there is not a Ferrari, but a Red Bull,: a quite unexpected result given the predictions made on the Maranello car, but the young Verstappen certainly deserved this result, having always pushed his car to the maximum.
"I had to overtake Sebastian to get on the podium, which is not easy to do on this circuit. I'm glad I was able to do that maneuver, and I could also attack Lewis for second place, I didn't manage it but I'm still happy. It was an unfortunate episode, that slight off-track behind Hamilton, but I don't think the result would have changed. Starting with a podium, giving Mercedes a hard time, was a positive start for us, big thanks to the team and to Honda, at the first podium of the hybrid era".
Red Bull, however, only picked up fifteen points overall, as Gasly finished just outside the top ten, not the best weekend for the Frenchman.
The Ferrari's are fourth and fifth: not the performance that was expected, going from being the absolute favorite not to get on the podium, with fifty-seven seconds of delay from the first place, but still acquires important points. Vettel declares that he could not do better and wants to concentrate on the second stage:
"We couldn't do better. It was a difficult weekend, it's not the result we wanted but we brought home a good haul of points. Now we have to quickly understand what happened ahead of the next race. But we couldn't do better today. We're not happy, but I don't think the car was that bad. The fact that I was so slow at the end I think it was down to the tires. I struggled, but I saw others had problems as well. Now we have to get our ideas back together because Bahrain comes quickly".
Vettel returns to the pits first, to prevent Max Verstappen's comeback, but he struggles with the medium tires, while Leclerc is faster on hard tires, from half a second to one second. In this regard, the German driver admits:
"I don't think it's a strategy problem, others didn't suffer like I did. We were not comfortable with the car all weekend, we struggled a lot. I was very slow on the track, I had no grip with the medium tire. Fourth and fifth were not the positions we were aiming for just a few weeks ago, but it's the best we could get".
The Melbourne race was Leclerc's first one in Ferrari and after all it didn't go badly, although perhaps not as he expected. At the start the Monegasque driver found himself in a situation where he could even overtake Vettel, but failed: the Ferrari driver had passed Verstappen and found himself on the outside of the German, but in doubt of touching his teammate he lifted his foot, thus giving up the position to Verstappen. The same circumstance occurs again towards the end of the race, with the 21-year-old Monegasque approaching with a much better speed than his teammate, but remains behind respecting the hierarchy as he is asked.
"The real Ferrari is not what we saw here. We will analyze the data to understand what happened, we will have an explanation. I made a good start, I tried to battle trying to overtake both Verstappen and Vettel at the start. Then too bad because I lost two positions, I made a small mistake in the first stint when the car was difficult to drive. In the second one it went better. In the end, I could have overtaken Vettel, but the team preferred to keep the positions as they told me on the radio. Meanwhile, we brought some good points home".
It was also the first official outing for Mattia Binotto, Ferrari's new team principal, who at the end of the race admitted:
"This car has a far greater potential and here we were not able to exploit it. On this circuit we didn't feel at ease right from the start. We didn't have the right balance, we tried to revise the set-up but if there is no balance the driver can't drive at the limit. Everything is different here compared to Barcelona, where the asphalt is much smoother and the conditions are different. The race reflects yesterday's qualifying. We were out of position on the grid yesterday, too close to those behind and too far away to those in front. We need to regain the right position, the one that this car deserves and the one that our fans deserve. Now we go back home and analyze all the data. For sure there is not a single problem, there are many different aspects to evaluate and fix".
And about the race strategies, the team principal admits:
"When Verstappen overtook Sebastian we decided that the most important thing was to get to the finish line by managing the tires. When Charles caught up with him, it seemed appropriate not to take any risks. Now we will analyze the data to understand what happened".
Certainly Ferrari's performance has amazed everyone and the five-time World Champion is no less, but the results seen today will certainly not push him to let his guard down:
"I'm sure they'll come back strong in the next races, so we have to keep our feet on the ground. All of us were probably surprised, nobody expected such a gap, on the contrary: for what I had been shown, I had been led to believe that the Ferraris were ahead of us. Obviously that wasn't the case and I don't know why their performance was like that. I wouldn't say we were the ones who went over the top, we did ours".
Not a perfect weekend also for Haas, Renault and Alfa Romeo, all great protagonists of the midfield; unfortunately two of them are protagonists of two retirements, but still caused by third party problems and not by reliability, so we can still expect everything from the next races. Having reached the conclusion of the opening weekend of the 2019 championship, tension is in the air as teams prepare for the Bahrain Grand Prix, the second round of the Formula 1 World Championship.
The Australian Grand Prix may not have been the race that was expected, with Ferrari being uncompetitive, but that doesn't mean that the championship isn't ready to hold many surprises. It will not be a race to decide the fate of the Maranello team, just as it will not be a race to crown Mercedes for the sixth time World Champion since the beginning of the hybrid era: the cards are still to be played.