17/03/2019 Off By Andy C

For those fans that had been hibernating during the off-season, one of the changes for race day in Formula One is the introduction of the bonus point for the fastest lap. A driver who posts the fastest lap of the race and finishes in the top ten will receive one bonus point, this will also be added to the constructor points also.

There were some rumblings that the bigger teams were not in favour of this new rule. As you will read later in the report, the drivers had different opinions on this.

Photograph courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas – © Wolfgang Wilhelm

Both Mercedes were fast off the line, but it was the #77 of Valtteri Bottas who made it to turn one in the lead. Behind him Daniel Ricciardo moved wide and as his Renault touched the grass it ripped the front wing from his car sending it spinning across the track. Robert Kubica was unfortunate in the fact that he ran over Ricciardo’s wing but then had problems of his own after he tagged the rear of Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull which caused him to lose the front wing of his Williams. Both Ricciardo and Kubica would pit at the end of lap one to have their wings replaced. Credit has to be given to Ricciardo, his wing-less car speeding towards the corner with Lando Norris turning in, it looked as though he would T-bone the McLaren but managed to get the Renault stopped in time.

Charles Leclerc was looking for a way round Vettel on the first corner but his team mate squeezed him out and Leclerc found his car running over the curb and onto dust and grass. An eventful first corner!

Photograph courtesy of Ferrari ©

Bottas had already opened up a 1.267 lead by lap three as he surged ahead of the field. Ricciardo, now with a new front wing attached after his pit stop, was told on the radio by his team that there was damage to right hand side of his Renault which was causing load loss. As lap four sped by it was Bottas who posted the fastest lap with a 1:29.246. The top ten were now covered by less than eleven seconds. Lando Norris was running in tenth and Zak Brown confirmed that McLaren were looking at managing the tyres, eyeing a potential points finish for the debutant.

 Charles Leclerc had another “off-road” moment on lap ten when his Ferrari went skating across the grass which meant he lost touch with Vettel.

McLaren would have problems on lap eleven as smoke began to puff from the rear of Carlos Sainz’s car. As he reached turn sixteen there was even more smoke and flames could be seen licking up from the rear. Sainz was told to stop the car, which he did just before the entrance of the pit lane as the smoke billowed from the car. The first retirement from the race and a disappointing weekend for the Spaniard.

Mercedes were on the radio to Bottas telling him that they may extend his first stint as he opened his lead over Hamilton to 3.6 seconds. Hamilton responded on lap fourteen to post the fastest lap of the race with a 1:28.616.

Photograph courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas – © LAT Images

Kimi Raikkonen had pitted his Alfa Romeo on lap thirteen and this appeared to have a chain reaction of other stops. Hulkenberg was next in followed by Vettel, which appeared to indicate that Ferrari were trying to under-cut Mercedes. Next into the pit were Magnussen and Albon. As Albon exited the pits Hulkenberg tried to take him round the outside but ran wide.  Lewis Hamilton was next in to the pits on lap sixteen as Bottas posted a fastest lap time of 1:28.217. Romain Grosjean also pitted but a problem with securing the front left tyre meant it was a slow stop. He eventually left the pits to come under immediate pressure from Albon in the Toro Rosso, but held on to keep his place. Vettel responded to the Mercedes pace by marking up a fastest lap of 1:27.954.

Photograph courtesy of Haas F1 ©

The expected midfield battles were warming up as Magnussen pressed Giovinazzi in the Alfa Romeo with both cars nearly touching at turn three. Mercedes were back on the radio on lap eighteen to tell Bottas to complete two more laps as his pace was quicker than Hamilton’s.

 Giovinazzi, still under intense pressure from Magnussen, ran wide at turn thirteen on the nineteenth lap. This allowed Magnussen to clear the Alfa Romeo. Hulkenberg and Raikkonen both followed the Haas through, although it will be said Giovinazzi was probably told to allow Raikkonen to pass.

By lap twenty Bottas had a 13.367 lead over Verstappen, who was now sitting second after the pit stops. Leclerc found himself in third, half a minute over Hamilton but he too had not stopped. The following lap Bottas posted another fastest lap and stretched his lead over Verstappen by another second.

Giovinazzi found himself under pressure again, this time from the McLaren of Lando Norris as they battled for 12th place. McLaren were straight on the radio to Norris telling him that he “had to pass Giovinazzi”. Norris was definitely trying to complete the order as he bobbed and weaved at the rear of the Alfa Romeo to find a way by.

Photograph courtesy of McLaren ©

Lewis Hamilton was on the radio to his team asking why he was stopped so early and he was told the reason for this was to cover Vettel. Bottas was told to box. His pit stop was not as precise as Mercedes wanted it to be, a slight delay on attaching the front left tyre. As Bottas left the pits he found himself behind Max Verstappen in the Honda powered Red Bull. This would be the first time since the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix that a Honda powered engine had lead a Grand Prix. Down in the midfield, Norris was still trying to get by the stubborn Giovinazzi and the pressure was looking at taking its toll as the brakes locked on the Alfa Romeo.

The Mercedes radio burst into life again as Hamilton was telling his team he did not think he could make the medium compound tyres last until the end of the race. Red Bull boxed Verstappen which gave Bottas a free track ahead. This appeared to have the required effect as Bottas posted another fastest lap. There was a queue building up behind Giovinazzi has he held off Norris and on lap twenty-seven the McLaren driver made his move and took the place from the Alfa Romeo. Giovinazzi, who had not stopped, was struggling for grip.

Photograph courtesy of Racing Point ©

This sparked a swap of places as Sergio Perez passed Albon, who had a wobble and nearly collided with the wall and Grosjean took advantage of the lack of grip from Giovinazzi to pass him. The next lap would see the Alfa Romeo pit for fresh tyres, with the Ferrari of Leclerc pitting the following lap.

Photograph courtesy of Ferrari ©

Max Verstappen was on a charge and caught Vettel quickly to pass him for second on lap thirty-one. It was a dire day for Daniel Ricciardo at his home race, his Renault was ordered into the pits and wheeled inside the garage for the second retirement of the race. The news from Renault was too much damage to the car and so they decided to end the race there. On fresh tyres Charles Leclerc was able to take the fastest lap of the race but this did not last long as on lap thirty-two Bottas posted a 1:27.235. There was another retirement as Romain Grosjean was unable to turn the car into the corner and retired from the race for the third year in a row. He was on the radio telling is team there was a front suspension problem.

Photograph courtesy of Renault F1 ©

The Red Bull of Max Verstappen was still on a charge and he had managed to take half a second out of Hamilton in front. Hamilton was back on the radio telling the pit wall he had no rear grip. The only car in the race by lap thirty-five not to have stopped was the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly. The timing screens were beginning to light up and it was interesting to note that Kvyat in 11th place was running at the same pace as the race leader Bottas. This did not last long as Kvyat went off into the gravel at turn three. The replay showed that he tried to come down the inside but entered the corner with far too much speed.

Gasly finally pitted on lap thirty-eight and came straight back out on track to find himself in a battle with Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso. He battled with Kvyat until turn three but lost out on the place.

Bottas was now fully in command at the front and posted yet another fastest lap. Pierre Gasly was now on the radio with his team telling him to hold the overtake button in for five seconds. He replied he had done what they asked and just needed more power. Both Ferrari’s were running fourth and fifth, half a minute behind the Mercedes.

Photograph courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas – © LAT Images

By lap forty-nine Bottas had a 24.7 second lead over Hamilton, with Verstappen third and just one and half seconds off the second placed Mercedes. Bottas was told by his pit wall that the only way they were going to lose the race is by not having rubber if there was a safety car. What could be read into that message were his engineers telling him to slow down.

It was at this point that it became very clear how important the fastest lap bonus point was to the drivers. Bottas told his team that he didn’t just want to win the race, he wanted the bonus point also. Max Verstappen was posting a 1:26.540 fastest lap and Hamilton was on the radio to his engineer, “I need that point, Bono!” – That was how important it was to the front running drivers.

Photograph courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas ©

Valtteri Bottas would be the driver to post the fastest lap with a 1:25.580 and take the win by a huge 20.886 second margin over Hamilton. Verstappen completed the podium place which meant no Ferrari’s were in the top three for the opening race of the season. Vettel and Leclerc finished fourth and fifth respectively with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen in sixth, finishing ahead of Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Stroll and Kvyat who took the last points place.

It was a dominating performance from Bottas, who knows that he must deliver at Mercedes in 2019. Now, it is on to Bahrain.

Photograph courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas ©

Words By Neil Simmons – Xlerate


What they said:

Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes

“This feels so good – I don’t think I’ve ever had a race like this! We could not have asked for a better start to the season – getting maximum points for the team is a perfect result and we couldn’t be happier. It’s also an important result for me personally, I’m really pleased with how the race went. These things don’t just happen – both the team and I have worked hard for this and it seems like the hard work paid off today. The key was the start; I think Lewis may have had a bit of wheel spin, so I was able to take the lead. My race pace was really strong, I could pull away and build a gap. In the end, I managed to get the fastest lap as well, which of course means an extra point this season, so I went for it. It can be a little risky with worn tyres, but I had it all under control. I’m very, very pleased with today, but it’s only the first race and we have another 20 races to go.”

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes

“It was an incredible weekend for the team, we’re leaving Melbourne with maximum points. Valtteri did an exceptional job today – congratulations to him. I had a pretty straightforward race today; I lost position at the start and my race was pretty much done and dusted after the first corner. Afterwards it was really about bringing the car home and bagging the points. I had to pit early to cover the pit stop from Ferrari, so I had a long second stint and drove super carefully to make sure I had tyres left at the end of the race. I’ll bag the eighteen points I got today, keep working and come back recharged for the next one. It was a really great weekend for the team and I’m really happy for everyone. We showed a great performance today and we need to continue to build on this – we have a long season ahead of us.”

Toto Wolff – Mercedes Team Principal

“That was a great day and an awesome drive for Valtteri – a perfect rebound after how last season finished. Over the winter, he recharged the batteries, reset, found his joy of driving again with the rally in Finland – then today it all came together for him. I can see again the young boy I first met over ten years ago and who dominated the junior series in 2008; it was a strong comeback and a really well earned win today. For Lewis, it was a harder afternoon – the start was not as good as Valtteri, then we had to pit him earlier than ideal to cover the risk of being undercut by Vettel. That gave him a long stint on the tyres and none of us knew if they would make it to the end, so it was hard to judge the right pace and he wasn’t happy with the car balance; my feeling is that it can be tricky to find the sweet spot with these new cars and tyres, and probably we didn’t manage that today with Lewis. Overall, though, a fantastic day for the team and a perfect result in the opening race – including the point for fastest lap. I know we have a very big supporter who is in Vienna now and not here with us in Melbourne – to you, Niki, we send all our best wishes and we hope you’re happy with this one. But this feeling will only last as long as we stay at the circuit; when the plane takes off for home, our eyes will turn to Bahrain. We know that Ferrari have the speed to fight back, so we won’t be jumping to any conclusions after just one race. We have a long season ahead full of twists and turns and challenges; we’re looking forward to the fight.”

Max Verstappen – Red Bull

“I am very happy for the Team and also for Honda to finish on the podium today. Since we started working together it has been amazing and I am really enjoying the partnership, so this is a well-deserved third place for all of us. To be able to challenge Lewis at the end of the race and overtake Seb on-track, which around here is very difficult, is very positive. We had a little advantage with the tyres but it was satisfying to pressure Lewis even though I couldn’t get quite close enough to overtake him. The car was working really well and we also look strong on the straights which is hopefully a good sign for the rest of the season. I heard this is the first podium for Honda since 2008 so I am very happy that I managed to achieve this for them today.”

Pierre Gasly – Red Bull

“It was a pretty difficult race. With the new bigger rear wings, I couldn’t see the lights on the grid so I had to react with the cars around me and I lost a couple of places. Then I got stuck in traffic and even with the DRS, it’s super difficult to overtake here plus I had some debris in my front wing which didn’t help. I spent the whole race five tenths from the car in front but my tyres were just sliding and I couldn’t get past. I pushed as much as I could and I tried everything but it wasn’t enough to make it into the points. In general, the pace over the weekend was really good. In qualifying, we got knocked out of Q1 but I was happy with my first lap and it was just unfortunate that we didn’t make it through. Bahrain is a race I really like and we’ve seen the car is competitive so we’ll keep our heads down, stay focused and give a big push in two weeks’ time.”

Christian Horner – Red Bull Team Principal

“A fantastic start to the season with a podium finish at our first Grand Prix with our new power unit partner Honda, who haven’t finished in the top three since 2008. Max put in a remarkable performance today, and after a decent start and one of the day’s fastest pit stops, he was able to take advantage of the C3 tyre and make a great pass on Sebastian. He went on to put Lewis under pressure for the rest of the race, but didn’t get quite close enough. Pierre battled his way from P17 to finish just outside of the points, but at this track it’s notoriously hard to overtake. He drove the wheels off the car and it’s a shame that it wasn’t rewarded with a point. He raced hard and I’m sure his time will come. After a promising season opener, we now look ahead to Bahrain.”

Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari

“We were not happy with the car the whole weekend but today we struggled a lot. The reason I was so slow in the race was mostly due to the fact that the car could not find enough grip with the medium tyres that we fitted at the pit stop. As a team, we still got a decent amount of points from our fourth and fifth places, but this is not the result we were aiming for just a few weeks ago. So in the coming days, we will analyse the data in detail so as to be ready for the next race, which is not far away now. I’m sure that looking at all the information we have gathered here will give us a better understanding, but today, the result we got was the best we could do.”

Charles Leclerc – Ferrari

“I made a good start, to the extent that I managed to pass Verstappen and found myself alongside Sebastian, who was fighting a Mercedes. That meant I had to put my wheels on the grass at the exit of the first esses, which allowed Max to get in front of me again. At the start, the car was not so easy to drive and that led to me making a small mistake at the first corner, which cost me a handful of seconds. We decided to fit the hard tyres at the pit stop and, I have to say, that from then on, the car improved a lot and I was able to push. Towards the end, I closed on Sebastian, but the team decided to keep our positions, given that the top three places were not within our grasp today. Now, we will work with the engineers to try and understand why we were not as strong as we had hoped to be, even though we brought home a good points haul.”

Mattia Binotto – Ferrari Team Principal

“Right from Friday, we didn’t feel comfortable at this track. Even though we did a lot of work on set-up, we didn’t find the right balance and even our qualifying performance demonstrated that we were struggling to adapt to the Albert Park track. Then, in the race, in the first stint, we tried to keep up. Charles made a slight mistake, which meant he could not stay with the leaders. After his pit stop, Seb’s car never found the right grip level on the Medium tyres and so the driver was unable to attack those ahead of him. When he could no longer fend off Verstappen, we decided the most important thing was to get to the end, managing the tyres. When Charles caught up to him, it seemed wise not to take any risks. We leave Australia with a lot of data to analyse and we will use that to work out how to get back to our actual level of competitiveness for the race in Bahrain in two weeks time”.

Romain Grosjean – Haas

“I don’t know what happened exactly yet. It just felt wrong. It’s not been a good day. Before all that I was happy and up behind Kevin (Magnussen). The new rules are great for following another car, but the tires are still what they were last year, as you push, you slide, then you lose grip. Even though we can follow easier than in the past, overtaking is still complicated. Overall, today’s a shame as we’ve looked strong all weekend long, we were strong in the race as well.”

Kevin Magnussen – Haas

“I’m very happy about today, it was a good result. I’m obviously sad for team not to have both cars get to the finish. Surely Romain (Grosjean) would have been in a good position as well, especially after we both had such good qualifying yesterday, so I’m gutted for his side that they didn’t get anything out of today. P6 for me is very good, I’m happy with the day. I made a good start and had a really good car from there. I was able to push the whole race and look after my tires. I’m really happy to start the year like this.”

Guenther Steiner – Haas Team Principal

“Mixed emotions today. Deja-vu from last year on Romain’s (Grosjean) car it looks like, a pit stop gone wrong. Last year, after Australia, we went 20 races – the rest of the season, without another pit stop issue. We’re a little bit unlucky here, we’ll have to investigate what happened, it’s too early to say right now. On the other side, Kevin (Magnussen) finishing sixth is a great achievement for the team. We know the car is strong. This year we take eight points away from Melbourne, last year we were last going away from Australia. It’s better than 2018. I think with this car we can be strong in all the remaining 20 races.”

Nico Hülkenberg – Renault

“Making Q3 was definitely possible today. It’s unfortunate that we had a small problem, which cost us a shot at the top ten. I lost a bit of time on my first lap in Q2 through traffic and a lock-up, but we showed the pace was there for a strong result. We’re competitive. We know it’s close and small margins make a big difference. We’re not in bad shape ahead of tomorrow and a strong race from eleventh on the grid is possible. The car felt good with long-run pace on Friday and I’ve felt comfortable in the car all weekend. We have every chance to pick up points tomorrow.”

Daniel Ricciardo – Renault

“I’m clearly disappointed not to make Q3, especially as it was just half a tenth and that’s something I can find in myself – I lost a bit of time in the first sector on the last run. We had the potential to make Q3 so when you don’t do the perfect lap, it’s frustrating. As expected the midfield is really close but I’m feeling optimistic for a strong result tomorrow. I always want to do well at home, but we have to keep a cool head, have a good start and then attack when necessary.”

Alan Permane – Renault Sporting Director

“We had hoped to get both cars through to the top ten so the overall result is really disappointing. We had an electrical problem on Nico’s car in his last run in Q2 and he was unable to complete a final run. Without this, we are very sure he would have made it through to Q3 and quite far into the top ten. Daniel didn’t improve on his second run. We thought he had another couple of tenths, which also would have put him safely into the top ten. We therefore have a little bit of work to do tomorrow, but with the good long run pace we demonstrated yesterday, we are aiming to make up for today and get both cars well into the points.”

Sergio Perez – Racing Point

 “I’m disappointed to come away from Melbourne missing out on points. It was quite a difficult race for me from lap one because I made a poor start and lost a couple of places before turn one. Overtaking was extremely difficult, so we tried the undercut with the strategy but it didn’t really work out for us. After my pit stop I was stuck in traffic for the rest of the race. I was able to get ahead of Albon, when he made a mistake, but apart from that it was difficult to really show our pace.”

Lance Stroll – Racing Point

“I am really pleased with my race today – it has been a great day at the office. It’s really nice to pick up some points on the first weekend of the season, but it wasn’t easy. It was a really challenging afternoon, chasing Hulkenberg and Raikkonen ahead of me while also keeping Kvyat and Gasly behind me for most of the race. I was under a lot of pressure and it was very tight, but I am glad we managed to pick up two points. We were always planning to go long with our strategy: we were starting out of position so we knew the key was to make a good start and gain some places in the opening stages, which we did. After that, we had good pace and managed to hold off the cars behind us on softer tyres than ours. We saw today that it’s going to be really close in the middle of the grid, but we are definitely in the fight.”

Otmar Szafnauer – Racing Point CEO & Team Principal

“I’m delighted to see Lance score points in his first race with us. It was a very mature drive and he thoroughly deserves this result. Scoring points is a great way to start the season after the huge effort back at base and trackside over the last few months. It’s a shame Sergio’s strategy didn’t’ work out because we had a chance to get both cars in the points today. We saw, once again, that overtaking is extremely difficult around Albert Park and getting stuck in traffic after his early stop proved very costly. We take away lots of positives from this weekend and have learned a huge amount from all the testing we did in the lead up to the race. Now we switch focus to Bahrain and a very different track.  We will keep pushing, keep developing and we hope to take a step forward and get both cars in the top ten in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Lando Norris – McLaren

“The team gave me a good car, with enough pace for me to be in the top 10 but I made a couple of mistakes which cost me any chance of scoring points, so I’m a little disappointed. But it’s cool to finish my first [F1] race and get it out of the way. I didn’t make the perfect start, struggled to get ahead of a slower car and then had a big lock-up so I need to work on these mistakes. I’m annoyed with myself as there was more potential. Now I focus and look forward to Bahrain.”

Carlos Sainz – McLaren

“It’s been a weekend to forget. I think we lost the MGU-K, which was a shame as the race was going well. I’d put yesterday behind me and I was feeling positive going into today. I’d done everything I wanted to do: I made a good start, overtaking four cars, getting in the fight for the points and starting to attack the cars in front. The car felt good, we had strong pace and I was fighting with other cars that ended up in the points today, which shows us that points could have been possible. This one hurts, but this is Formula 1. My season has started with a really unlucky weekend but hopefully we can start having more positive results from Bahrain onwards. I’m happy to put this one behind me and keep pushing.”

Gil De Ferran – McLaren Sporting Director

“Overall, I must admit that, although there were several positives to draw from this weekend in general, we come away from the Australian Grand Prix a little disappointed. Carlos had a good start, but unfortunately had to retire with an early mechanical failure. On Lando’s side, the race was going well early on, until he was held up in traffic for some laps, which sealed his result outside the points. On the positive side, I’m pleased that Lando was able to put up a fighting performance in his debut grand prix and see the chequered flag. As predicted, it’s clear that several teams are in a tight battle, including ourselves, so any small improvements in our pace and execution can have a significant impact on our ranking. So, head down, and onwards to Bahrain.”