Formula 1’s season got off to a wonderful start in Melbourne this past Sunday. The race was filled with tense battles amongst the midfield teams, but at the end of the day Valtteri Bottas easily took home a well deserved victory. Albert Park may not be a track that is wholly representative of what we will see at the remaining F1 circuits, but there are quite a few things that we learned from this race weekend.
Hamilton’s Greatest Title Challenger May be his own Teammate
Valtteri Bottas was a man on a mission in Australia. Before the race weekend, Bottas exuded confidence and a positive mindset whenever he was interviewed. Immediately after last season, Bottas was quoted as saying he would approach 2019 like he had nothing to lose, and he has already backed up his statement. Mercedes also signed Esteban Ocon as their reserve driver for 2019 during the offseason. This lead many to speculate that Ocon would be after Bottas’ 2020 seat should the Finnish driver fail to make an impression on the this season. Hamilton showed his support for Ocon during a press conference last year, and may have had an influence on bring the French driver to Mercedes.
After being unable to win a race in 2018, Valtteri Bottas has made his intentions for 2019 known throughout the paddock. He easily drove off with the win on the first lap after beating Hamilton to turn one and finished the race having a 20.886 second lead over Hamilton. Bottas also managed to snap up the fastest lap of the race, which now comes with an additional bonus point if the driver finishes in the top ten.
Bottas never felt any pressure from his teammate throughout the duration of the Australian Grand Prix and has already backed up his proclamations. This win will only serve to cement his confidence for the remainder of the year. The most important component of a sustained title challenge for Bottas will be consistency. We now know he has the pace to win the title, but whether he can maintain this level of racing on any given weekend remains to be seen.
A Tight Battle Amongst the Midfield
No midfield team was able to get both of their drivers in the points this weekend. Haas looked to be the most dangerous team, but Grosjean suffered another loose left front tire causing him to retire from the race. Grosjean was not the only midfield driver that had to retire from the race. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz had an early end with issues of their own. Daniel Ricciardo’s unfortunate string of poor showings at his home Grand Prix continued after he clipped a small bump on the grass, which knocked off his front wing. It was a surprise that Ricciardo was able to slow the car down enough to avoid a collision with another driver entering turn one.
Antonio Giovinazzi had a long race for Alfa Romeo. He sustained floor damage from debris off of Riccardo’s wing, but was out far too long on his first set of tires, which created a train of cars behind him. It did allow Kimi Räikkönen to ensure a solid eighth place finish, but Giovinazzi suffered a disappointing fourteenth place finish in his first race with Alfa Romeo. Nonetheless, Haas and Renault looked to be the strongest of the midfield , and could have easily seen both of their drivers finish in the points had Ricciardo and Grosjean not fall victim to bad luck.
Carlos Sainz was unable to keep his string of points finishes at Australia going as he experienced a failure with his MGU-K. McLaren should be able to see an improvement at Bahrain in two weeks time, and will be hoping to renew their fight for fourth place.
We were also able to see an enticing battle between the Torro Rosso of Kyvat and the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly. Gasly had a horrid time trying to get around the Torro Rosso and ultimately finished behind Kyvat outside the points. Even though Albert Park is a track that offers few opportunities for overtaking, Torro Rosso team principal, Franz Tost, will be pleased with the fight his driver put up against their sister team. The skirmish amongst the midfield teams appears to be living up to the billing that was projected heading into the season.
Disappointment for Ferrari
For all the adulation Ferrari were receiving after an impressive showing at Barcelona testing, the Scuderia were immensely substandard in the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc crossed the line almost a minute behind Bottas. Leclerc was closing down Vettel in the last few laps but received the order to hold position. It must have been quite embarrassing for Mattia Binotto, who replaced Maurizio Arrivabene as team principal.
Ferrari will need to spend the next week researching any issues that might have prevented a more competitive car. The entire team openly admitted that they were surprised with their struggles this weekend. It will be important for the team get back on track in Bahrain in order to avoid losing too much ground to Mercedes in the Championship.
While the performance is concerning for Ferrari, the field should be acutely aware of the fact that they will be continue their title challenge over the next few races. The mediocre result may have been a consequence of poor base setup that prevented Ferrari from making critical changes come Qualifying. We should expect to see a much stronger appearance by the Italian giants when Formula 1 heads to Bahrain in two weeks.
*Photo Credit-Unsplash: chuttersnap
* Bottas quote taken from Autosport.com
*Lap Times taken from F1.com