Melbourne, 17 March 2019 (MIA/dpa) – Valtteri Bottas overtook team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the start to enjoy a comfortable victory at Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix in a Mercedes one-two in Melbourne on Sunday.
Bottas was untroubled in front for the rest of the race for his fourth grand prix win, and after going without a victory last season triumphed for the first time since Abu Dhabi in December 2017.
The 29-year-old Finnish driver took the chequered flag, more than 20 seconds ahead of five-time champion Hamilton, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen third and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel fourth.
Bottas also collected an extra point to go with 25 points for a win after clocking the fastest lap on the 5.303-kilometre circuit under a new rule introduced by F1 this season.
“I truly enjoyed it and it would not be possible without the amazing car,” Bottas said.
“In the beginning it was about managing the race and I saw after five, six seven laps I was starting to build the lead. I knew I could do it, I have done it before. When you are really on it it feels kind of easy.”
Bottas had the confidence to go for the fastest lap – and the bonus point – towards the end of the race, although the team would have preferred him not to take any risks.
“The fastest lap is a new rule as I had strong pace, I had to go for that,” he said. “I’m just so happy and can’t wait for the next race.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told the BBC: “We didn’t want him to do it, but there was no stopping him.”
A minute’s silence was held before the race for Charlie Whiting, the F1 race director, who died on Thursday.
Bottas, second on the grid, immediately got the better of Hamilton in a start which saw Daniel Ricciardo, in his first race for Renault, lose his front wing after going wide of the track.
In a disappointment for home fans at the Albert Park circuit, the Australian eventually had to retire just after the halfway stage.
Bottas gradually extended the gap over the rest of the field in a largely uneventful race for the leading drivers.
After three victories in the 2017 season for Mercedes, Bottas was able to enjoy the winners’ champagne again after finished second seven times last season.
Hamilton was unable to challenge but was in no danger from Verstappen after the Red Bull driver got past Vettel on lap 31 of the 58 laps to go third.
“It’s a good weekend for the team so I have to be happy for everyone, and Valtteri drove an incredible race today, and deserved it,” Hamilton said.
“It’s a great start to the year and it’s what we could have hoped for for the team.”
Vettel lost ground on Verstappen, and with the Ferrari struggling to maintain pace, Vettel asked over team radio: “Why are we so slow?” His engineer replied: “We don’t know at the moment.”
Verstappen meanwhile was happy to get ahead of the Ferraris in what was a disappointing first race of the season for the Italian team after the promising times shown in pre-season training.
“I had to overtake Seb to get on to the podium which is not easy around here so I was happy to pull off that move,” Verstappen said.
“To start the season on the podium, challenging the Mercedes in front of us, is a very positive start to us and a big thank you to the team after a tough Friday.”
Vettel was followed by team-mate Charles Leclerc, with the remaining top 10 places filled by Kevin Magnussen in a Haas, Nico Huelkenberg in a Renault, Kimi Raikkonen in his first race for Alfa Romeo, Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.
Robert Kubica had to pit early on with a problem for Williams in his first F1 race since 2010 and finished last.