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Valtteri Bottas dominates Australian Grand Prix to win Formula One opener

The Guardian logo The Guardian 17/03/2019 Giles Richards
Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes celebrates after winning the 2019 Formula One Grand Prix of Australia. © EPA Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes celebrates after winning the 2019 Formula One Grand Prix of Australia.

Valtteri Bottas took the win for Mercedes in the opening race of the new Formula One season at the Australian Grand Prix. The Finn had started in second but having beaten his teammate Lewis Hamilton off the line, dominated from the front and the British driver could manage only second. Max Verstappen gave Red Bull and their engine supplier Honda cause for optimism for the forthcoming season by claiming third – in front of the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc in fourth and fifth.

Bottas who struggled last season without a win, thoroughly deserved his victory in Melbourne with a run where he established a strong lead and was unchallenged by any of his rivals. He also claimed the extra point for fastest lap – a new addition to the regulations this season.

Related: Lando Norris: ‘A lot of swearing goes on generally when I am driving’

His lead by the end was a huge 20.8 seconds from Hamilton who was struggling with his tyre wear and could not match the pace of his teammate. Vettel had started in third but he too had no been entirely happy with his car all weekend and was easily passed by Verstappen to miss out on the final podium place.

This is Bottas’s fourth career victory and is just the strong start he wanted. He did not score a win last season, after a campaign that left him very disappointed and his last victory was at Abu Dhabi in 2017. This is his first win at the Australian Grand Prix and will provide the confidence boost with which he will have been so eager to open his season. His determination was clear as he made his intent to take the fastest lap point as well to the team in the final laps.

a car driving on a road: Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas leads the field through turn two during the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters © Reuters Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas leads the field through turn two during the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters

Related: Lewis Hamilton claims Australian Grand Prix pole as Mercedes shine

Last season Hamilton had been very strong in Melbourne but a software error cost him the lead when Ferrari took advantage of a virtual safety car to pit Sebastian Vettel who won. This time Bottas’s team in complete control and they will once again be optimistic having made a good start to the season with a one-two. Bottas had put in a superb lap in qualifying and looked to have pole until he was pipped by Hamilton on the final runs but the Finn made the most of his chance in the race.

Albert Park is an outlier of a circuit not typical of the majority of tracks but nonetheless to have enjoyed such an emphatic victory here will be taken as a very positive indicator for the season ahead by Mercedes.

Bottas made a quick start from second on the grid, passing Hamilton into turn one with Vettel just holding onto his third place. With overtaking tricky at best at Albert Park the three leaders settled into their rhythm, holding a two second gap between them.

The team swiftly pronounced they were very happy with the Finn’s pace and with Mercedes repeatedly explicit they would let their drivers race there was no suggestion team orders would come into play.

Vettel opened the sequence of pit stops coming in to take the medium tyre on lap 14. Hamilton followed him a lap later to cover off Vettel and also take the medium rubber leaving Bottas on his own out front clear of Verstappen and Leclerc. The team told the Finn his pace was quicker than Hamilton and that they would keep him out and Bottas promptly confirmed it by pumping in some fastest laps.

Hamilton and Vettel were simply unable to challenge the pace Bottas had and when they pitted him the Finn on lap 22 for the medium tyre, he emerged behind only Verstappen who had yet to stop and comfortably clear of Hamilton and Vettel. When Verstappen pitted on lap 25, Bottas was back in the lead.

With the pit stop sequence complete Bottas held a strong advantage. By lap 30 he was 16 seconds clear of Hamilton in second and 18 in front of Vettel. The German meanwhile also coming under pressure from Verstappen, who attacked towards turn 3 on his fresher rubber and made it stick to take third and set off quickly after Hamilton.

The British driver was concerned he might not make it to the end on his tyres, losing the grip from his rear set, while Bottas remained clearly very happy with his set-up out front, extending his lead and setting further fastest laps.Ultimately he had done enough and Hamilton had held off Verstappen. Mercedes had their one-two even if was not not quite in the order that had been expected.

Local hero, Daniel Ricciardo went onto the grass off the start line and lost his front wing, forcing him to make an early stop to replace it. It sent him to the back of the field and the Renault driver ultimately had to retire as a precautionary measure on lap 31.

Kevin Magnussen in the Haas was in sixth; Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg in seventh, with Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo in eighth. Lance Stroll was ninth for Racing Point and Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso in tenth. Britain’s Lando Norris was a very impressive 12th for McLaren in his first GP. George Russell at the struggling Williams for his debut was in 19th in front of his teammate Robert Kubica.

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