The Formula 1 faithful turned up in their thousands to Albert Park, so much so that for the event as a whole the number reached 324,000. This was partly due to the sea of yellow asked for by Daniel Ricciardo and for a man who has been so generous with his time – he deserved much better luck.
The previous day, Lewis Hamilton had made history by achieving an 8th pole position at the same circuit despite very fierce competition from his teammate Valtteri Bottas. Lewis Hamilton had said in yesterday’s press conference ‘it was so close’ and was aware of the competition around him due to the narrow margins had with his rivals at qualifying. Valtteri Bottas was starting on the front row at Albert Park for the first time in his career and the question was…would he get the jump on pole sitter Lewis Hamilton?
As the lights went out there was a frantic charge down to turn 1 and Bottas was leading by the first corner – impressive!
For the race itself, the crowd was treated to a lack of wheel to battles, this is Albert Park after all – but close racing nonetheless. There were some lovely duels to be found on track whether it be between Kvyat/Gasly or Perez/Stroll. As for race leader Bottas, his team radio told him they ‘were very happy with this pace’ a pace which had managed a 2.940 second lead on Hamilton before the race was 10 laps old.
This opening round was a pretty exciting race – far from the usual procession.
Albert Park only saw 5 overtakes in Formula 1 last year and even fewer in 2017 as that time there were only 2. Hamilton had to get on the offensive. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo had been forced wide at the start and following a trip across the grass lost his front wing and was rewarded with a trip into the pits before even starting the second lap. The sighs and dropping of heads from his thousands of fans were clear to see and the misery was cemented when he retired on lap 31. His team mate Hulkenburg however was busy hunting down Romain Grosjean in 7th place as the DRS window opened and then made steady progress through the field finishing in 7th. Another person to lose their front wing early on was George Russell and he would have a miserable race finishing just in front of his teammate Robert Kubica at the back of the pack.
For Sebastian Vettel he would ask his team later on ‘Why are we so slow?’ As he was being hunted down by Charles LeClerc in 5th Vettel would finish in 4th – having won last year and shown such pre-season promise – this was a shock!
The 2021 regulations have been spoken about for many a month and we are still none the wiser but we are promised answers on March 26th. Today saw the real first test for the new 2019 regulations. There was much discussion ahead of the race as to whether the aerodynamic changes would result in the desired ‘wheel to wheel’ racing. Albert Park is hardly renowned for overtaking but many thought this would be a good litmus test.
However, this year we had the bonus point for the driver in the top 10 to achieve the fastest lap so how did it unfold? With a 25 second lead Bottas asked if they would take a pit stop for a fastest lap and was told
‘we are not going to take that risk’ over the team radio.
‘I need that point Bono’ and the reply was ‘it is available Lewis.’ Charles LeClerc and Max Verstappen had similar aspirations and in the end the bonus point went to Bottas - with a time of 1:25.580...so much for not taking a risk.
It was a hard fought contest and an enjoyable start to the season and a major confidence boost for Valtteri Bottas who is certainly out to show the world that he is not anyone’s wingman.
Roll on Bahrain.