After a minute's silence in memory of Charlie Whiting, a prominent member of the discipline who died Thursday, the 20 F1 2019 drivers took their place on the grid of the Australian Grand Prix, opening round of an exciting new F1 season, under the benevolence of a new racing director who enters huge shoes, Michael Masi.
At the age of 34, Lewis Hamilton launched his campaign to defend his fifth world title with a spectacular pole position, signed for his teammate Valtteri Bottas. In the second row of the starting schedule, Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) and Max Verstappen (Red Bull) could not interfere in the battle to disrupt the domination of the Silver Arrows, but managed to include Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Romain Grosjean ( Haas) and a group of drivers that is tighter in performance than ever.
At first, Bottas took command with authority from the first turn of his teammate, completing the first round with a second full advance, himself a second for Vettel. Catastrophic first few meters for local hero Daniel Ricciardo (P12 on the starting grid), who lost his front wing in a straight line and passed very lightly in the grass while trying to pass the Sergio Pérez race point to the right, and while Verstappen managed to stay trapped between the two Ferrari & # 39; s.
The first driver of the grid left with medium tires (C3), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), went from 14th to 17th place in the first lap, while Pierre Gasly (Red Bull), also in mediums, failed to take advantage from a larger car than her neighbors, and remained 16th. Robert Kubica closed the march since the beginning of a weekend back in the nightmarish F1 from the point of view of the performance of his Williams, touched the wing of Gasly & # 39; s single-seater and was already 70 seconds away from the command after 6 loops and a pit pass.
Six loops where Bottas continued his lead to 2 & # 39; & # 39; 4 above Hamilton, himself had a cushion of 2 & # 39; & # 39; 0 Vettel, installed 1 & # 39; & # 39; 0 for Verstappen and 4 & # 39; & # 39; 0 for his team-mate Leclerc, given error a few moments later in the grass, and a handful of extra seconds. The best representative of the "Best of the Rest", Kevin Magnussen (Haas), was already 14 seconds behind Grosjean, Hülkenberg (Renault), Räikkönen (Ferrari) and Norris (McLaren).
Sainz first desolation, nightmare in the stands for Haas
It was at the 11th crossing when Bottas approached the lead at 4 & # 39; & # 39; 0, and Kubica had already conceded a lap to the leader when Sainz (Renault) saw a start of fire in the back of his car . put an end to his Grand Prix.
The waltz of the first pit stops started at the following moments, started by Kimi Räikkönen, and while Hamilton was a lap faster than Bottas for the first time in the race. On the leaders side, Vettel was the first to pass the midrange tires in the 14th round and got back on track at 31 seconds from the assignment, which in turn had a best time of 1 & # 39; 28 & # 39; & # 39; 217 clocked, while Hamilton saw his stop in the 15th passage. The nightmare of the Australian pit stops was resumed with Haas, Grosjean was improperly immobilized due to a recalcitrant left front wheel that saw him appear on the track in 14th position and had to defend himself bitterly against Alexander Albon.
In absolute control, the leader Bottas was waiting for the 23rd passage to get to the pits, still in line with tires that were worn much faster than those of Hamilton with his new mediums, and temporarily leaving orders behind a tough Verstappen … and the Honda Honda engine for the first time!
Pneumatic strategies are very different among the top teams
With its cooler seven-loop center area than Hamilton, Bottas set the steamroller back on track in three of the best sectors in its first spin, and an impressive 1 & # 39; 27 & # 39; & # 39; 338 faster with 0 & # 39; & # 39; 6 then Hamilton & # 39; s time, now almost 15 & # 39; & # 39; 0.
Verstappen chose the 25th pass to make his mediums ten laps cooler than Vettel & # 39; s, P4, behind which he took the course with 2 & # 39; & # 39; 5 behind him. In a strategy that is inconsistent with that of his teammate, Leclerc was the last of the leading group to eventually stop at the pits in the 29th round, but was the noticeably tough Pirelli compound, with little to lose in 5th position and a large mattress on the "group B".
We had to wait until the 31st pass to see that Verstappen carried a winning attack on Vettel in the third corner and took the third position on the course, while two consecutive turns of Ricciardo – nothing to photograph from his local doctor and called to the garage and Romain Grosjean (mechanical failure) came to reduce the plateau. That the Netflix F1 fans are happy: the first episode of season 2 will be cursed by Günther Steiner!
Bottas passes the bill to almost 20 seconds
Bottas' impressive skill was illustrated by a 19-second lead on round 33, while Hamilton criticized it in his radio "no train back", and only had 1 & # 39; 5s ahead of Verstappen and 5 & # 39; & # 39; 5s on a Vettel concedes on his side of the field. The Finn's lead passed 25 seconds before the 43rd crossing serenely.
During a long uphill race, Gasly was the last to go through the pits after holding his midrange until the 38th pass and pointing at P6. But the pit exit did not go as planned: he came just before Kvyat & # 39; s Toro Rosso, but was overtaken by the Russian for the 10th position due to a worse turn off of turn 2. The French, now soft tires, noticed that he boiling behind the junior team driver, knowing that the P6 group on the P9, consisting of Magnussen, Hülkenberg, Räikkönen and Stroll, had a 10-second lead in a delta, before air to Kvyat.
Maximum attack for the best turning point!
The last 10 rounds lead to a settlement between Vettel, forced to defend with tired tires, and Leclerc returned in his effort. Without hearing the radio chats, we quickly understand the Scuderia's decision when Leclerc suddenly passes 3 seconds from his teammate after he is a few meters away from his rear wing.
First of all, it is the demonstration of the irreconcilable confidence of a disputing Bottas in the radio, the conservative choice of his team to "don't take a risk" to achieve the best lap in the race. "Do I stop for tires and try the best lap?"asked the Finn on the radio, 24 seconds in advance from the top of his pillow. "I want 26 points!" Faced with the negative, the answer merges: "Okay, I'll try it anyway [comme ça]". However, it is Verstappen who grants access temporarily, to the point that he returns to threaten Hamilton in the final kilometers, while the champion also demands engine power with an open-minded mode. "I need this point, man"he asks his engineer.
The impression of absolute tranquility given by Bottas to the control of a GP that will be his first victory since the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi 2017, there were 22 GP, was strong, in Australia. Also ultimately the author of the best lap in the race for the final pass, it will ultimately have missed only a few hundredths this weekend, separated from the pole position on Saturday. But the 26 points scored this Sunday and taking the orders for the 2019 world championship has certainly made him forget!