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F1 Australian GP: Bottas and Mercedes dominate season-opener

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton captured the season-epener in Melbourne. The Mercedes drivers dominated the race from their usual rivals, the Red Bulls and Ferraris. Best finisher for Red Bull was Max Verstappen, while Ferrari’s top driver was Sebastien Vettel, who was fourth. Vettel’s team mate and Ferrari rookie Charles Le Clerc took fifth spot, ahead of  Hass’ Kevvin Magnussen. The top six drivers finished with a lap advantage to the drivers in positions 7th through 10th. The results proved that the top-tiered guys are far faster than the mid-tiered and bottom-rung teams.

For Bottas, it was only his fourth F1 win, and the 1-2 finish meant a 45th time for the Silver Arrows in F1. Mercedes top the Constructors with 44 points from Ferrari (22).

Bottas led the pack from the starting grid, followed by Hamilton and LeClerc, who overtook the Red Bull of Verstappen. Verstappen had Vettel all over his rear view mirrors, but managed to hold his position. Behind them, Daniel Ricciardo lost his car’s front wing as he tried a move on the grass. He had to pit for a new nose. Verstappen sneaked past LeClerc on lap 3, who ran wide in a tussle with Vettel.

Up front, Bottas had a 2.0 seconds lead and stretched the lead by another second on lap 10. A couple of laps later, a McLaren was out of the race; when the Carlos Sainz’ car went up in flames on track.

The first round of stops was scheduled on lap 15, with the race leaders stopping a lap later starting with Hamilton.  The reigning champion retook the track, ahead of Vettel. They were fourth and fifth.

Bottas was in a clear lead as he worked a  fastest lap to extend lead from Verstappen and LeClerc. Meantime, Vetstappen was trying to extend the gap time from his chasers, namely Hamilton and Vettel.  

Before half-distance of the race, Bottas made his tyre swap; a one and only stop. He rejoined second behind the Red Bull. Who’d to pit again. On lap 26 of 58, Verstappen made his stop and the lead went back to Bottas. At that point, Hamilton  was complaining about his depleting tyres, which could force an unnecessary stop. But, it didn’t take a turn for the worse.

After his race-start incident, Ricciardo would have to retire from his home race from a damaged part on his RS19.  Back at the front, the two Mercedes led Vettel, Verstappen and LeClerc. Verstappen quickly beat Vettel for third on an outside move  at turn 3. He was only 2-sec from Hamilton. In the ensuing laps, Verstappen tried to chase down the defending champion but Hamilton held firm.

In the closing laps, Bottas was sailing home for the win at the season-opener. Hamilton had to watch out for the flying Dutchman, who’s just 1.5s behind. Fourth and fifth were the Ferraris, as LeClerc closed tha gap to Vettel from 12s to 4s. Verstappen chased down the Mercedes hard, until he ran on to the grass and basically conceded second to Hamilton,

In the final five laps, LeClerc was within 2s from his team mate. The Ferraris were a full stop away from the Haas of Magnussen. A fastest lap for Bottas on the final lap ensured the win and a bonus point. Hamilton held off a hard charging Verstappen. The Ferraris settled with Vettel’s fourth and LeClerc’s fifth. Aside from Magnussen, the rest of the field were a lap behind.

Bottas commented in post-race, “We could not have asked for a better start to the season – getting maximum points for the team is a perfect result and we couldn’t be happier. The key was the start; I think Lewis may have had a bit of wheel spin, so I was able to take the lead. My race pace was really strong, I could pull away and build a gap. In the end, I managed to get the fastest lap as well, which of course means an extra point this season, so I went for it. It can be a little risky with worn tyres, but I had it all under control.”

F1 Australian Grand Prix results

1     Valtteri Bottas      MERCEDES        1:25:27.325  

2     Lewis Hamilton    MERCEDES        +20.886s      

3     Max Verstappen   RED BULL RACING +22.520s      

4     Sebastian Vettel   FERRARI             +57.109s      

5     Charles Leclerc    FERRARI             +58.230s      

6     Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI             +87.156s      

7     Nico Hulkenberg  RENAULT            +1 lap   

8     Kimi Räikkönen    ALFA ROMEO RACING       +1 lap   

9     Lance Stroll   RACING POINT BWT      +1 lap   

10   Daniil Kvyat   TORO ROSSO +1 lap

Drivers standings

1     Valtteri BOTTAS  MERCEDES       26

2     Lewis HAMILTON       MERCEDES 18

3     Max VERSTAPPEN    RED BULL RACING     15

4     Sebastian VETTEL     FERRARI       12

5     Charles LECLERC      FERRARI       10

6     Kevin MAGNUSSEN   HAAS     8

7     Nico HULKENBERG   RENAULT       6

8     Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN       ALFA ROMEO 4

9     Lance STROLL    RACING POINT   2

10   Daniil KVYAT       TORO ROSSO       1

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