It is the moment motor racing fans have all been waiting for – Formula 1 is officially back in action at Melbourne, Australia. There certainly are some changes that still needed getting used to – Räikkönen is now on Alfa Romeo, formerly known as Sauber, while Charles Leclerc took his spot at Ferrari. Alexander Albon took over Brendon Hartley’s seat in Toro Rosso, who saw Daniil Kvyat returning as well. There are also a musical chairs of drivers moving, with Daniel Ricciardo to Renault, Carlos Sainz back to Toro Rosso and Pierre Gasly taking the Aussie’s place on Red Bull.
Ironically, the results are actually quite familiar. Mercedes took over the top two spots of the podium yet again, with Max Verstappen third and the Ferraris to follow. The one surprise would be Valtteri Bottas edging out Lewis Hamilton by more than 20 seconds. Pundits said it was surprising to see Hamilton beat fair and square, yet it was later revealed that a chunk of the floor of Hamilton’s car right in front of the left-rear is missing and the team was not sure why it is yet. He had a wheel spin early on to start on pole, but still managed to finish at second despite going most of the race on medium tyres to undercut Sebastian Vettel. But this should not overshadow Bottas’ performance, as he deemed this win his “best race ever.”
The other shocker was actually Ferrari on multiple facets. Vettel and Leclerc both finished almost a minute slower than Bottas and it was for a good reason. Over the team radio, Vettel told his crew that his car felt slow. This was a huge difference from the blistering performance the 2019 Ferrari car put up in Winter Testing. Team boss Mattia Binotto was shooting straight about the problems too, citing the performance was not of their expectation and it could be about the team not being able to find the balance on the car and tyre issues ever since P1. With a two-week hiatus heading into the Bahrain Grand Prix, the team does have time to do the fine adjustments realistically to unleash the SF90 and bring it back up to the level in Winter Training.
It was an unlucky outing for Daniel Ricciardo, though, as the hometown kid was not able to finish the race and started his stint with Renault with a DNF off a damaged front ring. It was his second time in three years ending the Melbourne race in a DNF.
A surprising/unsurprising finish was actually Max Verstappen earning a podium spot. He was only 1.6 seconds behind Hamilton and engaged in a mad pursuit for the second place after overtaking Vettel on the outside of Turn 3 on lap 31. The surprising factor was actually Red Bull had only just started using a Honda engine this season, and the previous track record with McLaren and Torro Rosso wasn’t the best. Verstappen himself was satisfied with the engine and so was his boss Christian Horner, who noted it might be an over-performance, but the Honda was also showing its prowess in its reliability and ability down the straight.
The race itself was a good one, but it was also shadowed by the untimely death of F1 Race Director Charlie Whiting. Praises were heaped by the drivers with Bottas dedicating his win to the man who was instrumental in shaping the modern way of the sport.