Rolex Australian Grand Prix - Media Release - Automotive Event Images

Press Release - Rolex Australian Formula One Grand Prix.

Valtteri Bottas

Valtteri Bottas promised to be new and improved in 2019 and the flying Finn lived up to his promise on Sunday with an emphatic Australian Grand Prix win ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Is this the shape of things to come in ’19, are Red Bull-Honda destined to be a major power player this season, and why did Ferrari fizzle at Albert Park? F1’s Managing Director, Motorsport Ross Brawn runs the rule over a fascinating season-opener down under.

The first grand prix of the new season produced an unexpected star in the shape of Valtteri Bottas. Many, if not all, expected a duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, or possibly Charles Leclerc, or even as an outside bet, Max Verstappen. But, stealthily Bottas began by getting to within a tenth of Hamilton in FP2 and then, in qualifying, delivered a magnificent lap that forced Hamilton to pull something truly special out of the bag to make sure of pole position. Finally, after getting away better at the start on Sunday the Finn simply disappeared into the distance. He drove a perfect race from start to finish, running at a pace that none of the others, including his team-mate could match. Towards the end, he treated himself to taking on Verstappen in a fight for the race fastest lap, thus becoming the first driver in 60 years to pick up a championship point for that honour. It was a great response to all those who believed Bottas had yet again resigned himself to playing only a supporting role to his five- time world champion team-mate.

Ferrari arrived in Australia with the wind in its sails, after going very well over the eight days of winter testing. It seemed certain they would be fighting for victory, but instead, they didn’t even make it to the podium. From the outside, it’s hard to tell what went wrong and, listening to the drivers and engineers, it seems that even within the team they have not yet been able to identify what on earth happened. Neither Vettel nor Leclerc were ever really competitive at any point over the weekend. Apart from lagging behind Mercedes, more surprising was the gap to the Haas team. The US squad uses the Ferrari Power Unit and had closed on the works team considerably since Barcelona testing. Even if it’s true that the Albert Park circuit is unusual and does not really reflect the true pecking order, it’s also true that the same number of points is given out after the race than at any other track. Mattia Binotto, still settling in to his joint role as Team Principal and Technical Director is very experienced and knows that the first job now is to study the data from the weekend and see what it throws up, without getting into a panic. It’s only mid-March and the championship ends in December.

A Point well made in Melbourne, we got a first chance to experience the effects of the various changes introduced this year in terms of the technical and sporting regulations. The return to awarding a point to the driver and team who set the race fastest lap livened up the closing stages of the race, as Verstappen tried to nudge out Bottas, who had his hands on that particular prize. On lap 54, the Dutchman posted a 1.26.540, beating Bottas’ time from lap 42 by 0.199s. The Finn then got close with a 1.26.830 on lap 55 and, after allowing his tyres to cool, put an end to the duel with a decisive 1.25.580 on lap 57. Hamilton also gave it a shot towards the end, but the Englishman never got below the 1m 26s barrier, his best on lap 57 being a 1.26.057. In a race in which the podium positions seemed set from early on, the fight to claim that one extra point, in the knowledge that it could be vitally important in the closing stages of the championship, certainly livened up the closing stages of the race. That was exactly what we and the FIA had in mind when it came up with the idea.

Following Through the other major change seen for the first time in Australia, relates to the cars’ aerodynamics with changes to the front and rear wings aimed at improving a car’s behaviour when following in the wake of another. Judging by the number of passing moves in the race; 14 this year (6 without DRS) compared to three in 2018, the initial signs are encouraging, especially as apart from the actual overtakes; we saw some thrilling battles. Clearly those weren’t all down to the new aerodynamics, as the performance of the mid-field teams especially has closed up dramatically. However, several drivers said the cars felt more neutral when following another when compared to previous years. Here too, the Australian track isn’t the most accurate test, so I’d prefer to wait for at least another three races before drawing any conclusions. However, the initial signs are encouraging.

The first grand prix of 2019 was witnessed by an amazing crowd. A little over 324,000 spectators turned up over the four days in Albert Park, which is the largest crowd here since 2005, and represents a 10% increase over last year. On Sunday, 102,000 people flocked to the track, with customary Australian enthusiasm and passion for this event. There were so many activities for them to enjoy in the park, not to mention on track where a huge number of cars in various categories, open and closed wheel, produced some fantastic racing to the delight of the crowd. Of course, Australia has a great motor sport tradition and that was very much on show this weekend.

Australia By the Numbers-

The first race of any season always throws up some major milestones and this year’s Australian Grand Prix was no exception, with a successful return for a rapid Russian, a career best for a rising star and decades of drought ended for two patient manufacturers

3907 days since Honda last finished on the podium. The Japanese manufacturer’s third place on Sunday came a little under 11 years after Rubens Barrichello climbed from 16th on the grid to P3 at a rain-affected 2008 British Grand Prix.

5  Fifth place represents the best finish of Charles Leclerc’s young career. The Ferrari driver’s previous best was sixth place at last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix when he was driving for Sauber.

34 years since Alfa Romeo finished as high as P8 in a race. The last time the constructor matched Kimi Räikkönen’s finishing position on Sunday was all the way back in 1984, when Riccardo Patrese finished in eighth place at the Portuguese Grand Prix.

512 days between Daniil Kvyat’s point on Sunday and his previous one, for 10th place at the 2017 United States Grand Prix. That US point was the Russian’s last before being benched by Toro. He then moved to Ferrari for a 2018 season spent as a development driver before being recalled by Toro Rosso this year.

1 Australian Grand Prix podium for Max Verstappen. This was Max’s first trip to the Albert Park podium from five attempts. In his first outing, for Toro Rosso in 2015, he exited the race with engine failure after 32 laps. The following year, again for the Faenza squad he took a point with 10th place and after joining Red Bull later that year finished fifth in 2017 and sixth last year. Sunday’s P3 was his 23rd career podium.

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