Daniil Kvyat

Bottas supreme in season opener


Valtteri Bottas claimed a surprise victory in Australia, with Mercedes showing unexpected post-testing pace, while Max Verstappen edged out the Ferraris to round out the podium.

Despite claiming pole position, Lewis Hamilton made a poor start and fell to P2, before sustaining some damage to his floor that affected his overall pace. After an early pitstop from Ferrari, Hamilton was brought in to cover off a potential under-cut, but with a long second stint ahead of him the potential to challenge for the win quickly faded.

Ferrari seemed to be caught off-guard by Mercedes’ pace, mostly scrapping with each other more than those around them. At the first turn, Leclerc found himself on the outside of Vettel and ran wide, before recovering in the middle phase of the race to be on his teammate’s tail. After asking the team whether he should attack or hold position, he was instructed to fall back. This brings into question Ferrari’s claim that the two are “free to race”, considering team orders were imposed without the championship, or even a race victory, at stake.

Red Bull rounded out the podium with a strong showing from Max Verstappen, delivering Honda’s first F1 podium in 11 years. Pierre Gasly however disappointed during qualifying, being eliminated in Q1, and struggled to make his way through the midfield. Following a pitstop for Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat, it looked like Gasly might jump into the points after emerging ahead of the junior team driver. But a determined Kvyat reclaimed P10 and held off Gasly to claim the final points paying position, justify his reinstatement but causing headaches for Gasly.

Haas showed that their performance during testing was genuine, easily out-pacing their nearest rival Renault. Despite a retirement for Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen delivered a strong haul of points.

Daniel Ricciardo in particular suffered from the home-race curse on debut for Renault. After being forced onto the grass at the start and bouncing over uneven ground, he emerged without a front wing. Pitting for a new nose left him at the rear of the field with almost no hope of points.

Despite the indignation upon it’s introduction, the battle for the Fastest Lap bonus point proved noteworthy. Max Verstappen claimed the Fastest Lap in the late phase of the race as he closed the gap to Hamilton ahead of him, but Bottas snatched the accolade with a blistering lap that denied all challengers any chance.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner admitted that they were considering pitting Gasly as a sacrifice in the attempt to deny the Mercedes drivers the bonus point. By claiming the Fastest Lap, Gasly would not have been eligible for the point as he didn’t finish within the top 10, but it would have robbed the front-runners. Ferrari also had a chance to pit Leclerc (and if they wanted to also Vettel) to try to claim the extra point, but decided against it, a decision they are reviewing post-race.

In what Bottas called his “best race ever”, he leaves with the odd stat of having the greatest points lead in F1 history over the next driver after round 1. Interestingly, 26 points isn’t the greatest number awarded in a race, that honour going to Lewis Hamilton who claimed all 50 points on offer when double points were available in Abu Dhabi for the final round of the 2014 season.

Vettel mugged in Russia as Hamilton recovers behind Mr 100

As many expected it was victory for Nico Rosberg in Sochi, with Hamilton recovering from tenth place to claim P2 and the always excitable Kimi Raikkonen rounding out the podium.

"I'm aware of the fact that my direct competitor had a couple of mishaps, but I'm enjoying the moment and loving winning races - now i'm looking forward to what's to come," said a surprisingly muted Rosberg.

"A straight fight with Lewis is what I'm here for, I'm looking forward to it happening again, and as always it'll be a tough battle," explained Nico. "The ecstatic feeling isn't there, it's there when I win a battle against Lewis."

The win gives Rosberg a perfect 100 points from the first four races ahead of Hamilton on only 57 and Kimi Raikkonen on 43. It was damage limitation for Lewis, who started from P10 after an engine issue in qualifying limited his running and it required flying old engine parts overnight to track help him avoid even further penalties.

"We were doing 800kms per day in testing, the car seemed bulletproof," said a bewildered Hamilton, who also put to bed the lingering rumours that the team might be somehow hampering his efforts and helping Nico, despite the team switching the drivers' engineers this year "for no apparent reason."

On the opening lap Vettel was mugged by Kvyat who locked up his brakes and shunted him from behind, then clipped his rear again sending Vettel into the wall and suffocating the German’s championship hopes.

"I don't feel great, but sometimes these things happen in F1," said Kvyat, "I'll of-course apologise to everyone involved and learn from it."

Vettel wasn’t sure whether he had picked up a puncture after the initial contact, and didn't attack the following corner with full throttle as expected. It didn’t stop Vettel unloading a torrent of abuse over the radio. After Kvyat embarrassed Vettel with his racing nouse in China, he undid all of his good work and surely won’t be seeing Vettel in an ugly jumper on a personalised Christmas card any time soon.

At the fourth most engine-intensive track on the calendar, McLaren Honda managed to get both of their drivers into the points, with Alonso especially impressive claiming sixth place.

"We have the pace, I think we had the fifth fastest lap of the race. The car keeps growing, today was more normal pace and being in the points should be the target from now on," said Alonso.

"There are some circuits now that will suit even better our car; Barcelona and Monaco," added an optimistic Fernando.

Kevin Magnussen held on to score the first potassium filled points for Team Banana, while a disappointing showing from Toro Rosso saw Verstappen retire with an engine failure and Sainz drop out of the points and slugged with a questionable 10-second penalty for closing the door on Jolyon Palmer during the middle phase of the race.

Rosberg joins an elite group of drivers that have won seven consecutive races and although Hamilton's challenge has been largely muted thus far, things are looking difficult for his title defence.