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.