Dominant Valtteri Bottas beats Lewis Hamilton to win Australian Grand Prix
Finn too good for Mercedes teammate to clinch season opener in Melbourne as Ferraris disappoint
Valtteri Bottas dominated the Australian Grand Prix to win the first race of the 2019 Formula One season on Sunday.
It had been his Mercedes-GP world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton who had been quickest in qualifying on Saturday, but in the 58-lap race it was Bottas who was in a class of his own.
Starting second behind pole-sitter Hamilton, Bottas got the jump on the Briton during a typically messy start at Albert Park and was faster on every one of the first 10 laps as he opened up a 3.5 seconds advantage over the five-time world champion.
The Finn ended up cruising to his fourth grand prix win, and his first triumph since the 2017 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, by some 20.80 seconds after delaying a tyre-change.
To cap a memorable day in Melbourne, Bottas earned an additional point by setting the fastest lap on the penultimate lap of one minute 25.580 seconds.
"I don't know what just happened. The start was really good, it was definitely my best race ever," Bottas said.
"I just felt so good and everything was under control. The car was so good today so truly enjoyable, I need to enjoy today.
"I'm just so happy and can't wait for the next race."
Hamilton had to be content with second, fending off a late challenge from Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen for the runner-up spot.
"It was a good weekend for the team," Hamilton said. "Valtteri drove an incredible race today so he deserved it.
"We have some work to do, [but] it is more than we could have hoped for as a team."
It was a disappointing day for Ferrari who failed to live up to their promising testing pace.
Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were a distant fourth and fifth, with Vettel at one stage in the race asking “why are we so slow?”
With Bottas having an unsurmountable lead the battle was on for second, with Verstappen hounding Hamilton but unable to find a way through.
"I had to overtake Sebastian to get onto podium which is not easy here but was happy to pull that move off," said Verstappen, who was ecstatic at beating the Ferraris.
Mercedes have been in a class of their own all weekend, turning the tables on pre-season testing when Ferrari looked like the team to beat.
The Italian team's performance will be a source of worry, especially as they haven't won the constructors' title since 2008 and their last driver to become world champion was Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.
In the midfield battle, Kevin Magnussen was sixth for Haas ahead of Renault's seventh-placed Nico Hulkenberg.
It was a disastrous Renault debut for home hope Daniel Ricciardo as he rolled wide into the grass straight out of the grid and destroyed his front wing over a bump.
He was forced to pit immediately to replace it and ended up retiring midway through the race.
McLaren driver Carlos Sainz also retired after easing into pit lane on the 11th lap with his car on fire.
Haas, who lost both cars due to botched tyre changes in last year's race, showed they were not free of their pit-stop gremlins, as a poor stop caused Romain Grosjean to lose two places.
Grosjean later was forced to retire with a reliability problem.
Prior to the start, drivers and officials stood for a minute's silence at the grid in tribute to the late F1 racing director Charlie Whiting and in remembrance of victims of a mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand on Friday.
The second round of the season is in Bahrain on March 31.
Updated: March 17, 2019 11:54 AM