Valtteri Bottas: To whom it may concern

2019-03-20 06:02

WHEN Saturday qualifying came to an end Valtteri Bottas may have been experiencing some 2018 déjà vu but although Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton pipped him to pole position by a tenth of a second this is where the 2018 similarities ended.

The Finn rocketed into the lead of race off the start line and disappeared into the distance. Not for one of the 58 laps of the Australian Grand Prix would Bottas have been under any pressure from anyone else sharing the racetrack.

This includes his five-time world champion teammate, Hamilton, who had no answer to the race leader’s pace.

An early threat from Vettel in the initial part of the race kept Hamilton honest, but the Ferrari driver’s pace fizzled quite significantly as the laps went on. Not only were the Mercedes well out of sight, but Vettel was also not able to hold off Max Verstappen.

The Red Bull driver, on somewhat fresher tyres, breezed past the Ferrari driver and harried the back of Hamilton for second before finishing third. The podium is Honda’s first since returning to F1.

As Vettel trundled home in fourth, his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc was told to hold station in fifth despite being quicker in the closing stages of the race. It wasn’t a perfect race for the new Ferrari driver, which in addition to a serious lack of pace in the opening stint was underscored by a trip across the grass at Turn 1. Ferrari has put their cards on the table by instructing Leclerc to not attempt to overtake his teammate.

It confirms that they are putting all their eggs in the Vettel basket. But they have bigger questions to solve though. The lack of pace from Ferrari was striking when compared to their winter testing ‘form’. It could well be down to tyre degradation as Vettel confirmed that he had no grip left on his tyres at the end of the race.

Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen was the best of the rest in a very tight midfield battle while Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault was seventh. Kimi Raikkonen snapped up eighth place for Alfa Romeo Racing ahead of Lance Stroll, in ninth for Racing Point. Daniil Kvyat, once more a Toro Rosso driver, scored the final point in 10th.

Elsewhere, Pierre Gasly endured a poor Red Bull debut with an 11th place finish after starting 16th on the grid. Rookie Lando Norris couldn’t quite manage to translate his brilliant eighth in qualifying into points and ultimately finished in 12th, but affirmed that McLaren have made a step forward since last year.

Daniel Ricciardo retired several laps after sustaining damage at the start of the race and was joined on the sidelines by Romain Grosjean and the McLaren of Carlos Sainz.

Unfortunately, the difficult times haven’t let up for Williams either, as George Russell finished second last ahead of his Polish teammate Robert Kubica. The Pole’s return to the sport, after suffering near fatal injuries in a 2011 rally crash, has been challenging to say the least.

The results sheet doesn’t make good reading for Ferrari whose pre-season pace was nowhere to be found. But Australia’s Albert Park circuit is an anomaly and not comparable with any other track on the calendar.

While Mercedes could well be ahead of them in Bahrain they shouldn’t see the same pace gap at the Sakhir International Circuit.

Not only did Valtteri Bottas wrap up the win in fine style but he also added the newly introduced point* for fastest lap as well. The Finnish driver started the season as, arguably, the driver under the most pressure. It’s clear that he is aware of the speculation around his abilities but he had a fiery message for the naysayers over the radio: “To whom it may concern, f@#$ you”.

Yes, this may be only the first of 21 races but this win, which he ranked as the best of his career, is a big statement of intent.

* A point will be awarded to the driver and constructor who set the fastest lap and are classified in the top 10.

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