A new season is normally a start of new hope, but when the paddock arrived in Melbourne there was an air of sadness. Race director Charlie Whiting had passed away suddenly in his hotel room ahead of the weekend, as expected F1 paid its respects.
Hamilton once again started his season off in style, he took a sixth back to back pole in Albert Park outpacing Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by four-tenths of a second. The pace of Ferrari had been a talking point leading up to the opening race, but the team were seven-tenths off the pace despite finishing testing as the fastest team. Daniel Ricciardo would start his home race and Renault debut from sixteen.
Come Sunday, it was Bottas who got the better start passing Hamilton into turn one where he managed to build a huge gap. He set off into the distance while teammate Hamilton was under pressure from Max Verstappen. A surprise given Ferrari’s performance in Barcelona, the dutchman breezed past him
New season, same errors for Sebastian Vet tell locking up allowing new teammate Charles Leclerc to challenge him. Before the team instructed them to hold position. The class B battle showed what was to become a close-fought battle, Nico Hulkenberg locked in battle with Racing Point and Toro Rosso. The German winning with seventh.
Daniel Ricciardo’s home race saw him retire after going wide and losing the front wing.
Drivers – 1) Bottas 26, 2) Hamilton 18, 3) Verstappen 18
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 44, 2) Ferrari 22, 3) Red Bull 15
Melbourne was a blip for Ferrari, or so it was looking in practice and qualifying. Leclerc was on fire all weekend and went into qualifying looking to beat his teammate. He hooked the weekend up well as Mercedes struggled to find the pace to challenge Ferrari, Leclerc looked on course for a good race.
Ferrari went into Sunday’s race looking to prove they were back stronger than Mercedes. Leclerc looked on course to take his first victory in the sport, he had a clear lead over the two Mercedes. Earlier he had passed his teammate after losing the lead to Hamilton. Then the technical difficulty made his four-second gap look vulnerable, his engine failure now was effectively made him a sitting duck for Hamilton.
Meanwhile, a spin for Vettel made Hamilton’s job easier he dropped back after shattering his front win. That allowed Verstappen to close up on Vettel. The spin was somewhat reminiscent of a series of spins Vettel had in 2018 as he was fighting wheel-to-wheel with other cars. Ultimately, the loss points from those mistakes cost him last year’s championship.
Bahrain was the race where Ferrari’s decision to promote Leclerc was rewarded, but a reminder that F1 can be so cruel and sometimes heartbreaking. Hamilton’s first victory of 2019, somewhat lucky given the lead Leclerc had early on.
Drivers – 1) Bottas 44, 2) Hamilton 43, 3) Verstappen 27
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 87, 2) Ferrari 48, 3) Red Bull 31
The 1,000th world championship race took the sport to Shanghai, surely this circuit would be the weekend where Ferrari could fight back given the teams strong testing form. The long straights and high downforce in Barcelona should bring Ferrari into the mix, but could they beat Hamilton?
Despite his usual good form in Shanghai, it was Bottas who just beat Hamilton by twenty-three of a second to take pole position. Mercedes again had the upper hand, Vettel was three tenths off with Leclerc admitting the team didn’t have the pace. Red Bull meanwhile messed up there timing up and both drivers failed to set a time in the closing moments of Q3.
Hamilton made a better start getting passed Bottas to lead into the first corner, the five-times champion looked unstoppable. Leclerc got passed Vettel before the team instructed him to let Vettel back passed.
The drama was never far away in the midfield, at the hairpin Daniil Kvyat lost the rear of the car, then bounced off the rear of Carlos Sainz. That sent Sainz torpedoing into his teammate Lando Norris, earning the Russian a penalty and pushing Sainz out the points, as well as causing Norris’s retirement.
But no one was able to stop Hamilton, winner of the 900th and 1,000th Grand Prix, while it wasn’t the thriller, we had in Bahrain 2014 or as controversial as the 800th in Singapore 2008. Hamilton was beginning his strong defence on his way to fight for his sixth world title. Bottas was second miles behind, would he be able to up his game and stop his teammates sailing to his sixth title?
Drivers – 1) Hamilton 68, 2) Bottas 68, 3) Verstappen 39
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 173, 2) Ferrari 173, 3) Red Bull 52
Bottas took pole ahead of Hamilton, despite practice looking as if the sliver arrows were going to be on the back foot as Ferrari looked to hold the advantage. The Finn appeared to have taken advantage of the slipstream, and got the edge over his teammate.
Baku the land of fire, proved once again to be a challenge for all the drivers as the session was interrupted multiple times by red flags and damage to the circuit. Verstappen was left with only a single run in Q3 after Charles Leclerc crashed the Ferrari into the castle.
Once again it proved to be the Mercedes who were in fine form, Bottas took control from the start ahead of Hamilton. Ferrari meanwhile dropped away with Vettel struggling to find the pace. Leclerc’s crash had taken him out of the fight, but he worked his way to fifth.
Verstappen was becoming a consistent challenger, this year Honda was really stepping up to be part of the front runners he finished fourth. But all was not perfect, Pierre Gasly retired from the race with plumes of smoke.
It was another strong race for the Racing Point of Sergio Perez, the Mexican had run as high as fourth with him settling for sixth. Perez looked to be comfortably ahead of his midfield rivals with the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat looking not to be a challenge.
Baku may not have had the drama of recent years, but the conclusion was clear Mercedes were stronger than last season. Hamilton also knew at this early stage it was Bottas he would need to beat, but could anyone join them?
Drivers – 1) Bottas 87, 2) Hamilton 86, 3) Vettel 52
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 173, 2) Ferrari 99, 3) Red Bull 64