Superstar Bottas returned
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff believes that Valtteri Bottas has returned as a brilliant as the superstar he was in his junior career.
The Finn bounced back from a winless 2018 to put in a dominant performance to win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, firmly putting to bed the frustrations of last year when he failed to take a win. He also narrowly missed out on pole to teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Wolff who played a key role in Bottas’s career says that his form in Melbourne was the kind of stunning form that carved his reputation when he first started out.
Reflecting Bottas, Wolff said, “In 2008 I got a call from a young boy who asked for a meeting. It was snowing in Vienna and this young Finnish boy came in with a pullover, no jacket, and asked for advice.”
“That young boy went on to dominate the Formula Renault Eurocup in a strong year with [Jean-Eric] Vergne, [Daniel] Ricciardo, [Roberto] Merhi, and he led almost the whole season. This is the Valtteri Bottas that I have seen yesterday and today. It was in him.
He believes that his performance in the weekend was simply a result of a better mindset and openly admitting that he wanted to be a tougher driver. Wolff pointed out that he came back from a difficult season with his most dominant wins we have had in recent years.
Wolff said he had no doubts that Bottas’s flawless performance in Melbourne was the best race of his life. Saying “I think I’ve seen most of the races in his career in all the categories and this was the strongest. I think the car was very good with the tyres, but Lewis is a very, very competitive driver.“
Hamilton expects Ferrari resurgence
Lewis Hamilton says that Mercedes should expect a Ferrari resurgence after the pre-season predictions that the Italian team were ahead of them. Mercedes had a one-two in qualifying and race, which the five times weren’t expecting to win given the strong performance of Ferrari in testing.
Asked by Sky Sports, if he was surprised to see Ferrari so far behind on the opening weekend, Hamilton replied: “Everyone is, probably. No one was expecting to have a gap like that when we came into the weekend.”
He added, “Honestly, what I was shown and led to believe from the analysis we were given, was that they were ahead. It obviously wasn’t the case during this weekend and I’m not quite sure why their performance was how it was.”
Hamilton says he doesn’t believe that Mercedes over delivered and did normal operations, but accepts that the team did an exceptional job throughout the weekend. But said he was sure what Ferrari did wrong, and is certain that they will come back.
Hamilton was also troubled in the race after causing damage to his car early on, this affected the rear downforce and caused issues with the balance of the car. It also allowed teammate Valtteri Bottas to open a twenty-second advantage.
Hamilton says he is “generally happy with how I drove. I did what I needed to do – no more, no less. I don’t focus on the gap [to Bottas] because I allowed the gap to be the size that it was, so that’s not really an issue for me.”
Hamilton also drove well off the pace because of tyre degradation managing a forty-three lap stint on mediums. That helped him to maintain his second place, to cover off Sebastian Vettel and a late challenge from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen
Leclerc will push me hard – Vettel
Sebastian Vettel believes that his new teammate Charles Leclerc will push him hard this year. The Monacan was brought in to replace Kimi Raikkonen following his impressive debut season with Sauber last year.
However, their first race didn’t go smoothly as they narrowly avoided a collision at the start of the race as Leclerc tried to pass him into the first corner. Vettel told BBC News, “”He’ll put a lot of pressure on me the whole season. It will be very close.”
“He is very talented. I am sure we will have tough and tight battles but more than that I hope we have a lot of fun together.” But questions were asked about the decision to tell Leclerc to hold station and not pass Vettel.
Team principal Mattia Binotto said he was “happy” with Leclerc’s performance on his debut. Saying “If we judge his entire weekend, it was a pretty strong one.”
“His qualifying wasn’t perfect; he is aware of it. He drove well all through Q1 and Q2, maybe not perfectly in Q3, but generally speaking he had a good weekend and his second stint he was performing well.”
At the start of the race weekend, Vettel had said the two Ferrari drivers were “free to race”, even though Binotto had said the German would have “priority in certain situations”.
Explaining the decision, which Binotto didn’t describe as a decision, he say there was no reason to take risks despite it being only the first race off the year.
Ferrari’s performance over the weekend was a disappointment, after they had appeared to have the fastest car in pre-season testing. Vettel was 0.7secs slower than Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton’s pole position time, and the Ferrari drivers finished nearly a minute behind the race winner, Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
As of yet the team say they have no clear answers yet to why the car to have less grip and poor balance compared to in pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Ferrari didn’t show “real potential”
Ferrari is insisting that their poor performance at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix did not show the “real potential” of the teams 2019 car.
Following pre-season testing the Italian team entered the season-opening race as the favourites, however, the team failed to match title rivals Mercedes as the car appear difficult to drive at Albert Park. Ferrari only managed fourth, a minute behind the Mercedes.
Team principal Mattia Binotto, admitted “It’s not what we were expecting. Winter Testing was certainly different. Since Friday P1 we never found the right balance on the car and we struggled with the tyres.”
“We tried different set-up approaches during the weekend but we never concluded with the right balance. The performance [in the race] is simply reflecting what we had in qualy as well.”
As you would expect, Ferrari has begun an investigation into what went wrong between Barcelona and Melbourne, with Binotto saying it was “too early to have a proper judgement. Do we understand that yet? Probably not, so we need to analyse the data and try to assess what really happened.”
Binotto says he is pretty sure that the performance of the car has not disappeared and that the potential is certainly bigger. He also says that lessons had been learned, adding “If we can identify what the issue was we can be back even stronger”.
“In Barcelona, we were very happy with the car from day one. The balance was right, the car was responding to what I was asking it to do, and I had a lot of confidence.
Regulation changes “livened up” Australia – Brawn
F1 managing director for motorsport and technical director Ross Brawn believes points for the fastest lap “livened up” the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas became the first driver to win the fastest lap on his way to a dominant victory in Melbourne, Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff said that both his drivers “ignored” team orders not to seek the fastest lap.
Bottas overcame the previous benchmark in the race set by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to take his points haul from the race to twenty six. Brawn says the competition for fastest lap was exactly what the FIA had intended.
Speaking about the fastest lap point, Brawn told Motorsport.com “The return to awarding a point to the driver and team who set the race fastest lap livened up the closing stages of the race, as Verstappen tried to nudge out Bottas, who had his hands on that particular prize.”
“In a race in which the podium positions seemed set from early on, the fight to claim that one extra point, in the knowledge that it could be vitally important in the closing stages of the championship, certainly livened up the closing stages of the race.” He says that the way it played out in Melbourne was the intention to have drivers pushing to the end.
Brawn says that he was encouraged by the amount of overtaking in the race, the changes in the aero regulations created more wheel to wheel racing and better battles in the race. There were 14 overtakes in the 2019 races compared to just three in 2018.
Brawn said, “The initial signs are encouraging, especially as apart from the actual overtakes; we saw some thrilling battles. Clearly those weren’t all down to the new aerodynamics, as the performance of the midfield teams especially has closed up dramatically.”
“Mainly lows” for Ricciardo in Melbourne – Renault
Renault’s F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul says that the Australian Grand Prix was made up “mainly of lows” for the team’s new driver Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian accepted that he hadn’t got the most out of qualifying, despite his teammate Nico Hulkenberg having technical issues. However, his race unravelled on the opening lap after losing his front wing before retiring from the race.
Abiteboul says he couldn’t yet say whether Ricciardo had brought everything to the team that was expected from a grand prix winner because his new driver didn’t have a clean weekend.
Abiteboul told Motorsport.com, “Let’s be honest, I can’t say that after the weekend we had together. It’s a collective performance. It’s a weekend mainly of lows. Apart from glimpses of a very good and strong performance from him and the car in free practice, but in free practice we don’t care.”
“We need collectively to do better. It’s a learning exercise, as we always say. When you change driver you make some steps backwards before you step forward. That’s what we’re going through as we speak.” He says that the first lap incident where he lost his front wing, was frustrating.
Abiteboul says that Ricciardo was unlucky while teammate Nico Hulkenberg managed to regain positions more successfully. He says the opted to retire the car because the temperatures of the car was rising due to the damage.
Hulkenberg went on to finish seventh, and Abiteboul gave the German driver praise for his performance. Saying “It’s a good turnaround from qualifying with Nico, but I think we need to give a huge credit to him.”
“An excellent start, excellent first lap, and then a very good execution from the team in terms of strategy and management of everything that needs to be managed in modern F1.”