MELBOURNE (AFP) – Valtteri Bottas upstaged his Mercedes world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton yesterday to win the season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix in a sizzling performance that he called his “best ever”.
The flying Finn started second on the grid but got a jump on the pole-sitting Briton at the first corner and never looked back, scorching round the Albert Park circuit to take the chequered flag a massive 20.9 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Red Bull’s precocious Max Verstappen came third to join them on the podium after audaciously overtaking Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel midway through the race.
“How about that! Yes!” said Bottas over the team radio after also taking the new bonus point for the fastest lap.
“I don’t know what just happened. I don’t know what to say. It was definitely my best race ever,” he said after. “I felt so good and the car was so good.
Four-time world champion Vettel had to settle for fourth, trailing in 57.1 seconds behind Bottas. Ferrari partner Charles Leclerc was fifth, with Kevin Magnussen in a Haas sixth.
Bottas, whose last triumph was at the Abu Dhabi season finale in 2017, was overshadowed last year by Hamilton, failing to win a race, hampered by mechanical problems and bad luck but was fast in qualifying and only narrowly edged out of pole position.
“In the beginning it was all about managing the race and building the gap,” Bottas said. “I knew I could do it, I’ve done it before, it was about being at my best level.”
Bottas, now in his third year with Mercedes, knows he must perform with promising Frenchman Esteban Ocon, 22, waiting in the wings as the team’s reserve driver. He delivered in spades yesterday for his fourth Grand Prix win in his 119th race.
“It’s a good weekend for the team,” said Hamilton. “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.”
Starting on soft tyres on a fine day, Bottas got an electric start and built a gap of 1.153 seconds on Hamilton after the opening lap, with Vettel, Verstappen and Leclerc trailing in their wake.
Bottas pumped out fastest laps, and when seven laps later he pitted he emerged more than 10 seconds ahead of his teammate.
With Bottas having an unsurmountable lead the battle was on for second, with Verstappen hounding Hamilton but unable to find a way through.