Lap 43/58: Leclerc catching up on Vettel in fourth. Apparently Ferrari are clueless as to why. Verstappen still on Hamilton’s heels. This could be a thrilling final battle for second. Bottas still leading comfortably.
Lap 42/58: The Ferraris not even on the podium at the minute. All the pre-championship talk is sounding a bit off the mark now. Bottas leads from Hamilton then Verstappen.
Lap 41/58: It’s looking tight around those lower points positions. Magnussen is sixth, followed closely by Hulkenberg, Raikonnen, Stroll and Kvyat. Gasly is desperately trying to break into that top 10.
lap 40/58: Gasly struggling to get back into contention after that pit – Kvyat still keeping him at bay. They’re 10th and 11th respectively.
Lap 39/58: It’s turning into a procession for Bottas, who’s 21 seconds ahead of Hamilton and increasing his lead. Verstappen in third not too far behind. Then it’s Vettel, Leclerc and a big gap back to Magnussen.
Lap 38/58: Gasly makes the final pit stop of the afternoon and drops down to 11th after a little tussle with Kvyat. Bottas ahead of Hamilton in second. Verstappen closely behind him.
Lap 37/58: After a few good laps, Kvyat goes into the gravel. He’s lost a huge chunk of time, although it won’t affect his position.
Lap 36/58: At the minute it’s very much Mercedes’ day. Verstappen ahead of the two Ferraris after that, followed by Gasly.
Lap 35/58: So it’s starting to settle down again after all the pits and various tactic changes. Verstappen seems to be the one who’s benefitted most, he’s already overtaken Vettel and is edging closer to Hamilton. Bottas still flying.
Lap 34/58: Gasly is in sixth… but has yet to pit. He’s just behind the Ferraris. Magnussen is 7th with Hulkenberg behind him.
Lap 33/58: Verstappen is catching up to Hamilton. This could get interesting very quickly. Behind them it’s the two Ferraris, with Vettel leading Leclerc. It’s still Bottas’ race.
Lap 32/58: Well hats off to anyone who picked Bottas for this one. Or rather, hats off to anyone who thought he’d be faster than Hamilton today. He’s cruising. Ricciardo has gone too (on the previous lap I should point out). It’s been a shocking weekend for the Aussie.
Lap 31/58: Ha, you’ve gotta love Verstappen. He’s managed to squeeze past Vettel to move into third. It seemed inevitable. Hamilton in his sights a little further ahead. Grosjean retires. That’s the third year in a row in Australia for him. Oh dear.
Lap 30/58: So it’s the one-man show Bottas leading the way comfortably, followed by the not-so-comfortable looking Hamilton. Vettel desperately trying to keep Verstappen at bay in the battle for third.
Lap 29/58: Leclerc finally pits, and opts for the hard tyre. It’s now Bottas leading Hamilton at the top, with the champion struggling to reach his teammate’s pace. Vettel is third… for now – Verstappen is all over the back of him.
Lap 28/58: Giovanazzi into the pit. Finally. He’s a long way back but will be powering back into it. Bottas still the man to beat.
Lap 27/58: Giovanzzi slipping down the standings, now Grosjean goes past him. Looks like he’s struggling for grip. He refuses to come off for some reason.
Lap 26/58: Bottas in the clear at the front – but it could be shaping into a tasty tussle for the other positions, especially with Hamilton not looking at his best. Norris finally gets past Giovanazzi down the inside. Took about five laps.
Lap 25/58: Nice little battle between Giovanazzi and Norris, the Briton probing for an opening . They’re currently 12th and 13th respectively.
Lap 24/58: So it’s Verstappen from Bottas then Leclerc. Hamilton is fourth, Vettel fifth. Hamilton looks a little uncomfortable compared to his teammate.
Lap 23/58: Verstappen in the lead as Bottas pits. Crucially, the Mercedes comes out in front of Leclerc though. Not really mentioned Verstappen (which is unusual in itself) but he’s doing well.
Lap 22/58: Bottas cruising at the minute, although he’s due to pit. He’ll need to come out in front of Leclerc.
Lap 21/58: Still waiting on Verstappen and Leclerc to pit, they’re currently occupying the podium positions behind man of the moment Bottas. Hamilton and Vettel waiting to pounce behind all three of them.
Lap 20/58: Barring unforeseen disaster, Bottas has this race in his grip. Verstappen still second from Leclerc then Hamilton. Vettel fifth.
Lap 19/58: Magnussen took an unusual line to throw Giovanzzi off his game, and overtake him. Good driving. Bottas still the man, especially with Hamilton not quite as sharp since his pit. Not sure what’s wrong with the champion at the minute, hopefully nothing serious.
Lap 18/58: Ricciardo has just been lapped by Bottas. Not a great homecoming for the Aussie, who’s still paying for that start. Hamilton struggling on medium tyres – Bottas streaking ahead.
Lap 17/58: So the various pit stops have shaken up the field a little, making it difficult to read the race, but Bottas is definitely the man to beat at the minute. He’s currently ahead of Verstappen by 11 seconds. Hamilton has pitted.
Lap 16/58: Grosjean takes a loooong pit stop. Too long. Flashback to last year for Haas when the wheels fell off – almost literally – after a pit stop in Melbourne.
Lap 15/58: Hulkenberg attacks Magnussen as he comes out of the pit… bit he just manages to hold on to his position, cutting him off on the turn. Stops all over the place at the minute. Bottas sets another fastest lap.
Lap 14/58: Despite Sainz’s woes, McLaren teammate Norris is still holding his own in eighth. Well done that young man. He’ll be pitting shortly though. In fact, Ferrari are about to.
Lap 13/58: So it’s Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen and Leclerc in the top five, followed by the two Haas drivers. Sainz is the first driver of the season to bow out.
Lap 12/58: Elsewhere, Hamilton has outpaced Bottas on a lap for the first time. Might make things interesting if the Briton has found his feet. A few more of them and it’ll liven it up.
Lap 11/58: Sainz’s hopes have literally gone up in smoke – it’s billowing out of his McLaren. Huge disappointment for the driver and team as he pulls over into a safe spot.
Lap 10/58: To be fair to Bottas, not many people were talking about him before the start of the championship. All the talk was of Verstappen and the rookies, and Vettel v Hamilton. But he’s grabbing it by the scruff of the neck today.
Lap 9/58: Leclerc loses a few vital seconds after deciding to trim a bit of turf. Bit of inexperience possibly. Bottas all over this race so far.
Lap 8/58: Bit of a gap opening up at the top now for Mercedes. They’re pulling away from the Ferraris.
Lap 7/58: The Haas cars holding their own in 6th and 7th, Magnussen leading Grosjean. Very much as you were at the top, with Mercedes in front and Verstappen (4th) splitting the Ferraris.
Lap 6/58: Turns out Kubica lost his wing too at the start. Sounds like I wasn’t the only one who missed that. No wonder Ricciardo was on him so fast – he pitted too. It’s still as you were at the top: Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel.
Lap 5/58: So it’s the two Mercedes leading the way followed by Vettel and Verstappen. Bottas about a second and a half ahead of Hamilton. Holding pattern for the moment. Watch this space.
Lap 4/58: Poor old Ricciardo. Looks like he was a bit unlucky with that early loss of his wing – he barely touched the grass and it flew off. In fact he did well to stay out of trouble. So far it’s Bottas’ story though. He’s looking good.
Lap 3/58: Despite that pit, Ricciardo is already on Kubica’s heels. Bottas with the fastest lap so far. Early days but it’s starting to settle. Bottas looking good.
Lap 2/58: An early pit for Ricciardo after that loss of his wing. Bottas still leading with Hamilton, Vettel a second behind.
Lap 1/58: Great start for Bottas who edges ahead of Hamilton at the start. A shocker for Ricciardo though. He’s lost his front wing after barely getting off the grid. Slumps to the back. Vettel in third, with Verstappen behind.
The drivers go around for a gentle lap of the track. They’re pulling into their positions now.
How will the fastest-lap bonus point affect races? It’ll be interesting to see as the championship evolves but it could lead to some late action on the tracks as contenders jostle for every point available instead of listening to team messages to slow down. I’m waffling now. You can tell the start is almost upon us.
So what about the rookies? Perhaps the biggest surprise from qualifying was the eighth place of Lando Norris. It’s an impressive start to F1 life for the 19-year-old, and there will be plenty of interest in how he handles the pressure of a grand prix. Considering his name and age, I’m thinking “the Millenial Falcon” would be a good nickname. Sure he can race around Albert Park in 1:22.304 but can he do the Kessel run in 12 parsecs?
“Real question for the season; at which race this season will Brundle get a clip round the ear for being such a meddlesome busybody on the grid? Will it be from a sheikh, a big Texan, or Bernie from nowhere? These are the real questions, I feel.”
Funnily enough, I was just writing about this. The pre-race interviews are getting noticeably shorter as the clock ticks down. George Russell very polite but clearly in a rush. Mattia Binotto not saying much at all, which speaks volumes. It’s warm out there too.
A minute’s silence for Charlie Whiting and the atrocities in Christchurch. Advance Australia Fair follows. Not long now.
I watched the first episode of Drive to Survive on Netflix yesterday. I’d almost forgotten how much expectation there was around Daniel Ricciardo here in Australia at the start of the season. It’s fair to say the bar is considerably lower for his home grand prix this time, although 12th in qualifying was still below par. Still, the always chipper Aussie is looking on the bright side.
“Normally, if I don’t do so well in qualifying, I seem to carry a chip on my shoulder for the race which helps me out, so I will use it as fuel for tomorrow,” he told Sky Sports. “I was more comfortable in the car today. I don’t think 12th is a representation of where we are, I feel we are better. The changes we made today have me more confident for tomorrow … I’m very optimistic for the race it’s just a matter of if we can pass and attack.”
“Please publish this anonymously, I’ve crept into my lounge at 4.30 to watch this on account of my neighbours being too noisy so I have to get out of the bedroom! They aren’t being that noisy. Looking forward to this season, love the first race in Melbourne!
Hope Lewis wins but hope all fans have a great season!”
– Joe Bloggs, email
Good work “Joe” – I know a few non-F1 fans in Melbourne who have been complaining about noisy neighbours this weekend.
It would be remiss of me not to mention race director Charlie Whiting, who passed away last week. The news seemed to touch pretty much everyone involved in Formula One. Genuinely beloved. “He has been our man, the drivers’ man” – Sebastian Vettel. Here’s the Guardian report. A nice gesture on the track today too…
The size of Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari at qualifying yesterday came as a surprise to everyone – not least the drivers themselves. Ominous stuff.
Hamilton: “It’s a real shocker. We kept working away at our pace and balance through the weekend, since Barcelona [testing] we made some really big steps forward and we brought that here and it seemed to have worked. I was not expecting to see the performance difference that we have here. It’s difficult when you have a session like that to grasp exactly what happened.”
Vettel: “Certainly I am surprised, I think everybody is, probably even Mercedes. There is some homework for us to do, I still think we have a great car and we should be better than this. But Mercedes are the clear favourite with such a big gap and comfort through all the sessions.”
1. Lewis Hamilton (ENG/MER)
2. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/MER)
3. Sebastian Vettel (GER/FER)
4. Max Verstappen (NED/RBR)
5. Charles Leclerc (MON/FER)
6. Romain Grosjean (FRA/HAA)
7. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/HAA)
8. Lando Norris (GBR/MCL)
9. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/ALF)
10. Sergio Perez (MEX/RAC)
11. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/REN)
12. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/REN)
13. Alexander Albon (THA/STR)
14. Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/ALF)
15. Daniil Kvyat (RUS/STR)
16. Lance Stroll (CAN/RAC)
17. Pierre Gasly (FRA/RBR)
18. Carlos Sainz jr (SPA/MCL)
19. George Russell (GBR/WIL)
20. Robert Kubica (POL/WIL)
Hello everyone and welcome to the start of the Formula One 2019 championship, kicking off as usual with 58 laps around Albert Park. Lights out at 4.10pm local time (5.10am GMT). Despite all the pre-championship hype about Ferrari being faster than ever and hiding pace, there was an ominous sense of deja vu yesterday when Lewis Hamilton streaked to pole with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in second (I’ll put the full grid on shortly). But hey, guess what, one qualifying session does not a season make, and there’ll certainly be plenty of twists, turns and T-bones before the season’s done. And Hamilton, more than anyone, knows that starting at the front of the grid in Melbourne can be a fickle reward – just one of the past seven Australian GPs have been won from pole. Can Sebastian Vettel turn it around and get his championship off to a flyer like last year? Can Charles Leclerc challenge Vettel at Ferrari? Can Max Verstappen take that next step up? Which team will come out on top in a tight midfield tussle? Those, and a whole chunk of other questions, should become a little clearer over the next couple of hours. In fact the only thing I can say with any certainty at the moment is it’s going to be a long season for Williams – although I’ll be among the many cheering on Robert Kubica this year.