Sunday marked the end of the 112-day hiatus from Formula 1 racing with the first race of the 2019 season in Melbourne, Australia. Offseason headlines were filled with talk of the new regulations to the cars aimed to improve overtaking and push the limits of the speedometer as well as the various changes to the field of 20 drivers. The changes to the driver lineup throughout the grid have made it youngest field in the modern era with an average age of 26 years old including three drivers who made their rookie debut at the Albert Park street circuit.
Qualifying on the steamy Saturday afternoon saw a front row lockout from the five-time defending constructor champions, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, with the pole position nabbed by defending world champion driver, Lewis Hamilton, who was backed up by teammate, Valtteri Bottas, in P2 only a tenth of a second behind. Both Mercedes found themselves ahead of rival Scuderia Ferrari driver, Sebastian Vettel, in third with Red Bull Racing’s young talent, Max Verstappen, in fourth and newest Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc, rounding out the top five. The results of qualifying shocked many after Ferrari seemingly took form as the favorite at the conclusion of preseason testing, but fell flat to the blistering pace of Mercedes and a surprisingly quick Red Bull equipped with a new Honda engine.
As for the race, it was much of the same with Mercedes dominant out front. Both drivers ran one and two and finished that way with maximum points including the extra point for fastest lap from Bottas who finished 20.8 seconds ahead of teammate, Hamilton. Verstappen rounded out the podium after blasting by an uncharacteristically off-pace Vettel on lap 31, while Leclerc was given team orders to finish behind his four-time world champion teammate.
The midfield was host to the most intriguing battles during 58 lap race even with numerous overtaking difficulties due to the tricky corners and short straights. Haas F1 driver, Kevin Magnussen, finished sixth while showing tremendous pace after exchanging positions with teammate, Romain Grosjean until a suspension failure ended Grosjean’s day on lap 32. Renault F1 driver and rival to Magnussen, Nico Hulkenberg, finished just behind his foe in seventh scoring much-needed points after the unsettling retirement of crowd favorite and newly appointed Renault driver, Daniel Ricciardo. This was Ricciardo’s second consecutive DNF in his home grand prix. Veteran Finnish driver and two-time world champion, Kimi Raikkonen, brought Alfa Romeo Racing their first points of the season in eighth on his anticipated return to the team. In ninth was the Canadian driver, Lance Stroll, who made his debut with Racing Point F1 and rounding out the top 10 was Red Bull Toro Rosso driver, Daniil Kvyat, on his return to F1 after losing his seat in 2017.
The story of the weekend had to be 19-year-old rookie McLaren F1 driver, Lando Norris, who qualified in a shocking eighth and brought the car home outside the points in a respectable P12 after a few nail-biting battles with numerous drivers in the midfield. Norris was able to break all expectations of his new McLaren and showcased his raw talent and professionalism on an extremely difficult circuit.
Up next on the calendar is the Bahrain Grand Prix in two weeks where the cars are set to show their full potential with the new regulations on a proper circuit. Ferrari will need to vastly improve their pace and strategy to keep up with the two Mercedes, while the midfield teams will begin to show their capabilities.