The speculation that Mercedes had been knocked off their perch as Formula One’s dominant force had been greatly exaggerated, but it was Valtteri Bottas, not Lewis Hamilton, who took full advantage to win the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, claiming the single point for the fastest lap of the race to take the lead of the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship, which heads to the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir for the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Bottas (26 points) leads the championship by eight points over his teammate and defending world champion Hamilton (18 points) after defeating him by 20.886 seconds at Albert Park to claim the fourth race victory of his career, a performance Bottas himself regarded as the best of his career.
However, Hamilton suffered floor damage to his car on the fourth lap of the Australian Grand Prix, affecting the aerodynamic performance of the car, denying him any opportunity to challenge his teammate for the race victory after claiming pole position for the sixth-straight year, and the eighth time at Albert Park, becoming just the third driver after Michael Schumacher (Suzuka) and Ayrton Senna (Imola) to achieve eight pole positions at one circuit.
Whether Hamilton would have won the opening race of the season without his floor damage is up for debate, but it certainly would have been a lot closer, that is for sure!
Max Verstappen (15 points) is third in the world championship for Red Bull Racing-Honda after pushing Hamilton close at Albert Park, ahead of the two Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel (12 points) and Charles Leclerc (10 points), who after dominating pre-season testing, finished 57.109 and 58.203 seconds behind Bottas at the opening race of the season, and rightfully would feel ashamed of their performance in Melbourne, and will be hoping that this performance is just a one-off, and that they can challenge Mercedes for the championship throughout 2019.
Behind them in the standings are Kevin Magnussen (eight points) for Haas-Ferrari, Nico Hülkenberg (six points) for Renault, Kimi Räikkönen (four points) for Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari, Lance Stroll (two points) for Racing Point-BWT Mercedes, and Daniil Kvyat (one point) for Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda, who all scored points in the opening race of 2019.
However, it was a disappointing weekend in Australia for Daniel Ricciardo, his first race with Renault, having some difficulties or teething issues with the car in practice, qualifying outside of the Top 10 in 12th, and then sustaining damage to his car just metres off the start line on Sunday, which forced him to retire from the Australian Grand Prix after 28 laps.
Ricciardo will be hoping for a much better weekend in Bahrain, but you sense the best result he can hope for at the moment, given the car that he has at the moment, is a sixth or seventh-place finish, and most likely a lap down on the leaders (Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull Racing-Honda).
So, who is going to win the Bahrain Grand Prix?
In my opinion, it is always very hard to see a team bouncing back to win the next race after being smashed by almost a minute in the previous race, but if Ferrari’s performance in pre-season testing was genuine, and that Mercedes, and to a lesser extent Red Bull Racing-Honda haven’t actually gained genuine performance between pre-season testing and the first race, and that both of their performances in Australia were simply track specific, then they are a strong chance to bounce back.
However, it is not the first time that a team involving Lewis Hamilton has gained a huge chunk of time, usually in the region of about a second, in a short space of time to instantly become more competitive.
Think mid-season in 2009 when McLaren, the team Hamilton was driving for at the time, moved from near the back of the field, where they were at the British Grand Prix, to challenging Brawn and Red Bull, on speed at least, at the following race at the Nürburgring in Germany, with Hamilton winning the following race in Hungary.
Think 2011, when McLaren (with Hamilton) moved from what many predicted was a midfield position for the team in pre-season testing to being arguably the second-best car on the grid for the start of the season in Australia, although comfortably behind Red Bull generally throughout 2011.
It cannot be a coincidence because if you were to add a second to the times both Mercedes achieved in qualifying at Albert Park, those were the times/margins that many experts thought Mercedes were behind in relation to Ferrari, and to a lesser extent Red Bull Racing-Honda.
Hamilton has proven, if the form is genuine, to be the face of the catalyst of turning the competitiveness of a team around once again, and if you believe this, then you cannot be surprised of his standing today as a five-time Formula One World Champion!
I am predicting Hamilton to bounce back from the floor issue he suffered in the race with his car in Australia to win in Bahrain, but I think Max Verstappen can put in a sterling performance to finish in second, with Valtteri Bottas to finish in third, just ahead of the two Ferrari drivers.