Australian Grand Prix notes: what we learned from the first F1 race of 2019

Assorted notes on the the good and the bad of the 2019 Australian Grand Prix and what we learned (or can assume) based on last Sunday’s results.

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Valterri Bottas circa-2018 looked like a man who wanted to find a hut in the middle of a Finnish forest, lock the door and never be seen again.

Valterri Bottas 2.0, reloaded, mark 2 or whichever nom de plume you prefer,  appears to have trained Rocky-style, wrestled bears and is now prepared to drive through walls to beat Lewis Hamilton.

It might be a flash in the pan. Mentally the Finn might crumble the way he did last season under the relentless speed of his 5-time champion teammate. But Sunday’s performance was the kind that rattles Lewis Hamilton and for the neutrals among us, that’s great news.

Lando Norris – a bright spot for McLaren

In the midst of a seemingly inexorable downward spiral, Lando Norris was a ray of hope for McLaren. The rookie was a qualifying demon until his single F2 season when he seemed to forget how to do it. On Saturday he – for want of a better phrase – ‘did an Alonso’ and got a car into Q3 that did not deserve to be there.

Race pace showed McLaren and partner Renault still have much work to do to even vie for the ‘best of the rest’ tag in F1. But on the basis of last weekend, they might well have found a rookie that can help them halt the decline and started the long ascent back to the summit.

Honda have improved – just not enough

Speed trap times in Melbourne had some folk getting overly excited about the progress Honda has made during the offseason. Max Verstappen did secure Honda’s first podium finish in F1 since 2008 but that owed much to Sebastien Vettel’s mechanical gremlins and Charles Leclerc’s debut nerves.

Yes Honda have made progress but those eye-catching top speeds say more about the inherent aero efficiency of the Red Bull than the power output of their turbo-hybrid power unit.

Switching from Renault to Honda has not, yet, turned Red Bull into more of a threat than they were in 2018. But just like last season Max Verstappen will certainly be biting at the heals of Ferrari and Mercedes for the final step of the podium.

The F1 midfield is as tight as ever

Fans of Haas, Renault, Racing Point, McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso are in for nail-biting season in the fight to be crowned ‘best of the rest’ of the F1 ‘B’ series champion.

Sadly for those interested in someone breaking the Mercedes/Ferrari/RedBull monopoly, the Australian Grand Prix offered little to write home about.

Williams are in serious trouble

The terrifying speed at which Daniel Ricciardo’s repaired but compromised Renault caught, passed and gapped both Williams on Sunday left the team looking shellshocked.

Failing to finish the FW42 in time for pre-season testing was hard on the last genuine ‘independent’ F1 team. That paled into insignificance when the scale of the chasm in performance between the British team and the rest of the field became apparent.

Qualifying and race pace suggested their latest car is slower than their 2017 and 2018 cars. It is not so much a question of when Williams will recover from this latest slump but whether they actually can.

Kubica’s return might have been better left as ‘what if’

Kubica’s return – on the basis of Melbourne – looks like it would have been better kept as one of motorsport’s great unknowns.

Even if Williams can find significant performance gains this season it is hard to imagine Kubica doing anything other than propping up the timesheets. Qualifying 1.7 seconds behind his rookie teammate was a bigger gap than even the most pessimistic of observers predicted.

Having the Pole on the grid is a wonderful, feel-good story. Sadly and inevitably given the scale of his injuries, reality has popped the bubble of pre-season anticipation. 2019 could well be Kubica’s toughest season in F1.

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