Valtteri Bottas got the jump on Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton at the start of the Australian Grand Prix, and charged off to stage a dominant win to begin his 2019 season in style.
Hamilton laboured to second place on worn tyres, narrowly ahead of Max Verstappen. The Red Bull held a surprisingly big margin over Sebastian Vettel, who had his hands full warding off his new Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc to the finish line.
There was heartbreak for home fans with early retirement for Daniel Ricciardo, after he briefly went off-roading in the Renault at the start.
The first race of a brand new season of Formula 1 under the blue skies and sunshine of Melbourne is always an exciting and happy time. However, this year the usual anticipation was somewhat tempered by the minute's silence before the start in memory of the FIA's long-time race director Charlie Whiting, as well as the victims of Friday's terrorist atrocity in neighbouring New Zealand.
Racing drivers being the people they have to be, focus was fully restored on the task in hand by the time the lights went out and the race began. A terrific start saw Valtteri Bottas beat his Mercedes team mate, polesitter Lewis Hamilton, into the first corner while Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen fended off a spirited early attack from Charles Leclerc to retain third and fourth respectively.
But there was disaster for the local hero Daniel Ricciardo, who strayed onto the grass verge in his bid to pass Racing Point's Sergio Perez down the inside into turn 1. It ripped the front wing off the Renault and obliged Ricciardo to pit for repairs and a new set of hard tyres that dropped him to dead last. That situation didn't last long, however: Ricciardo quickly passed Robert Kubica's Williams, which had suffered its own drama at the start following a clash with Pierre Gasly's out-of-position Red Bull which had ripped off the Pole's own front wing.
Leclerc was lucky to avoid a similar fate when he ran wide at turn 2 to give the grass run-off a trim, but without losing position. Instead, the dubious honour of the first retirement of the year went to Carlos Sainz, whose McLaren lost power and came to a smoky demise in pit entry on lap 11. Marshalls were quick to descend on the car with fire extinguishers, and McLaren CEO Zak Brown laid the blame at the door of the MGU-K.
Once the MCL34 was tidied away, Alfa Romeo summoned Kimi Raikkonen into pit lane for the first scheduled stop of the race on lap 13, swapping his starting set of soft tyres for the medium compound. Moments later Ferrari were out to receive Vettel, with Hamilton responding next time by. The pair rejoined in the same order as before, tucking in behind Leclerc in fourth and fifth respectively, but Hamilton was already looking unusually uncomfortable on his new medium tyres compared to Vettel.
Thereafter the midfielders also began to troop into the pits for their first stops. While most maintained their relative positions, there was a nightmare time for Haas' Romain Grosjean whose lengthy stay in the pit box cost him multiple spots. His team mate Kevin Magnussen had a better time of it, but still had a fight on his hands to retain his place over Renault's Nico Hulkenberg when they returned to the track.
Meanwhile the top three - Bottas, Verstappen and Leclerc - continued to circulate. It wasn't until the end of lap 23 that the second Silver Arrow reported for its service, promoting Verstappen to the lead - the first time a Honda-powered car had led a Grand Prix since 2008!
Bottas was back out with a seven second lead on Leclerc, who was himself three seconds ahead of Hamilton and Vettel, meaning things were looking very good indeed for the Finn as the race approached mid-distance. The big gainer at this point was Lance Stroll: still to stop, the Racing Point was up eight spots to sixth place ahead of Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat. Gasly, Magnussen and Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten.
Verstappen finally pitted on lap 26, coming back out behind Vettel but on medium tyres that were some ten laps fresher than Hamilton and Vettel ahead of him. It was clearly going to be big challenge for the two title favourites to make it all the way to the finish without a second stop.
Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi demonstrated the dramatic drop-off in speed once the tyres degraded, falling easy prey to McLaren's Lando Norris and then to Grosjean, Perez and Alexander Albon in quick succession. A sluggish pit stop compounded Giovinazzi's woes as he fell to 16th place having previously been busy successfully defending 12th place.
Verstappen soon put his own tyre advantage to good use, slipstreaming through turn 3 to pass Vettel for third place after the Ferrari ran slightly out of position on lap 31. The Dutch driver was quick to pull away, his sights set on closing up to the back of Hamilton with the ambition of making similarly short work of the Mercedes. The Briton was already complaining of neutral tyres and no rear-end grip, but nonetheless put in a new personal best as he fought to stay ahead. Meanwhile his team mate Valtteri Bottas was looking untroubled in the lead, casually setting a new fastest lap of the race which put him almost 20 seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
During this spell there were two more retirements. The first was Ricciardo on lap 31, whose Renault had apparently suffered more serious damage with his first lap excursion; and the second was Grosjean who suffered an apparent loose left front wheel on lap 34 shortly after his pit stop, in a painful reminder of his misfortune in the same race 12 months ago; however Haas subsequently blamed a suspension failure for the early exit.
By this point the only man still to pit was Gasly, having climbed to sixth place from a dismal 17th on the grid after Red Bull's miscalculation in Saturday's qualifying session. He finally came in on lap 38, dropping him back to 12th and shuffling Magnussen up to sixth ahead of Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Stroll, Kvyat and Norris. The new soft tyres on the RB15 enabled Gasly to make easy work of Norris, but when it came to Kvyat the Frenchman struggled to engage Honda's power boost mode that would have helped him seal the deal and he found himself stuck in place for the rest of the afternoon.
As the race wound down, most drivers seemed content to hold position. With a 20s lead, Bottas' major preoccupation now was seeking to pick up the new bonus point for setting the fastest lap. He wasn't alone, with Hamilton and Verstappen also keen to claim that honour, but the Finn came out on top - F1's latest much-discussed innovation certainly succeeding in adding some much-needed late excitement to a race that had become somewhat static in the closing laps..
Despite his handling concerns, Hamilton was able to thwart Verstappen's push for second place to the chequered flag. Vettel likewise held on to fourth despite Leclerc cutting deep into the gap to his team mate in the closing laps. After that it was a long gap back to Magnussen and Hulkenberg, with the rest of the points going to Raikkonen, Stroll and Kvyat. Gasly just missed out on points in his maiden appearance for Red Bull, finishing 11th in front of Norris, Perez, Albon and Giovinazzi. Unsurprisingly, the two Williams drivers finished the afternoon where they had started - bringing up the rear.