MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Valtteri Bottas has rediscovered his joy of driving and it’s had immediate success as he led Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in a 1-2 finish at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Mercedes was a hot favorite to win in Melbourne after dominating every practice session and qualifying on the first weekend of the season. It was just the finishing order — and the gap of more than 20 seconds — on Sunday that was a surprise.
Bottas was the faithful No. 2 at Mercedes last season, when a combination of mechanical problems and team instructions meant he didn’t win a GP in a season when Hamilton dominated and collected his fifth world drivers’ championship.
The 29-year-old Finnish driver held the lap record temporarily at the Albert Park circuit until there were just seconds remaining in qualifying, when Hamilton edged him for the mark and for No. 1 spot on the grid.
But Bottas made up for that when he surged to the lead at the first corner and essentially led for the remainder of the 58-lap race to capture his fourth GP victory and his first since Abu Dhabi in 2017.
Max Verstappen was closing in on Hamilton toward the end but the Red Bull driver had to settle for third.
Two-time defending champion Sebastien Vettel started from third on the grid but was overtaken on the outside by Verstappen on the 30th lap and finished fourth, one spot ahead of Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton, who started from No. 1 on the grid for the sixth successive year and eighth-time overall in Melbourne, again had to settle for second. Only once in eight years as the fastest qualifier won the Australian GP.