Meanwhile, Silver Arrow pilot Valtteri Bottas got it all wrong in qualifying when while beginning his flying lap in Q3 the No. 77 driver went a bit wide in Turn One and upon getting back on the gas just beyond the apex of the corner, causing the F1 W09 to snap around, the car careening into the safety barriers. The shunt measured at 27Gs, the car was heavily damaged and Bottas sent back to start the Grand Prix in a lowly P15.
Optimistic about the 2018 race season, Lewis Hamilton, hoping to become only the third driver in F1 history to win five world titles – only Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio have more – went to the starting grid on Sunday with his eyes on the prize.
When the five starting lights to start the Australian Grand Prix extinguished themselves and the pack of screeching cars groped for traction and looked to Turn One, it was Hamilton and his masterful work of the Mercedes Xtrac semi-automatic eight-speed gearbox which earned him and the No. 44 F1 W09 the holeshot, Hamilton leading the pack out onto the Melbourne circuit, 80,000-plus fans on their feet and waiting to see what would come next.
Clearing off from all those behind, Hamilton powered away during the opening laps, completely in control of the race and the situation. Then, at the halfway point of the race, an odd scenario involving the Virtual Safety Car as well as the new Mercedes-AMG GT R Safety Car, sent everyone scrambling in the pits, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel taking advantage of the situation (as any driver would) and got the better of Hamilton and the Mercedes team, improving track position and sending the German driver into the lead. From that point, Hamilton pushed the F1 W09 as hard as it would go, but with overtaking being tricky in Melbourne and his rear tires starting to melt away, Lewis was forced to settle for second place on the day.
"I did everything I could today, but it's not what anyone expected to happen,” said a dejected Hamilton of the 118th podium finish of his 12-year career. “I'm still in a little bit of disbelief as I don't really understand what happened yet. Once I get back with my engineers they'll do a debrief and obviously I'll find out why. This weekend there was so much talk about party mode or if Ferrari would be quick enough. I don't think the gap was as big as it seemed yesterday, it's just that I had a good lap and maybe Sebastian didn't have a good lap. But today they were very, very quick. I put up a bit of a fight towards the end but they were within a tenth of us today. At least in my heart I know that I gave everything this weekend. I'm sure the team is feeling pain right now but we will regroup and we'll work on it."
Still smarting from Saturday’s qualifying gaffe, the valiant Valtteri Bottas gave it everything he had on race day, powering up from his abysmal P15 starting position to place an admirable eighth upon meeting the checkered flag.
"It was a bit of a frustrating day,” grimaced Bottas upon alighting from the cockpit survival cell of his F1 W09. “I got some points, but not as many as I was hoping for, even starting 15th on the grid. We had a good car, it felt just like in qualifying, the team did a really good job on that. Unfortunately, we just couldn't make anything out of it because it is so difficult to overtake on this track. It's been a disappointing weekend and certainly not an ideal first race, but we still have 20 races to go. We need to learn from this weekend and try again in two weeks in Bahrain."
Next stop for Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and the entire Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team: The Bahrain International Circuit and the Bahrain Grand Prix which is poised to run on April 8, 2018.