Valtteri Bottas claims Australian Grand Prix win as Ferrari challenge fades

Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas speeds through a corner during the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. (AFP)
Updated 17 March 2019
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Valtteri Bottas claims Australian Grand Prix win as Ferrari challenge fades

LONDON: It was an all-too familiar result in Melbourne on Sunday as Mercedes claimed a one-two finish at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix even if, this time, it was Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas who stood atop the podium and not his teammate Lewis Hamilton.
The Silver Arrows romped home to the constructor’s world title last season, while Hamilton cruised to his fifth driver’s championship title with relative ease after the challenge of Ferrari faded away in the second half of the year.
And if the action at Albert Park is anything to go by, the German giants look unlikely to face much competition this year either.
All credit must go to Bottas, though, for overtaking his more illustrious garage partner and guiding the car home at one of his least-favorite tracks on the grand prix circuit, his best finish being third-place in 2017.
“It was definitely my best race ever. It felt so good, truly enjoyed it,” he said.
Not only did he blitz Hamilton and Verstappen, but he also sealed a bonus point for fastest lap of the grand prix — a rule reintroduced for this season.
The fast lap was icing on the cake and a calculated risk on old tires: “Definitely, it’s a new rule for this year. I had really strong pace, I wanted to go for that in the end.
“We’re all here starting a new season, both me and Lewis will want to fight this season, for sure, against each other, and against everyone.”
Hamilton, who was on pole for the sixth successive year and eighth time overall in Melbourne, had to settle for second as he battled to hold off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“It was a good weekend for Mercedes,” he said. “Valtteri drove an incredible race today. Really deserved it.”
The obvious highlight of the race for those not of a Mercedes persuasion was the performance of Verstappen, who had split the Ferraris in qualifying on Saturday and pipped both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc to claim the final podium spot.
The Dutchman overtook two-time defending Melbourne champion Vettel round the outside just at the halfway point of the race and pulled away from the Ferrari ace to finish third. It was his sixth consecutive F1 podium finish, and delivered the Honda team its first since 2008.
His gritty, determined performance offers a glimmer of hope for F1 fans that the title race will be between three teams rather than two.
“To be able to challenge Lewis at the end of the race and overtake Seb on-track, which around here is very difficult, is very positive,” Verstappen said. “Since we started working together (with Honda) it has been amazing and I am really enjoying the partnership, so this is a well-deserved third place for all of us.
For the Scuderia, it was another frustrating day at the office. Their engineers will be back at the drawing board trying to assess what went wrong in Australia and remedy it ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.
The Italian powerhouse was the standout team in pre-season testing in Barcelona, but struggled to keep pace with Mercedes all weekend — blaming balance issues, with Vettel bemoaning the car’s performance around corners as “not good enough.”
“Clearly we’re missing something right now, but we don’t have an answer,” said the German.
“We need to get back, have a good look and I’m sure we’ll find something because we know that the car is better than what we have seen today.”

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OPINION

On Thursday there was a sense of hope, anticipation and expectation of a genuinely competitive season this year. As Valtteri Bottas crossed the line on Sunday, that had been replaced with a sinking feeling that it had all been bluster and a false dawn.

It was heartening to see Bottas claim the chequered flag, especially as he did not win a single race last season. But seeing the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc so far behind does not bode well for the rest of the year. Fans will want to see a marked improvement from the Prancing Horse in the next half-dozen races, or we could be set for a mind-numbingly depressing repeat of seasons previous.

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Le Fondre pounces to earn Sydney vital point

Updated 37 min 21 sec ago
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Le Fondre pounces to earn Sydney vital point

  • The stalemate leaves all to play for in Group H

SHANGHAI: “Fantastic” journeyman forward Adam le Fondre pounced to earn Sydney FC a point in an entertaining 2-2 draw at Shanghai SIPG in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday.

The stalemate leaves all to play for in Group H with two rounds of matches to play after table-toppers Ulsan were held 2-2 at Kawasaki Frontale.

Chinese champions SIPG, for whom Brazilian forward Hulk was a constant menace, came back from a goal down to lead 2-1.

But the 32-year-old le Fondre displayed his enduring predatory instincts to grab a classy leveller on 62 minutes.

The striker, who is at his ninth club and has had spells at Cardiff City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, popped up with a bullet header on the six-yard box.

“He’s a fantastic person, first and foremost, and a fantastic player,” said Sydney coach Steve Corica, who knows his team will almost certainly need to win their last two matches to progress to the knock-out rounds.

Corica, formerly a player at Leicester City and Wolves, was full of praise for the evergreen le Fondre, who moved to Australia from Bolton in August 2018.

“He’s played in England, played in the Premier League, scored goals wherever he’s gone,” said Corica.

“He works extremely hard for our team and in the A-League has scored 16 goals (this season), and he’s scored in the Champions League.

“He’s been fantastic for our club and the way he’s played this year.”

Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale gave themselves a qualification lifeline as they fought back from a goal down at home with nine minutes remaining to draw 2-2 with South Korea’s Ulsan.

Leandro Damiao fired home an 81st-minute equalizer to revive Frontale’s fading hopes of progress to the last 16.

Star striker Yu Kobayashi opened the scoring for the home side, but the Koreans struck back twice before half-time through Park Yang-woo and Junior Negrao.

Kawasaki piled on the pressure toward the end with Kobayashi guilty of the miss of the match in the second minute of stoppage time when he found himself unmarked with the goal gaping, but somehow hit the post.

Ulsan top a tight Group H on eight points, with SIPG on five, Kawasaki on four and Sydney still just about alive on three points.

Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou Evergrande were held to a surprise 1-1 draw by an under-strength Melbourne Victory.

The former two-time Asian champions dropped to second in Group F after Huang Bowen’s 24th-minute strike was canceled out by Jai Ingham’s goal two minutes later. Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima took advantage of the Chinese giants’ slip-up to go top on nine points with a 1-0 win at Daegu FC in South Korea, courtesy of Hayato Araki’s 34th-minute winner. With Daegu just a point behind Guangzhou, Cannavaro’s men now face a pivotal clash in Hiroshima in two weeks before the group finale against the Koreans on May 22.