Verstappen starts Honda era with podium finish
Honda has secured its first podium finish since returning to Formula 1 in 2015 courtesy of a thrilling drive from Max Verstappen in the Australian Grand Prix.
Max started from fourth on the grid and was able to hold position at the start, staying in touch with the leading three of Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. With Hamilton and Vettel pitting early on laps 15 and 14 respectively, a good strategic call from Aston Martin Red Bull Racing saw Max able to switch to fresh medium tyres later than his rivals (lap 25) and he quickly reeled in the pair in front.
By getting Vettel out of position at Turn 1 on lap 30, Max managed to use DRS to breeze past on the run to Turn 3, completing the move before the braking zone and securing third place. It was nearly second as he set consistently quick lap times and put pressure on Hamilton, but in the end could not find a way past the Mercedes as he delivered the first Honda-powered podium result since the 2008 British Grand Prix.
There was also a point for Toro Rosso in the season-opening race, with Daniil Kvyat climbing through from 15th on the grid into the top ten. Similar to Max, it was a longer opening stint that allowed Daniil to leap a number of cars in front of him during the pit stops – the Russian changed tyres on lap 26 – and he went wheel-to-wheel with Pierre, who was the very last driver to change tyres on lap 37, when the other Red Bull exited the pits alongside him.
Daniil emerged ahead and held on for 10th place, with Pierre crossing the line just behind him after progressing from 17th to 11th as the pair fought at the back of a queue of cars up to seventh place. While three of the Honda drivers took advantage of long first stints, Alex pit on lap 14 having started on the soft compound tyre, and was one of those to be held up by a slow Antonio Giovinazzi as a result. That limited Alex to 14th place on his F1 debut, but he still gained valuable experience as all four cars ran reliably from lights to flag.
Toyoharu Tanabe (Technical Director, Honda F1):
“A good start! This was the first race of the season and our first with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, so it was encouraging to finish third. It is the first time Honda has been on the podium since 2008 and the first time in this hybrid power era. Our thanks go to Max for a fantastic drive and for the team that supported him with an excellent strategy. This is a good first step, but we must improve our PU performance if we want to beat our closest rivals. As for Scuderia Toro Rosso, they also did well, with Daniil getting the point for tenth place. It was a strong comeback from him after a year away from the sport. It seems that the car has good potential. Overall, it was a positive start, but it’s not where we want to be. I therefore thank all the staff who work on our F1 project in Japan and the UK, knowing they will be working hard to help us improve.”
Alex Albon (Scuderia Toro Rosso):
“Mixed feelings today! It was my first experience of a race weekend and I didn’t really know what to expect. The race started off very well, I dropped the clutch and thought ‘great, that was okay’! I made up two positions straight away and at that time we were in the mix, as I was already one position away from the points. That was pretty much as good as it got for me, though. We were in a battle with Giovinazzi, I think he was struggling with his tyres and everyone on that strategy lost out. All of the guys who stayed out on the harder compound behind overcut us. That compromised our race but I’m still happy with how my weekend went. I think we could have had points so that stings a little, but it was a good experience and I came away with a clean weekend, relatively speaking!”
Daniil Kvyat (Scuderia Toro Rosso):
“It was an excellent race today! I’m happy with the way I drove and it was really enjoyable. There was a lot of positives to come from the race – it’s just a shame about yesterday’s qualifying as we had the opportunity to start a bit further ahead! We had good tyre management throughout the race and we definitely had the pace to fight for higher positions but, as we know, it’s difficult to overtake around Albert Park. I tried to catch Stroll, but I was a bit on the edge and I couldn’t make it. I had a good battle with Pierre towards the end of the race, I felt like I could fight him well and at the end it was satisfying to keep a quicker car behind almost the whole race. I know we have a good package with the car and the engine, so we need to keep developing it. I’m very optimistic for the next few races and I think it’s possible to achieve good results.”
Franz Tost (Team Principal, Scuderia Toro Rosso):
“We’re always happy to come to Melbourne, not only because it’s the first race of the season, but it’s a special race with an extraordinary atmosphere and a lot of great fans! First of all, I would like to congratulate Honda for finishing on the podium with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, which is certainly a big success for them and they deserved such a result. As for our race, we started 13th and 15th and we decided to go for a different strategy for our drivers: Alex started on the option tyre, while Daniil started on the prime. This turned out to be the right decision, because it gave us the possibility to be flexible with our strategy. Daniil drove a fantastic race, bringing home a point – we must not forget he’s been out of the cockpit for a year and a half, so to come back and fight successfully into the top 10 is a good sign for the rest of the season. Alex did a great job too, because this was his first race in F1 and it’s not an easy circuit around here. Nevertheless, he didn’t make any mistake and learned a lot throughout the weekend. After the first race weekend, we feel we have a strong package, so I’m optimistic for the next races.”
Pierre Gasly (Aston Martin Red Bull Racing):
“It was a pretty difficult race. With the new bigger rear wings, I couldn’t see the lights on the grid so I had to react with the cars around me and I lost a couple of places. Then I got stuck in traffic and even with the DRS, it’s super difficult to overtake here plus I had some debris in my front wing which didn’t help. I spent the whole race five tenths from the car in front but my tyres were just sliding and I couldn’t get past. I pushed as much as I could and I tried everything but it wasn’t enough to make it into the points. In general, the pace over the weekend was really good. In qualifying, we got knocked out of Q1 but I was happy with my first lap and it was just unfortunate that we didn’t make it through. Bahrain is a race I really like and we’ve seen the car is competitive so we’ll keep our heads down, stay focused and give a big push in two weeks’ time.”
Max Verstappen (Aston Martin Red Bull Racing):
“I am very happy for the Team and also for Honda to finish on the podium today. Since we started working together it has been amazing and I am really enjoying the partnership, so this is a well-deserved third place for all of us. 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. We had a little advantage with the tyres but it was satisfying to pressure Lewis even though I couldn’t get quite close enough to overtake him. The car was working really well and we also look strong on the straights which is hopefully a good sign for the rest of the season. I heard this is the first podium for Honda since 2008 so I am very happy that I managed to achieve this for them today.”
Christian Horner (Team Principal, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing):
“A fantastic start to the season with a podium finish at our first Grand Prix with our new power unit partner Honda, who haven’t finished in the top three since 2008. Max put in a remarkable performance today, and after a decent start and one of the day’s fastest pit stops, he was able to take advantage of the C3 tyre and make a great pass on Sebastian. He went on to put Lewis under pressure for the rest of the race, but didn’t get quite close enough. Pierre battled his way from P17 to finish just outside of the points, but at this track it’s notoriously hard to overtake. He drove the wheels off the car and it’s a shame that it wasn’t rewarded with a point. He raced hard and I’m sure his time will come. After a promising season opener, we now look ahead to Bahrain.”
2019 Australian Grand Prix – race results
1. Valtteri Bottas
2. Lewis Hamilton
3. Max Verstappen – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
4. Sebastian Vettel
5. Charles Leclerc
6. Kevin Magnussen
7. Nico Hulkenberg
8. Kimi Raikkonen
9. Lance Stroll
10. Daniil Kvyat – Scuderia Toro Rosso
11. Pierre Gasly – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
14. Alex Albon – Scuderia Toro Rosso