DANIEL Ricciardo’s first race for his new team was virtually over in the first 50 metres.

At lights-out in the 2019 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, he made a great start, edged his yellow Renault onto the grass verge to pass Sergio Perez’s Racing Point – and struck a hole hidden in the grass which ripped the front spoiler off his car.

The spoiler landed under the Renault, momentarily sending it airborne, and causing other damage.

Ricciardo slowly drove around the 5.3km Albert Park circuit, pitted for a new front wing and rejoined the race. His pit advised him to expect handling problems because the wing also hit the barge boards, and the Perth driver radioed that he had already felt the loss. He made up a few places, but retired on lap 30 of the 58 lap race.

More dramatic was the fiery exit, on lap 11, of Carlos Sainz Jr when his McLaren suddenly erupted in flames.

The first Grand Prix of 2019 was a spectacular success, attended by 320,000 fans and sensationally won by Finnish ace Valtteri Bottas, who grabbed the lead from the start and also set the fastest lap in his Mercedes. 

He finished nearly 21 seconds ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen a solid third.

Ferrari’s Sebastien Vettel and Charles Leclerc were 4th and 5th, well astern of the leaders while Kevin Magnussen headed the ‘best of the rest’ category in his Haas.

Nico Hulkenberg saved face for Renault with an excellent 7th spot after starting from 11th, then, close behind, came Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo and Lance Stroll (Racing Point), with Daniil Kvyat taking 10th place and the final championship point, for Toro Rosso.

Pierre Gasly, recruited by Red Bull to take the seat vacated by Daniel Ricciardo, had a miserable qualifying session and started 18th on the grid.

However, he gradually made up places and was poised to take on Kvyat but got an odd pit instruction to stay where he was.

Red Bull’s change from Renault to Honda engines seemed a positive move and though not quite in the same league as Mercedes, had the legs of the Ferraris.

It was a day of mixed fortunes for Haas.

While Magnussen had a great run to 6th place, teammate Romain Grosjean had another disappointment.

He was doing well until he made a stop for fresh tyres which took so long he lost three places as mechanics battled with the left front wheel.

He emerged to get into a great dogfight with Alexander Albon’s Toro Rosso, which came to an end when Grosjean pulled off to the side of the track.

Why? The front-left tyre had been fitted incorrectly in his pit stop – and not for the first time. The same issue stopped his strong charge in the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. Sacre bleu!

It was a happier time on the podium, where the quiet Bottas did not know what to say, other than  “I don’t know what just happened. It was definitely my best race ever.”

The next one is in Bahrain in a fortnight.

Full results:

1     77     Valtteri Bottas  MERCEDES       58     1:25:27.325     0
2     44     Lewis Hamilton         MERCEDES       58     +20.886s           0
3     33     Max Verstappen         RED BULL RACING HONDA 58        +22.520s        0
4     5       Sebastian Vettel         FERRARI 58     +57.109s   0
5     16     Charles Leclerc FERRARI 58     +58.230s  0
6     20     Kevin Magnussen      HAAS FERRARI        58     +87.156s   0
7     27     Nico Hulkenberg       RENAULT         57      +1 lap      0
8     7       Kimi Räikkönen        ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI    57        +1 lap  0
9     18     Lance Stroll       RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 57        +1 lap  0
10   26     Daniil Kvyat      SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 57        +1 lap  0
11   10     Pierre Gasly      RED BULL RACING HONDA    57   +1 lap  0
12   4       Lando Norris    MCLAREN RENAULT        57      +1 lap        0
13   11     Sergio Perez      RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 57        +1 lap  0
14   23     Alexander Albon        SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA   57        +1 lap  0
15   99     Antonio Giovinazzi   ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI    57        +1 lap  0
16   63     George Russell WILLIAMS MERCEDES    56     +2 laps      0
17   88     Robert Kubica   WILLIAMS MERCEDES    55      +3 laps      0
NC  8       Romain Grosjean      HAAS FERRARI        29     DNF          0
NC  3       Daniel Ricciardo        RENAULT         28     DNF 0
NC  55     Carlos Sainz      MCLAREN RENAULT        9       DNF          0