The Formula One season opening in Melbourne, Australia is kicking off with a bang this weekend for the Mercedes AMG Petronas team—quite literally, and way before the race.
As the driver and constructor champions of the past four years and showing no decrease in form over the winter, Mercedes seems to be the logical team to place your bets on this weekend. You probably wouldn’t be wrong to assume they’d be pretty confident sending both of their drivers out into Saturday’s Q3 to secure their top-10 position. At least, until Valtteri Bottas wiped out pretty spectacularly less than three minutes in:
Setting up for a hot lap, the Finn ran into the grass in Turn 1 and just couldn’t get control of the car as he rejoined the track. He went flying at high-speed into the tire barrier at Turn 2. And, naturally, the session was red-flagged while marshalls cleared the bits of car off the track. Bottas, after clearing his medical checks, will be starting on the fifth row of the grid at best.
But before Toto Wolff could hang his head in shame, defending World Champion Lewis Hamilton got back on track and ran a blisteringly fast lap that launched him into provisional pole. And, yeah, he crushed the all-time lap record when he crossed the line at 1 m 21.164 s—more than a full second faster than the previous record. No sweat.
There looked to be the faintest light of hope for the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers, who all seemed in contention for a potential pole as the swapped fastest times with Hamilton after the green flag. Now, however, Kimi Raikkonen will be starting in second, a whopping six tenths of a second behind the Mercedes driver.
In the midst of talk about already finalizing Hamilton’s contract for the coming years, it’s kind of hard to ignore that Bottas is still clinging to a contract that expires at the end of the season, and after a year to work through rookie error, it seems like a pretty bad time to keep the team up all night making repairs.
Who’s your money on this weekend?