LONDON (Reuters) – Valtteri Bottas won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix for Mercedes with the fastest lap on Sunday and in the process achieved a Formula One first, while also ignoring team instructions to play safe.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas leads Lewis Hamilton out of turn one on the second lap during the Formula One F1 Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit in Melbourne, Australia, March 17, 2019. AAP/Julian Smith/via REUTERS
The Finn was the first driver since the 1950s to win a point for the fastest lap, under a new rule introduced this year, and also the only one ever to score more than 25 points in a race on more than one occasion.
The only other race in which drivers have been able to score more than the maximum allocated for a victory was the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when double points were handed out for the first and only time.
Bottas finished third in that race at Yas Marina for Williams, behind winner Lewis Hamilton and now-retired Brazilian Felipe Massa, and banked 30 points. On Sunday he scored 26.
A point for fastest lap was awarded between 1950 and 1959 but in those days a win was worth only eight points.
The Finn said he had been determined to get the maximum score, despite the risk of trying to set a fastest lap on worn tires and being told before the race not to try and get it if in a podium position.
Bottas pulled it off on the penultimate lap of the race to deny Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
With 21 races, and therefore an extra 21 points available so long as the fastest lap is set by a driver finishing in the top 10, the tweak to the scoring system has become an important consideration.
Team bosses agreed it had added something to the show.
“It’s exciting,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. “We were even debating do we take it with Pierre (Gasly), because he’s not in the top 10, to try and take it off Mercedes. So you’ve got all kinds of dynamics.
“Max had a go at it, he had it in the bag for a couple of laps and then Valtteri does a 1.25 (1:25.580) or something and OK we can’t do that.
“I thought it added an extra strategic dynamic which was really quite interesting.”
Gasly finished 11th and out of the points. Had he been able to go fastest, he would have been credited with the best lap but the point — which is also valid for the constructors’ championship — would not have been awarded to anyone.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff agreed the novelty provided another element, even if he had some reservations.
“In the morning meeting when we talked about strategy, I forbade them to go for the fastest lap if we were running first, second or third,” he added.
“They ignored me. All of them.
“At the end I’m very happy. Collecting that extra point I think is good. It’s entertaining. It’s a great new part of the spectacle.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis