Victory and the fastest lap in the Australian Grand Prix was the best race of Valtteri Bottas’ life, according to the early Formula 1 championship leader.

Bottas started from second on the grid after being pipped to pole position by teammate Lewis Hamilton on Saturday, but led into Turn 1 after getting the better start. From there on, Bottas never looked troubled as he pulled a comfortable gap from Hamilton, and added the fastest lap late in the race to secure the maximum haul of 26 points from the opening round of the season.

“As a team, in practice we saw that we were strong, both in short runs and long runs, but obviously it’s impossible to draw a proper conclusion,” Bottas said. “But we saw the raw pace yesterday in qualifying, as a team, with a good margin to Ferrari, and today race pace was strong — much stronger than we expected coming into this weekend.

“That’s obviously good news. It shows that we have definitely done all the right things between the testing in terms of direction with the car. Also, for myself, it was definitely the best race I’ve had in my life.

“Obviously, the key thing for me was the race start, to get to the lead and then being at the front I could show strong pace and I could pull a gap. I think in the first stop I could also…. I stopped a bit later so I had a good tire in the end. Just the car was feeling so good today, it was truly enjoyable.”

Bottas takes the lead from Hamilton at the start. Image by Sam Bloxham/LAT.

In securing a point for fastest lap, Bottas is the first driver to receive such a reward since 1959. Max Verstappen had gone quicker with four laps remaining but Bottas improved on the penultimate lap and admits he was keen to take the risk given the performance he had.

“Obviously it’s a point and if you get three of those or more it’s going to make a big difference at the end of the year. You never know. One point can make a difference in the end.

“For sure we’re willing to risk it but still, knowing that if you’re about to get 20 or 18 points or 15, they are still more important than getting one extra so you need to calculate the risk. But today was worth it, within a stop for an extra set of tires for it, but with the worn tires I went for a quick lap and it was worth it.”

Bottas also dedicated his victory to Charlie Whiting, after the FIA race director suddenly passed away in Melbourne on Thursday morning.

“I just want to say, again, thank you Charlie… this win is for Charlie and all his work for Formula 1. He’s done a massive amount and it means a lot to all of us drivers.”