Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix this morning, claiming his first victory since Singapore 2015.
The Ferrari man headed a Mercedes 2-3, with poleman Lewis Hamilton securing the runner-up spot ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
Following a slightly sluggish start, Vettel ran 2nd in the first stint to early leader Hamilton, only to take the lead during the pit cycle. Thereafter the Ferrari man managed the gap to Hamilton to between eight-to-ten seconds, eventually taking the victory by 9.975s from the Mercedes.
Although his initial getaway was quite good, Vettel appeared to bog down slightly in the second phase of his start, allowing Hamilton an easy lead and almost gifting Bottas a shot at 2nd.
Vettel recovered to maintain 2nd into turn one and began to shadow Hamilton until the Briton stopped on lap 19, as they caught the first round of backmarkers. However Hamilton emerged behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, costing the Mercedes racer several seconds as Verstappen began to struggle on aging ultrasoft tyres.
Out front, Vettel cleared the backmarkers and set several quick laps in clear air and building a significant enough gap over the Verstappen/Hamilton pairing to pit safety on lap 24. It was another two laps before Verstappen pitted, in which time Vettel build a six second gap over Hamilton, effectively securing the win before halfway.
Such was the loss of time, Bottas had claimed four seconds on his teammate when he finally pitted on lap 26, bring the Finn to the rear of Hamilton. For a time Bottas fell away, before catching Hamilton again as the Briton’s tyres aged; however Hamilton managed the gap to keep Bottas behind.
Through this, Vettel drove undisturbed to victory, taking his and Ferrari’s first win since the final third of 2015. Bottas crossed the line 3rd, just 1.3s shy of Hamilton.
Kimi Raikkonen drove an anonymous race to 4th, only waking up when he needed to fend off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the final stages of the race. The Finn even set the fastest lap of the race in the closing laps, raising questions as to his motivation and competitive level to Vettel. Felipe Massa secured 6th for Williams, albeit almost a lap behind the eventual winner.
Sergio Perez secured 7th spot as the first lapped car, despite a section of his engine cover coming loose late on. The Mexican held off challenges from both Toro Rosso’s of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat in the final third of the race.
Sainz took 8th with a late stop dropping Kvyat to 9th; however Sainz and Kvyat had swapped places earlier in the event, pointing to a return strategy at Toro Rosso at the chequered flag approached.
Esteban Ocon took the final points place, with a daring late move on Fernando Alonso (McLaren), while Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg made it three-wide into the first corner. Having run in the points for quite a time, Alonso would soon retire with suspension issues.
Antonio Giovinazzi finished his Grand Prix debut in 12th place, a wonderful effort for the young Italian who was only called up on Friday evening when Pascal Wehrlein declared his lack of fitness. Stoffel Vandoorne came home 13th and last in his McLaren, after what was tricky race in an ill-handling MCL32.
Neither Haas driver finished with Kevin Magnussen retiring late on and Romain Grosjean parking his Ferrari-powered machine first. It could have ended much earlier for Magnussen, who clattered Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson on the first lap, the latter of whom would almost retire with a mechanical issue a short distance into the race.
Williams’ debutante Lance Stroll retired in the pits with a brake issue, although he needed finished much earlier when he outbroke himself to a large degree in turn one on the opening lap, very nearly careering into the pack. Finishing what had been an awful weekend, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer also pulled out with mechanical frailties.
It was a hard day for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who initially suffered a gearbox issue on the lap to the grid and then retired with engine-related failure mid-way through the race, while already two laps down.
The field moves to China for the second Grand Prix of the year in two weeks time and while Mercedes may turn up the wick when the race at the first “proper” circuit of the year, for now the champagne will be flowing at Maranello.