Australian GP Report: Vettel victorious but Hamilton imperious

Sebastian Vettel’s opportunistic side was on show for all to see as he snuck ahead of Lewis Hamilton to win the Australian GP at the weekend. Luke Barry looks into the win, as well as the other competitors in the race.

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One photo can say a lot. Relief for Vettel, frustration for Hamilton.

How much can you read into testing? Not much when it comes to ultimate pace as we discussed on our pre-season podcast, but the suspected fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel is already looking to be the narrative of the 2018 Formula 1 season.

This year is the first season in Formula 1’s long history that we have had two four-time World Champions on the same starting grid, but they wouldn’t be sharing the front row for the Australian Grand Prix.

Kimi Raikkonen got the better of Ferrari team-mate Vettel but was blitzed by Hamilton’s Mercedes who put in an almighty lap to set a new lap record around Albert Park and see off his opposition by over half a second.

“They must be running some kind of party mode,” cried Vettel, claiming Hamilton’s W09 had been turned down right until the last minute of qualifying.

“Any driver could claim pole in that car,” suggested Daniel Ricciardo, who would start eighth with a three-place grid penalty.

But come race day it was the boys in red that had the biggest smiles on their faces.

Hamilton got the best start and began to pull away from the Ferrari’s, until Romain Grosjean stopped on track, triggering a virtual safety car. Having already pitted, the defending champion was forced to adhere to a designated split time as he cruised round the track at limited speed.

Vettel meanwhile was yet to pit and took advantage of the situation by coming in for a tyre change. With his rivals going slower around the track than normal, the time loss during a pit stop was minimised, allowing Vettel to jump up from third to first as he emerged back onto the track.

Hamilton was livid with his team and became increasingly frustrated with the race victory slipping through his fingers through no fault of his own. He began to push and push but over-cooked it into Turn 9 with just a few laps left to complete, eventually coming home a shade over five seconds behind Vettel.

Vettel was obviously jubilant with his race win, but wary of the Mercedes challenge and the role fortune played in his race. Hamilton was rattled but not down-beat, confident in the knowledge he and Vettel both knew he and his Mercedes was the quickest package.

Long may this scrap continue.

 

McLaren make a step forward

McLaren have scored just one podium in Formula 1 in the last four years, which for a team that used to have a win percentage of 25%, is truly woeful.

A switch from Honda power units to Renault was hoped to bring the British team more success, and on the evidence of their Australian performance, it’s clear that they have moved up the grid.

Fernando Alonso finished fifth with team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne in ninth, leaving the team fourth in the constructors’ championship with a good points haul.

There was fortune to Alonso’s race, with the two Haas cars retiring and Carlos Sainz Jr. running wide when the two Spaniards were battling, but in typical Alonso fashion he maximised the virtual safety car opportunity to split the two Red Bulls, coming home ahead of Max Verstappen who was sixth.

 

Vettel

Vettel celebrates with his fans following the win (Reuters)

Haas throw it away

Haas were one of the teams to impress during the two weeks of pre-season testing in Barcelona. That promise translated into genuine pace come the opening Grand Prix, with Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen locking out the third row of the grid.

Both the Frenchman and the Dane made good starts, with Magnussen sweeping around the outside of Formula 1’s toughest racer Vertsappen on the opening corner.

However, it would all unravel with the first round of pit stops. Magnussen was first in but would retire on his out-lap with a wheel coming loose having not been fastened properly.

A couple of laps later, and Grosjean would be faced with the same problem. With the team looking to take a big chunk of points away from the opening round, they leave empty handed at the foot of the championship. The pace will give them solace however, but such simple mistakes need to be eradicated.

 

Honda still has issues

All the signs pointed to a resurgence from Honda after pre-season testing. The Toro-Rosso’s engine, which, is bolted onto the back of it, didn’t look too sluggish and appeared reliable; two things the McLaren-Honda wasn’t last year.

However, Brendon Hartley’s car was the only one to finish a lap down while team-mate Pierre Gasly’s ground to a halt with a power-unit issue.

Taking on Honda was effectively a win-win for Toro Rosso who have a lot more to potentially gain than lose, so tempers will be calm but work still needs to be done if Honda is serious about progressing.

Elsewhere, Force India have slipped back in the order as suspected, with neither Sergio Perez nor Esteban Ocon making the points in Australia.

Renault are looking consistent with Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. coming home seventh and tenth respectively, while there were positive signs for Sauber with Marcus Ericsson feeling he had the pace to actually race in a while.

Williams had a nightmare though, with Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin both off the pace and struggling to evade trouble.

Such concerns will swiftly be forgotten in a fortnight as the Formula 1 circus heads to the floodlights of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Hamilton and Vettel are emerging as pre-season favourties, but we have yet to see the best from Red Bull or Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas whose qualifying crash restricted him to eighth down under.

Sit tight, because the battle has only just begun.

 

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