MELBOURNE, Australia — Ending a year-long drought and taking the early fight to Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel won Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix and proved that Ferrari’s winter testing pace was no fluke.
The Ferrari driver inherited the race lead through strategy and slick pit work from the Ferrari crew, leaving three-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton unable to keep pace after their respective stops.
“It’s been a great day for us,” said Vettel, who scored his 43rd career F1 win and first since 2015 in Singapore. “The team has been working so hard at the track as much as back at the factory. It’s a great feeling; you can’t say much more.”
“The last few months have been really intense, it’s been tough to get into the rhythm. It’s just the beginning (of the season) and there’s still a lot of work going on. This is one of many steps and we have to enjoy what we do. It’s great to see people smiling. Now we have to reset to go to China and try to do a good job.”
Vettel led the final 32 laps following pit stops, in a caution-free affair that saw Ferrari’s strategy to keep Vettel out longer than Hamilton pay off in the end.
“I was really trying to keep the pressure on all day, to make sure that they get the message that we are here and we’re here to fight. Obviously, I got a bit lucky when Lewis came out in traffic … but we were still hanging in there, the tires were still good and the car was working. Just an excellent job by everyone involved.”
The win was Ferrari’s first time atop the podium in Australia since Kimi Raikkonen’s win at Albert Park in 2007.
An aborted start, due to Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez taking the wrong spots on the grid, led to the race being shortened by a lap before Hamilton took off from the pole. The Briton led the first 16 laps as Vettel valiantly kept the Mercedes honest, but when Hamilton pitted to swap from super-soft to soft tires, the race fell into Vettel’s hands.
As Hamilton tried to make pace from fifth, his progress was impeded by young Max Verstappen, who held up Hamilton’s charge just enough for Vettel to escape ahead of the duo after his pit stop on lap 22.
By the time the field cycled through at halfway, Vettel’s lead was more than six seconds, and he would go unchallenged the remainder of the distance.
Hamilton ultimately came home as the runner-up, a full 9.975 seconds adrift of the Prancing Horse, with Valtteri Bottas completing the podium in his first-ever drive for the Silver Arrows.
Raikkonen and Verstappen completed the top five.
The remainder of the points scoring drivers were Williams’ Felipe Massa, Force India’s Sergio Perez, the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat and rookie Esteban Ocon, who charged past Fernando Alonso entering turn one with five laps left to claim 10th and score the first-ever point of his F1 career.
Australian national Daniel Ricciardo had to start from pit lane after a gearbox issue prior to the start, losing three laps and ultimately retiring after a mechanical failure on lap 28.
Alonso was another of the race’s retirees, with the motor on his McLaren-Honda expiring just after Ocon’s pass with five to go.
Haas F1’s start to the season was far from the points-scoring performance they had a year ago in Melbourne, with both Kevin Magnussen (suspension) and Romain Grosjean (engine) retiring over the course of the event.
The Formula One season resumes on April 9 with the running of the Chinese Grand Prix.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…