Sebastian Vettel has taken victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, after leapfrogging the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver looked to have the race under control until the Haas of Romain Grosjean stopped on the track, bringing out the virtual safety car.
Hamilton looked on course for the win in the first half of the race, until Vettel closed up under the Virtual Safety Car giving the German a free stop bringing him out ahead of the Mercedes. The team admitted a glitch in their computer software had failed to warn their pit wall that Hamilton was vulnerable.
Explaining what went wrong, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told BBC News “We don’t know yet. We thought we had enough margin. It must have been a software bug in the system that caused us to get it wrong. We are digging deep now to understand where we had a problem.”
Ferrari had forced Hamilton into that stop, after bringing Raikkonen in a lap earlier before Grosjean stopped on track. The following Virtual Safety car then allowed Vettel to stay out longer going on to keep almost a six-second lead over Hamilton, while Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen was third.
Hamilton won the start, before pulling away to build more than a three second lead at the front, before the midpoint of the race he had control. That was helped by Raikkonen’s pit stop on lap nineteen, while Haas was in the mix running well until they brought their cars in for their stops.
Vettel told Channel 4’s Mark Webber on the podium, “We got a bit lucky with the safety car but I really enjoyed it. My start I was hoping to be better so I had to settle for third. I lost a bit of the connection to Lewis and Kimi at the start, I was struggling with my tyres and was praying for a safety car.”
“We got a bit lucky but we’ll take it. We’re not yet where we want to be but it gives us a good start and fresh motivation for the coming weeks.”
Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were running fourth and fifth as they made their stops. However, the American team did not secure the tyres properly forcing them both to stop on track and bring out the VSC, losing the teams best result in their history.
The Dane had made a good start getting past the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who then drove erratically in frustration leading him to overheat the rear tyres. The overheating tyres then caused him to spin at the first corner and drop to eighth. But Verstappen managed to recover later to finish sixth behind Fernando Alonso.
Magnussen told Sky Sports “It’s a very tough one to swallow for the whole team, with both cars not finishing in such good positions and such anticipation coming up to this race. It’s just so heartbreaking to finish like that. But we’ll get on top again, fight back and do it all again.”
After receiving a three place grid penalty, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo recovered from eighth to finish fourth. The Australian pulled out an impressive pass on Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg after going deep on the breaks into thirteen making the move stick.
Ricciardo told Sky Sports “I was always going to leave here happy today just to race, just to get that first one over. It is a tight track, it is tricky to overtake. We are very close to Ferraris’ pace. We were one of if not the quickest car on the track today.”
“The race pace is good. It was close today, I could even see Lewis at the end. I could touch it, I did everything I could but in the end it would have been nice to start further up the front.”
Alonso was a benefactor from the drama at Haas, gaining from the mistakes to gain places and equal McLaren’s best finish from the past three years.
Earlier in the race, the Spaniard had complained of a lack of energy, but as he secured fifth place he told McLaren he was “proud” of their work winter as his fifth place provided a vindication for switching to Renault power for the new season.
His teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finished ninth, three places behind his teammate. Hulkenberg finished seventh ahead of Valtteri Bottas. The Mercedes driver had crashed out in qualifying and started tenth, before recovering to eighth thanks to the safety car, which allowed him to pass Vandoorne on the restart.
Despite struggling with nausea, Renaults Carlos Sainz took the final point for the team. While both Force India’s Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finished just outside the points in eleventh and twelfth.
Charles Leclerc was thirteenth for Sauber, on his debut ahead of Lance Stroll and Brendon Hartley the final finisher abite a lap down
As always the first race of the season threw up a number of retirements, joining both Haas’s were the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly who retired with an engine problem and a loss of power steering saw Marcus Ericson retire in the first five laps. Sergey Sirotkin retired four laps into the race.
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