Ferrari drew first blood in the 2017 Formula One season as Sebastian Vettel got the better of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to win the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Following a raft of regulation changes, Ferrari had been tipped to offer a stiff challenge to the team that had dominated the previous three campaigns.
And Vettel lived up to expectations at Albert Park on Sunday, keeping pace with pole-sitter Hamilton in the early laps before overhauling his rival when the Briton got stuck behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen after pitting first.
After coming out of the pits just ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton, four-time world champion Vettel was barely troubled thereafter as he won in Australia for the second time.
Wow crazy Sebastian got Lewis! Didn’t see that coming! #ferrariisfast!
— Nico Rosberg (@nico_rosberg) March 26, 2017
Hamilton, who bemoaned the performance of his car throughout the race, ultimately came under threat from new team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the closing stages, but the Finn had to settle for third on his Mercedes debut.
Vettel’s team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, claimed fourth ahead of the fast-finishing Verstappen, but home favourite Daniel Ricciardo endured a miserable day.
After receiving a grid penalty for a gearbox change, the Australian then broke down on the way to the grid and eventually started from the pits two laps down before later retiring with apparent engine failure.
NOT A HAPPY HAMILTON
Hamilton complained to his team about a lack of grip almost immediately and continued to highlight problems as the race continued.
Predictably, the Briton was most frustrated when he found himself stuck behind Verstappen after his pit stop – in a section of the race that proved decisive.
Having been told it was “race-critical” for him to pass the young Dutchman, Hamilton replied, “I don’t know how you expect me to do that right now,” before later adding: “There’s no way of getting past this guy.”
MIXED START FOR BOTTAS
As the replacement for retired world champion Nico Rosberg, Bottas has big boots to fill at Mercedes.
For the first half of Sunday’s season-opener, his performance was somewhat underwhelming as Hamilton and Vettel streaked clear at the front.
However, a second set of tyres seemingly proved to Bottas’ liking and he displayed impressive pace to close in on his team-mate as the race drew to a close.
MASSA SHOWS CLASS ON RETURN
Felipe Massa retired at the end of 2016, only to be tempted back to Williams when Mercedes made their move for Bottas.
The veteran Brazilian showed he is still more than capable of performing strongly, guiding his car to sixth.
Team-mate Lance Stroll, who started from the back of the grid following a gearbox change, was forced to retire from his debut race.
LUCKLESS ALONSO ALMOST MAKES A POINT
Poor old Fernando Alonso.
The two-time world champion appeared set to claim a welcome point in his under-performing McLaren, only to be denied in cruel fashion late on.
Alonso was dramatically passed by Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg with only a handful of laps remaining and was forced to retire soon after.
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +9.975secs
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +11.250s
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +22.393s
5. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +28.827s
6. Felipe Massa (Williams) +1.23.386s
7. Sergio Perez (Force India) +1 lap
8. Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) +1 lap
9. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) +1 lap
10. Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1 lap
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – 25 points
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 18 points
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 15 points
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 12 points
5. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 10 points
1. Ferrari – 37 points
2. Mercedes – 33 points
3. Red Bull – 10 points
4. Williams – 8 points
5. Force India – 7 points
China will host the second race of the season in a fortnight’s time. Can Mercedes hit back?