Sebastian Vettel stole an early advantage in this year’s Formula One title race following his surprise victory in Melbourne on Sunday.
The Ferrari driver profited from a tactical miscalculation by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team to take the spoils.
Here, Press Association Sport looks back at five things we learned from Sunday’s race at Albert Park.
1. It’s not all doom and gloom for Mercedes
Hamilton should have been celebrating from the top step on the podium after he followed up his qualifying masterclass with a dominant opening half of Sunday’s race. The error by his Mercedes team was a bad one, and provides Vettel with an early momentum in their historic shoot-out for a fifth world crown, but Hamilton must not be too despondent. We should not forget that Hamilton was the class of the field on Saturday, finishing more than an eye-watering six tenths of a second clear of the rest, and, unlike in Melbourne last year, he had the race pace to boot, too. It will be a tough defeat for Hamilton and Mercedes to take, but they delivered enough positives over the course of the weekend to retain their status as championship favourites.
2. Vettel response is telling
Vettel’s reaction to landing the opening spoils of the year told its own story. Happy? Yes. Ecstatic? No. The four-time champion was a deserved winner last year, but on Sunday he lucked-in to this victory, and admitted as much. It is also worth noting that Vettel was behind Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen for much of the weekend. Slower in practice, and out-qualified by the Finn, too, and without the virtual safety car, he would have finished behind his team-mate in third. “At the moment we’re a bit worse off than last year,” Vettel said. “If you are fair, then Lewis was fastest here, whereas last year, we were the fastest. Last year we had more pace at this point.”
3. Heartbreak for Haas
The American Haas team have emerged from the winter as the grid’s greatest improvers, but that will count for little on Monday following their bizarre double retirement inside the space of a few laps. The team were on course for a personal-best finish of fourth and fifth before a dodgy wheel gun cost Kevin Magnussen and then Romain Grosjean, with the latter’s stoppage at the side of track resulting in a virtual safety car and paving the way for Vettel’s win. Haas’ progress, however, is a sore topic for the teams outside the so-called ‘big three’, with their car this year effectively a ‘Ferrari B’ package given their close technical links with the Italian team.
4. Finally some good news for McLaren
McLaren arrived in Melbourne following a troubled winter, and it looked as though they would be in for a long weekend after they ran into further reliability woes during opening practice. Qualifying was hardly stellar, with both cars failing to progress to the top-10 shoot-out, but Fernando Alonso provided great encouragement for Britain’s most successful team when he crossed the line in fifth, holding off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the process. It marked Alonso’s joint best finish since re-joining McLaren in 2015.
5. Liberty slowly making their mark
The new campaign kicked off with a number of noticeable changes as Liberty Media, F1’s American owners, embark on their second season in charge. There were no grid girls, with electric boards instead indicating where drivers should line up ahead of the race. Twenty ‘grid kids’, made up of Australian boys and girls already competing in motor racing, stood at the front, while the TV coverage was jazzed up by a host of new graphics. Work remains on the actual on-track entertainment, however, with the Albert Park venue – although a top pick for fans – almost impossible to overtake on.