Sebastian Vettel won the opening race of the 2018 season, the Australian Grand Prix in Albert Park, Melbourne.
The Ferrari driver had bided his time before taking the opportunity of a safety car period to get a jump on longtime race leader Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium line-up with third place ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
It had looked set to be a dream day for Haas, with both cars running in the top six in the early laps. However issues with the team’s air guns meant both cars were forced to retire with improperly attached tyres. Romain Grosjean’s exit triggered the critical safety car that elevated Vettel to the front.
Australian Grand Prix – Race results
58 laps – 1:29:33.283s
+ 1 lap
The top three cars all got good launches off the grid. Hamilton was able to thwart any ideas from the two Ferrari drivers, although he certainly had his hands full repelling Raikkonen into turn 3.
Max Verstappen attempted to jump the Ferraris into the first corner, only to get chopped by Vettel. That allowed Kevin Magnussen to pass him for third place, leaving the Dutchman fuming. He set about harrying the Haas to little effect, and the frustration boiled over on lap 10 when the Red Bull caught the kerb at turn 1 and went for a tidy spin dropping him to eighth place.
His team mate Daniel Ricciardo was having a better afternoon, pulling off a daring late-breaking move on Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg into turn 13 for seventh place on lap 5. Valtteri Bottas, also out of place on the staring grid, made a modest gain of his own when the Mercedes successfully overtook Force India’s Esteban Ocon through turn 3 on lap 9.
The first retirement of the season came on lap 6 when Sergey Sirotkin pulled the Williams over with brake failure. A lap later and Marcus Ericsson’s day was also done, retiring in the pits after the Sauber lost power steering. Pierre Gasly was the next to drop out when he suffered a power unit related issue with the Toro Rosso’s Honda engine on lap 15.
By this point, Hamilton had a 2.5s lead over Raikkonen who had a similar advantage over Vettel. The three had pulled out a big margin over Magnussen who was running in fourth – big enough for Raikkonen to pit on lap 19 for a set of soft compound tyres and still come back out in third place. Hamilton responded and followed suit the next time around – but crucially, Vettel stayed out and took the lead.
Vettel seizes the opportunity to claim the lead
Verstappen had just pitted on lap 22 – the supersoft gambit having failed to yield much of an advantage – when the complexion of the race abruptly changed. Magnussen’s dream day ended in despair when he was forced to pull off after a problem during his own pit stop resulted in the left rear tyre being improperly attached. Moments later and the nightmare got worse for Haas when Romain Grosjean also stopped, this time with an issue on his left front tyre.
Grosjean was unable to get the car into a safe position, forcing race control to declare a Virtual Safety Car on lap 25. Vettel saw his opportunity: while the rest of the field was observing strictly mandated speed deltas on the track, he was able to dive into pit lane for his deferred pit stop. When he emerged, he was ahead of a stunned and dismayed Hamilton.
The VSC was converted to a full safety car before the race finally resumed on lap 31. Vettel was able to control the restart with Hamilton and Raikkonen pressing hard. Ricciardo had also benefited from a pit stop under the VSC and was up to fourth place followed by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Hulkenberg took the restart in sixth but quickly succumbed to Verstappen, despite the RB14 carrying damage from his earlier pirouette. Rounding out the top ten were Stoffel Vandoorne in the second McLaren, who was followed by Bottas and Sainz.
Hamilton’s efforts to take the fight to Vettel were thwarted by orders from the Mercedes pit wall to lift and coast because of temperature issues. He remained clamped to the back of the Ferrari but could find no way past. It was small consolation for Hamilton that he was gradually pulling clear of Raikkonen, who was busy in turn protecting his podium finish from Ricciardo.
It was a big gap after that to Alonso, who was determined to hold off Verstappen for fifth place. Behind Hulkenberg, Bottas’ forward progress had stalled in eighth place. Vandoorne followed in ninth, while Sainz was grimly holding on to tenth place despite complaining of nausea from the on-board hydrating fluid.
The Force India cars of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were continually nipping at the Spaniard’s heels, but were unable to break into the points. Behind them, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc was having a quietly impressive and drama-free Grand Prix début running ahead of Williams’ Lance Stroll.
Last place went to Brendon Hartley. Toro Rosso’s odd gambit of a first lap switch to soft tyres had failed to yield results, and he was left him a lap down by the finish.
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