Australian GP | Vettel wins the Mercedes-Ferrari fight

The season kicks off with Vettel winning in Australia.

Gladiators. That’s what the new regulations wanted to make the drivers look like. And when you look at the speed they carry through the corners you can probably agree with that. But in the Australian Grand Prix, the gladiators were the tyres as pit strategy helped decide the winner – as Vettel came out on top against Hamilton. 

Ferrari came into Australia after a strong pre-season test programme left many questioning if 2017 could actually be their year.

Mercedes had other ideas, though. Dominantly setting the opening practice pace with Hamilton, before clinching pole. The margin, however, was the closest Ferrari have come to pole at Albert Park since 2010.

Then when Hamilton reported “grip feels poor on the grid” as he carried out a practice start, things were no longer looking so dominant for Mercedes.

Even when Hamilton pulled away beautifully, Vettel remained right behind him. Following in the dirty air without complaining his tyres were fading or overtaking was impossible, Vettel appeared to be the more comfortable driver.

Lewis, meanwhile, was complaining. Reporting a lack of grip and overheating tyres. Never seeming to be that settled or comfortable, even when he edged away from the German behind.

A new fastest lap of the race for Vettel then teed Lewis’ up for one of his own. But with Hamilton still not at ease with his tyres, the overcut was becoming a real possibility – rather than the usual undercut to gain track position.

Added to Hamilton’s issues was the ever growing presence of lapped traffic. With Lewis catching Ericsson,

With Lewis catching Ericsson, the Brit dipped into the pit lane. Taking on a set of soft tyres and emerging behind the other Sauber of Giovinazzi. Although Wehrlein’s substitute was an easy overtake for Lewis like Ericsson was for Vettel.

Clear track for Vettel now also allowed the German to push on. Instantly posting the new fastest final sector time of the race thus far, as his pit wall informed him his tyres were still looking very healthy.

Healthy tyres after his race-rival had already pitted meant Vettel could keep pushing on the ultrasoft tyres. Only ever catching cars that had to let him bye, while Hamilton was catching Verstappen who would not.

Once behind Verstappen, Hamilton’s pre-race fears that overtaking in the new era of Formula One would be extremely difficult came true. Never really seeing an opening after reeling in the Red Bull unchallenged.

Getting ahead of Verstappen was becoming ever more crucial with every lap that went bye. “I don’t know how you expect me to do that now” bemoaned Lewis as his team told him he had to get the move done.

As for Vettel, he was catching Lance Stroll and the queue forming behind Alonso. But initially he stayed out as the gap to Hamilton continued to edge up. A gap that grew enough that when Vettel peeled into the pits, his smooth stop saw him return just ahead of Verstappen. Ahead of Hamilton, too.

With the now effective lead of the race, Vettel set off like a rocket and pulled away from Verstappen with ease. All the while Hamilton continued to follow the Dutchman until he finally stopped for a change of tyres.

Unfortunately for Lewis, the gap to Vettel had already grown to six seconds. And still, Hamilton was far from happy with his tyres as the team began to look towards plan B.

Giving up on his first set of tyres was more and more looking like the race deciding factor. With Hamilton forced to pit early and handing the overcut to Vettel.

An overcut was also looking like a possibility for Valtteri Bottas. With Rosberg’s replacement gaining on Lewis with eight lap fresher rubber under his control.

But, despite Hamilton reporting an intermittent power issue, Bottas’ gains were not enough to snatch second place from his team-mate. Still clinching a roster finish in his Mercedes debut.

Hamilton was not alone in having issues during the Australian Grand Prix. With Daniel Ricciardo having issues before his home race could even begin.

The home hero was half way around his lap to the grid when an electronic issue caused his new gearbox to stick in sixth. That new gearbox coming after his qualifying crash forced a five-place grid pen.

The team were able to get the car back to the garage and reset the unit. But by that point, he was two laps down and wishing for more than just a safety car.

Ironically, the closest the race came to a safety car was when Ricciardo was forced to retire when his car was ‘done’ with an engine issue. Parking his ‘Bull up in the car park.

Also retiring from the Australian Grand Prix were Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso. With the debutant starting strongly, overtaking three cars out of the first corner. And gaining a further two places on the opening lap when Magnussen collided with Ericsson.

As for Alonso, his late race retirement came after battling Ocon and Hulkenberg. Losing out to the pair on the pit straight, before his suspension caused the car to pull to the left and became very unstable under braking.

In the other McLaren, Vandoorne limped home in last place. But a last place in a race thwart with issues that saw the Belgian forced to power cycle his own car after a pit stop.

While the new and ex-Force India drivers both pulled off a move on Alonso in the run up to turn one, Force India’s Sergio Perez was able to pull off a nice move on Daniil Kvyat on the opening lap. Diving down the inside of the Russian at Turn nine, a corner not usually that easy to overtake at.

A strong line out of turn two later into the race also opened the door to a move on Carlos Sainz for Perez. Running around the outside of the Toro Rosso and forcing his way ahead as he clipped the Spaniard’s front wing.

Pos Driver Chassis Gap Points
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:24’11.670 25
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 9.975 18
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 11.25 15
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 22.393 12
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 28.827 10
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1’23.386 8
7 Sergio Perez Force India 1 lap 6
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1 lap 4
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1 lap 2
10 Esteban Ocon Force India 1 lap 1
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1 lap
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber 2 laps
13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 2 laps
 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren  DNF
 15 Kevin Magnussen Haas DNF
 16 Lance Stroll Williams  DNF
 17 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull  DNF
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber  DNF
19 Jolyon Palmer Renault DNF
20 Romain Grosjean Haas DNF