Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel wins Season Opener In Melbourne

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In a stroke of strategy masterclass, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel upstaged the more highly fancied Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, to win the opening round of the 2017 Formula One season, at Albert Park in Melbourne.

Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole in qualifying on Saturday, ahead of Vettel, Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen. Hamilton was 3 tenths faster than Vettel, and Bottas, with Raikkonen a further 6 tenths behind.

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Off the start, Hamilton got the jump ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen rounding out the top 5. The only first lap incident, saw Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson collide, end up in the gravel, but manage to continue.

Hamilton pitted from the lead on lap 17, but came out behind Verstappen, which held him up enormously. Vettel’s superior tyre management allowed him to stay out, whilst Hamilton remained behind Verstappen.

There’s no doubt Hamilton was frustrated by this delay, as Vettel came out clear of Hamilton after his own pitstop. Even with fresh rubber, Hamilton could not move past the slippery Dutchman, until he departed for his own pitstop, several critical laps later.

Elsewhere, Haas’ Romain Grosjean was forced to retire after a super impressive qualifying performance. Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, retired early too with brake problems.

Australia’s Dan Ricciardo had a weekend to forget. A crash in Q3, saw him slated to start 10th, but then on his warm up lap, Ricciardo’s Red Bull stopped halfway around the track stuck in 6th gear. An impressive performance from the RBR team saw Ricciardo get back out there only a couple of laps down, but it wasn’t long but his engine failed, capping a horror weekend for the Aussie.

Back out in front, Vettel was maintaining the gap to Hamilton, whilst Bottas closed in from behind. Hamilton complained of a myriad of issues, including; understeer, power surges and floor issues, that appeared to prevent him from making a decent run at the four-time World Champion.

Vettel’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen couldn’t compete with the top three, and finished fourth 22 seconds behind. Verstappen finished fifth, ahead of Felipe Massa in his Williams, and the Force India and Toro Rosso duo’s rounded out the points.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso drove supremely to be in the points with five laps to go, before a suspension failure put an end to his sterling effort. The frustration for the Spaniard must be building, with so many issues regarding the Honda engine and general reliability.

Rookies Lance Stroll and Stoffel Vandoorne had tough debuts, the first with an accident in practice and then when he finally looked settled in the race, a broken brake disc prematurely ended his day. For Vandoorne, the sheer lack of speed in the McLaren was his biggest issue, as he couldn’t pull anything out of the car in comparison to his enormously experienced teammate. 

Nonetheless, it was a supreme weekend for Ferrari and Vettel. It was the Scuderia’s first win since Singapore in 2015, and first in Melbourne since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 (the year he won his only world title). The result bodes well for the 2017 season, as of first impression Ferrari (or at least Vettel) have the speed and tactical nous to challenge the dominance of Mercedes.