Melbourne ushered in F1’s new era, the city hosting its 22nd event – and the result was just what the sport needed, with Sebastian Vettel breaking Ferrari’s 27-race drought to win the Australian Grand Prix.
It was Vettel’s 43rd win overall, his second in Melbourne, and the first for the Prancing Horse since Singapore 2015.
The Scuderia outfoxed the dominant Mercedes team on strategy, despite Lewis Hamilton leading into the first corner.
The 3-time world champion’s error was to pit early on the ultrasoft tyres, Hamilton coming in on Lap 17 for a set of the softs – in an attempt to cover off the undercut, with Vettel less than a second adrift.
That unleashed the lead Ferrari, which set a series of personal best laps – while Hamilton was stuck behind Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman effectively destroyed Hamilton’s race, despite suffering from brake issues – enabling Vettel to stop for softs on Lap 23 and grab the lead on exit, to the delight of the crowds throughout the circuit.
Hamilton finally got past Verstappen, once he made his stop on Lap 25, but could not close the gap to Vettel over the remaining laps.
Behind, Hamilton’s new teammate Valtteri Bottas played the rear gunner – pitting on Lap 25, to cover off Kimi Räikkönen, and he came alive in the race’s closing stages to finish 1.2 seconds adrift of his teammate.
But it was Vettel who painted the town red, celebrating his fourth win for the Scuderia – and the chance at a title campaign, if the team can retain the momentum as the season’s development race heats up.
“It's been a great day for us,” he said. “The team has been working so hard at the track as much as back at the factory.”
The win takes the pressure off the Scuderia, even for just a moment as the fear of a 2016 repeat melts away. But, the message from chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne post-race was ominous.
“It is absolutely essential to remember that this is not the destination but the first step on a long road that must see us all focused on improving each and every day,” he said.
As broadcast on the 28/03/2017.