After two weeks of pre-season testing in Barcelona, the eyes of the world again focused on Melbourne’s Albert Park for the opening-round.
But there Ferrari turned the formbook on its head, Sebastian Vettel taking his third win in Australia, the Scuderia brilliantly using a pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car to get the German ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
At lights out, polesitter Hamilton got a great start, taking the lead into Turn 1, followed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was fourth ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.
Out front, Hamilton set a string of fastest laps, while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo passed Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg at Turn 13 for seventh on Lap 6.
The Ferraris responded to Hamilton’s pace from Lap 10 with Raikkonen and Vettel trading fastest laps, while Verstappen spun at Turn 2 with damage.
On Lap 19, Raikkonen pitted from second to switch to the softs. Hamilton also opting for softs on the following lap, elevating Vettel to P1 with his stop still ahead.
On Lap 22, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen pitted from fourth but had to pull off after his stop with a loose wheel – Romain Grosjean having to do the same three laps later at Turn 2 , bringing out the Virtual Safety Car.
On Lap 27, Vettel pitted, getting maximum benefit from a controlled race pace, and exited ahead of Hamilton for the lead as the real Safety Car was deployed.
At the restart on Lap 32, Vettel retained his lead. But Hamilton was hot in pursuit, the pair separated by no more than 1.1 seconds until lap 47, when the Brit went wide at Turn 9 costing him 1.8 seconds.
Meanwhile, Ricciardo continued to chase down Raikkonen for a shot at the podium, while Verstappen pursued the vastly experienced McLaren’s Fernando Alonso – but neither Red Bull could get past.
By Lap 52, Hamilton had again closed to within 1-second of Vettel, but he admitted defeat two laps later, by turning his engine down. The German’s Ferrari team again outfoxing the Silver Arrows in the heat of battle.