It took Ferrari 553 days to regain possession of the top step of the podium, with their last win being in Singapore in 2015. But their sparkling pace seen from the prancing horse at pre-season testing seemed to translate well into a race setting. Sebastian Vettel crossed the line nearly 10 seconds ahead of his nearest rival, Lewis Hamilton. This is the first time Ferrari have won the opening race of the season since 2010.
After taking pole the previous day, Hamilton began the race in the lead with no sign of any competition heading his way. However, once the Brit made his early pit stop, eating up his ultrasoft tyres by lap 17, Vettel took control of the field and never looked back. The German, in contrast, kept his ultrasoft tyres in their prime for 5 laps longer, before he too made his way to the pits.
After re-emerging onto the field in fifth, Hamilton struggled to overtake Max Verstappen, allowing Vettel to increase his lead over the field and effectively ruin Hamilton’s chances of battling for the win. These chances were also scuppered by a suspected floor problem and intermittent power issues. However, this didn’t stop the three-time world champion fighting his way back to second place.
While one Ferrari dominated the field, the second sat in a lonely and quiet fourth place, with no opportunity to battle for the podium. However, the car’s pace was still displayed by Raikkonen setting the fastest lap as he fended off Max Verstappen in the closing stages of the race.
However home favourite, Daniel Ricciardo, faced worse luck. His weekend began with a crash in Q3 of qualifying before a sensor issue on the way to the grid left his car stuck in 6th gear. He started the race from pit lane before a suspected engine failure left him unable to finish his home race.
Injured Wehrlein’s was replaced by Giovinazzi, who believed his call up to race for Sauber was a prank and made an impressive race debut finishing in a solid 12th place. Vandoorne and his struggling McLaren sat behind him in 13th.
At the wheel of the second McLaren, Fernando Alonso looked set to take the final points position, in 10th, before a suspension issue left him having to retire seven laps before the end. However, he will be pleased to have improved upon his 16 laps completed at the same track last year.
Another driver with failing luck at Albert Park is Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who failed to complete the first race of the season for a second year running. The team announced it was an engine issue, sustained for his first lap contact with Magnussen’s Haas, who faced a similar fate. The contact left Magnussen with a suspension failure and consequential retirement.
Fans are excited at the prospect of a Mercedes-Ferrari showdown, after three seasons of Mercedes dominance. Round two of the season will commence on April 7 at China’s Shanghai International Circuit.
—Charlotte Andrews, Correspondent (Sports)