Australian Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel throws down the gauntlet to Lewis Hamilton with commanding win
By Dan Colasimone
Updated March 26, 2017 20:07:13
PHOTO: Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel leapt on a Mercedes' strategy error and didn't look back. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
RELATED STORY: As it happened: Vettel triumphs as Ricciardo endures nightmare Australian GPRELATED STORY: 'Let's get the f*** out of here': Ricciardo endures nightmare Aus GP
MAP: Melbourne 3000
The 2017 Formula 1 season is looming as a shoot-out between the sport's greatest modern drivers after Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix, 10 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
The Brit started the day in pole position but a tactical misjudgement from his Mercedes team allowed the Ferrari driver to take the lead on lap 24, and the German held on with ease to claim the first race win for the Prancing Horse since 2015.
External Link: F1 tweets That winning feeling for @ScuderiaFerrari and Sebastian Vettel
Valtteri Bottas finished behind his Mercedes team-mate to claim the final podium position, while local hope Daniel Ricciardo endured a miserable afternoon, bowing out of the race with a whimper on lap 30.
Hamilton (three) and Vettel (four) have seven championships between them, but have never competed against each other in evenly matched machines, meaning the 2017 season now looms as a mouth-watering showdown between the two.
"It is a long way ahead. For now we are just over the moon," Vettel said after the race.
"The car is really screaming, 'more, more, more'," he said of the rule changes which promised to bring Mercedes back to the pack slightly and give fans more action-packed racing than in 2016.
PHOTO: Daniel Ricciardo walks away from his stalled car after 29 laps. (AP: Andy Brownbill)
Ricciardo, due to start from 15th on the grid after his Red Bull team were forced to change the gear box in his car after yesterday's crash, did not make it through the warm-up lap before problems surfaced.
His car stuck in sixth gear, leaving him stranded on the track. He was given a lift back to the pits and his team frantically worked to get the engine going again. They eventually did so, two laps into the race.
Ricciardo's Red Bull teammate put in a very impressive performance, finishing fifth behind Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari. Veteran Felipe Massa, who initially retired after the 2016 only to fill the available seat at Williams, finished sixth.
Relatively clean start gives Hamilton the early lead
PHOTO: Hamilton got the early jump from pole position. (AP: Andy Brownbill)
The top five cars on the grid all got away cleanly, remained in their positions around the first bend and through the opening laps.
Further back, Kevin Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson made contact and spun into the gravel on the first turn, but both drivers remained in the race.
Australian GP standings
Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
Felipe Massa (Williams)
Sergio Perez (Force India)
Carlos Sainz Jr (Toro Rosso)
Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
Esteban Ocon (Force India)
Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
Antonio Giovinazzi (Sauber)
Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren)
DNFs: Fernando Alonso, Kevin Magnussen, Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo, Marcus Ericsson, Jolyon Palmer, Romain Grosjean
It soon became apparent that Vettel was not going to let Hamilton sweep off into the horizon, though, with the German showing off his Ferrari's pace to keep well within striking distance of the Brit.
"Get stuck in, have fun," was the message from the Red Bull sheds after Ricciardo finally got out on track, two laps behind the pack.
A very promising race was cut short on lap 15 for Romain Grosjean, who had to pull into the pits with white smoke billowing out of his car.
Hamilton's costly early pit stop
Hamilton dived into the pits on lap 17 while leading by 0.9 of a second over Vettel, coming back out in fifth spot with Verstappen in front of him and hard tyres on his car — enough to see him through to the chequered flag.
"Be quiet!" Hamilton shouted over the radio to his team when they urged him to pass the Dutchman, as Mercedes realised the Red Bull car was holding up the Mercedes, with Vettel enjoying clean track in front of him.
And the team was right, as when Vettel pitted on lap 23, he had enough of a lead to come out in front of Verstappen and Hamilton — if only just. The brash Verstappen attempted a move before the German could warm up his tyres, but the Ferrari driver held his ground and locked in the race lead.
Verstappen pitted soon after to get some super soft tyres thrown onto his chassis, meaning the two championship favourites were left to duke it out for the win. By that stage Vettel had a 3.3-second lead.
PHOTO: Vettel already has four world championships under his belt. (AAP: Tracey Nearmy)
Meanwhile, Ricciardo's disastrous home grand prix came to an end on lap 30. "Unfortunately, it looks like an engine failure," Christian Horner told Sky F1 after the Australian's car simply shut down as he took a corner.
With a third of the race left, Vettel looked completely in control, leading by more than 8 seconds as the Mercedes team pondered bringing in their man and gambling on ultra soft tyres.
With five laps remaining Vettel rubber-stamped his dominance with the fastest lap of the race — a message to Hamilton that there would be no easing up in the final stretch.
Vettel's win was Ferrari's first in Australia for 20 years and looks to have ignited a fascinating battle between his team and Mercedes, and himself and Hamilton.
Topics: formula-1, motor-sports, sport, melbourne-3000, vic, australia