The first race of the Formula 1 season got underway in Australia on Sunday and saw Sebastian Vettel winning this third title at the Australian Grand Prix. Vettel took control of the race mid-way through and held off Lewis Hamilton in what was an intense start to the season.
Sunday’s win was the 100th career win for Vettel and was his 200th race in Formula 1. The win also put him in the history books as only the fourth driver to stand on the podium 100 times. The other three drivers to have had 100 podium finishes include Alain Prost, Lewis Hamilton and the legendary Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost.
Vettel has a five second lead over Hamilton as he crosses the finish line. Hamilton started the race with pole position and as Vettel pulled out front, tried to multiple attempts to regain the lead but was unable to succeed due to the circuit being narrow and Vettel defending his position.
“We’re not yet where we want to be, commented Vettel. The feeling is good, but I think we can improve and then we should be able to race our game in qualifying and also for the race.”
Kimi Raikkonen placed third in Sunday’s race. Daniel Ricciardo, who drives for Team Red Bull was fourth was denied the chance to be the first Aussie to be on the podium at his home track. Fernando Alonso made a push late in the race and placed fifth to hold off Max Verstappen, who placed sixth.
Hamilton led the race for the first twenty laps before heading to the pits for a scheduled stop. This gave Vettel the lead, and the Ferrari driver never looked back. Romaine Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, both driving for Team Haas had disastrous pit stops that saw both drivers falling out of contention due to mechanical issues after running in fourth and fifth.
Romaine Grosjean’s car had to be removed from the circuit in what saw the safety car entering the track, the slowdown gave Vettel the chance to enter pit lane for new tires and fuel. He re-entered ahead of Hamilton, who was confused by what had happened asking his crew why he was not advised Vettel had entered the pits. The team responded saying,
“We thought we were safe, but there’s obviously something wrong”
When the safety car exited the track and racing got underway, Hamilton did his best to stay close to Vettel and was less than a second behind the Ferrari, however, was unable to find the space needed to pass Vettel.
Commenting on the safety car, Vettel replied,
“Needless to say, we got a bit lucky with the timing of the safety car. It was our key to win, no doubt.”
After the race, Hamilton stated that he still was not clear about what had happened stating,
“I did everything I believed I was supposed to do. I think just disbelief was really from that moment until the end. Just disbelief.”
The win for Vettel came after a day that saw Hamilton set a track record to win the pole position, almost a second ahead of the rest of the pack. This was a huge margin that worried other teams that Mercedes would once again dominate the F1 season.
However, Vettel was quoted saying that he felt the Ferrari would perform better under race conditions, and he proved that statement right. Speaking about the speed of Hamilton’s qualifying lap, Vettel said,
“They didn’t do anything special, not more than they did last year,” he said of Hamilton’s speedy qualifying lap. “It was clear that he just a very good lap and he drove well.”
Ricciardo pushed hard to pass Raikkonen during to earn a podium finish, but Raikkonen used his experience to hold off the Australian and earn third. Fernando Alonso had his best finish since 2016 after putting behind him the McLaren’s Honda that held the team back. Nico Hulkenberg from team Renault placed seventh in the race and teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was given a penalty for switching a gearbox that was damaged on the grid placed 15th.
This year will be full of intense racing as Vettel and Hamilton battle to lead the point’s race for drivers, and of course, Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to the two who battle for the constructors lead. With Hamilton chasing his 6th Drivers championship, Formula 1 odd makers are sure to set their sights on Hamilton as favoured to be a front-runner.