Sebastian Vettel tore up the form book in Melbourne yesterday as he clinched the opening race of the 2018 Formula One season.
In somewhat fortunate circumstances, the German gained from a Virtual Safety Car halfway through the race to overtake Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes and steer his way to the finish line.
The race weekend started in a familiar shape, with Hamilton and Mercedes setting a blistering pole lap time in Q3, which all but confirmed the Mercs as favourites for the season ahead.
Ferrari and Vettel thought they had done enough to clinch pole position in Q3, but Hamilton delivered one of the laps of his career to usurp his rival and claim the first qualifying session of the season.
Come race time on Sunday, the Grand Prix took the usual form, Hamilton powering off into the distance, leaving the rest of the field to compete amongst each other.
The race effectively split into two towards the half way stage: Vettel and his team mate Kimi Raikkonen in P3 were charged with chasing down Hamilton, whilst behind them Kevin Magnussen in P4 in the Haas led the ‘also rans’.
Haas’ day however quickly turned into a nightmare, owing to an issue with their virtual stop/go lollipop system.
Both Magnussen’s and Grosjean’s pit-stops ended in disaster, their mechanics not being given enough time to install the left front and rear tires respectively. Both were forced into retirement shortly after emerging from the pitlane, with the Frenchman Grosjean having to ditch his car on the inside of the track, forcing a Virtual Safety Car.
During that VSC, Vettel and Ferrari dealt a swift, fatal blow in the form of a wily pit-stop. With the pit-lane delta temporarily reduced from 20+ seconds to just 15 seconds, the gap was just enough for Vettel to pit, install fresh rubber and emerge in the lead, a second ahead of Hamilton.
The move stunned Mercedes and left Lewis Hamilton reeling in his car. He had no answer to the move and failed to hunt down Ferrari, who repeated last year’s feat by claiming the maiden race of the new season.
Next up in two weeks’ time is the Bahraini Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes will be looking to strike back at the first opportunity. Given the track has traditionally suited their set-up more than Ferrari’s in recent years, they will be favourites heading into the race.