Sebastian Vettel and the Ferrari Pit Crew / AFP PHOTO / GLENN NICHOLLS / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo credit should read GLENN NICHOLLS/AFP/Getty Images)

Sebastian Vettel started the Formula 1 2018 season in winning fashion at the Australian GP. The German clinched the 100th podium of his career in style with the 48th win of his career. Vettel stole the race from Lewis Hamilton with a pit stop during a Virtual Safety Car (VSC). Hamilton settled for second place after a weekend in which he was the fastest driver. Kimi Raikkonen was also disadvantaged by the VSC and finished third. Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso completed the top 5 at the first race of the season.

Sebastian Vettel Wins the First Battle of 2018

The race started in dry conditions with Daniel Ricciardo (P8) and Valtteri Bottas (P15) out of position due to grid penalties. Hamilton started from pole position with both the Ferrari cars behind him. The Briton made a good start and went into the lead at Turn 1. All the cars made it safely into Turn 1 with Max Verstappen losing out in the early exchange. Kevin Magnussen gained a place as he overtook Verstappen on the outside into fourth place.

Verstappen Loses at the Start

The leaders settled into the race with good opening stints. The excitement early in the race was generated by Verstappen racing hard in a bid to overtake Magnussen. The Albert Park track makes it very hard to overtake with even 3 DRS zones. Even the young Dutchman was thwarted on this track and he ended up spinning at Turn 1 and dropped from fifth to eighth position. Ricciardo had progressed to sixth position by then. The ever-combative Alonso got past Carlos Sainz and all the other drivers were just holding position.

Sergey Sirotkin and Marcus Ericsson had to retire with brake and power steering problems respectively in the early laps. Meanwhile both the Haas F1 drivers, Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, were in a great position with a strong fourth and fifth position. Raikkonen made the first pitstop among the leaders on Lap 21. Mercedes responded by pitting the race leader Hamilton on the next lap. Both drivers shed the ultrasofts and were fitted with the soft compound tyres. Then Ferrari rolled the dice. They kept Vettel out for a longer stint and he drove some fast laps on the old tyres at the front.

Disaster Strikes Haas

Magnussen pitted on Lap 24 and was released with the left rear tyre not properly fitted. The Dane pulled off the track in disappointment. Then lightning struck twice for the American team. Two laps later, Grosjean pitted and guess what, pulled up on the side of the track at Turn 2. Another unsafe release from the Haas team had turned a glorious weekend into an unmitigated disaster. The VSC was first deployed and then the safety car eventually was sent out.

Vettel Steals The Race

Under the VSC, Vettel finally pitted for the soft tyres. A software glitch on the Mercedes pitwall saw Hamilton further behind then he should have been. Vettel emerged in front of Hamilton after the pitstop. Hamilton had lost his lead and Vettel had track position on fresher tyres. As the VSC was turned into a Safety Car, a number of cars behind them made their pitstops. When the race restarted, Vettel led with Hamilton, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Alonso behind. Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Vandoorne and Sainz completed the top 10 positions.

As hard as Hamilton tried, overtaking on this track proved impossible. Even as Hamilton stayed within DRS range lap after lap, he could not find a way past Vettel. With the engine overheating and then the rear tyres getting too hot, he had to settle for second place. As hard as Ricciardo tried to overtake Raikkonen for the third podium position, the Australian did not succeed. Alonso managed to stay ahead of Verstappen for a good finish for McLaren.

Winners and Losers

The Haas team must have been bitterly disappointed to come away with zero points. The misfortune of this team saw both the McLaren and Renault drivers scoring points. Red Bull cars showed good race pace during the race and had their double points finish. Mercedes would have been disappointed to lose the race and end up second in the constructors’ championship behind Ferrari.

Force India, the fourth best team of 2017, did not score any points. The team has a lot of work to do. As does Williams who showed they have gone backwards this season. Toro Rosso-Honda and Sauber as expected finished at the rear of the field.

After a good day at the office, Ricciardo won the DHL Fastest Lap Award and Alonso the Driver of the Day Award.

Ferrari have made a winning start to the season and with the double podium finish, lead both the title races. The competitive nature of the race bodes well for the rest of the season. There is everything to play for over the next twenty races for the teams and drivers.

Race Classification:

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