Sebastian Vettel won a tactical Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, taking advantage of a mid-race Virtual Safety Car period to jump pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and hold off the Englishman for a victory he admitted he was not expecting.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen finished in third place to complete the podium, denying crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo the top-three result he had coveted on home soil.
After rocketing to pole position with a record-breaking lap of the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit on Saturday afternoon, Hamilton was expected to open the defence of his 2017 World Championship title with ease. He led the field at the start and held off the two Ferraris of Räikkönen and Vettel to ensure they couldn’t challenge the Mercedes driver into Turn 1.
Kevin Magnussen managed to vault Max Verstappen’s Red Bull to move into fourth place at Turn 1, while his teammate Grosjean slotted into sixth with the Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr ahead of Ricciardo, who started from eighth thanks to his three-place grid penalty.
Ricciardo made early progress by overtaking both Renaults – his Turn 13 move on Hülkenberg was particularly impressive – to move into seventh place.
The race saw two early retirements, with Sergey Sirotkin sliding up the Turn 13 escape road when his Williams’ brake pedal went to the floor. A lap later and Marcus Ericsson pulled his Alfa Romeo Sauber into the pits with a loss of power steering.
Up front, Hamilton held Räikkönen at arm’s length and pulled out enough of a gap to prevent the Finn from being able to use DRS. Third-placed Vettel dropped a few seconds back to preserve his tyres, keeping his powder dry as the pit stop cycle approached.
Further behind, an increasingly frustrated Verstappen complained about his rear tyres beginning to overheat as he struggled to find a way by Magnussen’s Haas. This was a worry for Red Bull Racing given it started the race on the more durable Super Soft tyres in the hope of running longer to jump Hamilton and the two Ferraris. Getting boxed in behind a Haas was not part of the plan.
On Lap 11, Verstappen demonstrated his lack of rear end grip by looping his RB14 at the apex of Turn 1, spinning wildly before rejoining in eighth place behind Hülkenberg.
That left Ricciardo bottled up behind the two Haas’ of Magnussen and Grosjean, seemingly without any prospect of overtaking the two Ferrari-powered cars on-track.
Further behind, Pierre Gasly was forced to retire his Toro Rosso, with smoke puffing from the back of his Honda-powered STR13 after he appeared to run wide over the Turn 12 exit kerbs. The team later confirmed his retirement was due to an “engine related issue”.
On Lap 18, second-placed Räikkönen was the first driver to pit in an attempt to force Mercedes’ hand into pitting Hamilton, and Mercedes took the bait. Unfortunately it was a slightly slow tyre change, and despite a purple-sector out-lap the Finn wasn’t able to jump Hamilton.
Vettel now led from Hamilton and Räikkönen, but the race then took a turn with the retirement of both Haas Ferraris in consecutive laps, both for identical reasons. its two drivers.
After its best qualifying performance, the American team looked on course to claim its best collective result in its history, but a combination of equipment failure and human error would put pay to the fortunes of its two drivers.
Magnussen was the first to pit but moments after leaving the pits the Dane reported a left-rear suspension failure, pulling to a stop on the inside of Turn 4. Replays would show his mechanics animatedly pointing to the left-rear of the car as it left the pits.
Two laps later and Grosjean was in the pits and he too slowed as he exited pit lane, pulling to a stop on the left side of the track after Turn 2. This time the replays showed his car being released before the left-front wheel had been attached. It was quickly apparent that both cars had been released without their wheels properly attached.
It was heartbreaking for the team and particularly its mechanics, but the team will have to take comfort that the failure was not mechanical and is therefore easily solved.
The position of Grosjean’s stranded car triggered a Virtual Safety Car in the hope the marshals could safely push it off the circuit, triggering the remaining drivers to make their pit stops.
This was a bonus for Ferrari, who was able to pit Vettel and have him emerge ahead of an incredulous Hamilton, who was not expecting to be jumped by the German after being able to close the gap to the leader after his pit stop.
Vettel now led from Hamilton, Räikkönen and Ricciardo.
There was another smaller drama during the pit stops when replays showed Max Verstappen had overtaken McLaren’s Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard exited the pit lane. The FIA Stewards quickly issued an instruction to the Dutchman to cede the position fifth place he had gained.
With marshals unable to move Grosjean’s car, a full Safety Car was called to allow a recovery crane to be used. Once the field was bunched up and the track cleared, the race was restarted on Lap 32.
Vettel and Hamilton pulled a gap on Räikkönen, and over the next fifteen laps the pair traded fastest laps with Hamilton using DRS to stay in touch with the Ferrari. It was an impressive display between the two drivers, but Hamilton found himself unable to close up enough to truly mount a challenge or force a mistake.
Ricciardo ran behind Räikkönen, with his sole chance to attack the Finn coming at Turn 3 but he found himself unable to make the move stick.
On Lap 47, Hamilton pushed too hard and made a rare error by locking up at Turn 9 and running wide, losing over two seconds to Vettel.
A succession of fastest laps – half a second quicker than Vettel – both underscored Hamilton’s frustration and the true pace advantage of the Mercedes. Within five laps he was back behind the Ferrari but again unable to find a way past.
His tyres now overcooked and with his engine temperatures rising, Hamilton dropped back into clear away and steadily towards the battling Räikkönen and Ricciardo.
That’s how the race finished, with the combination of the Albert Park circuit’s tough layout and the current-era cars’ aerodynamics conspiring to ensure no further overtaking could take place.
Vettel crossed the line to win, with Hamilton, Räikkönen and Ricciardo in tow. While Vettel celebrated his 48th career win and the lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings, he graciously admitted that Hamilton was clearly quicker and he had lucked into the win thanks to the Virtual Safety Car.
Alonso finished fifth for a jubilant McLaren team, although in truth he was aided by the double-DNF of the clearly quicker Haas Ferraris. The Spaniard held off Verstappen, who crossed the finish line in his wheel tracks.
Hülkenberg finished in seventh place in his Renault, with the German leading a train of cars comprising Valtteri Bottas and Stoffel Vandoorne. Bottas would cut a frustrated figure after his qualifying crash and grid penalty consigned him to a fifteenth-placed starting position and despite his Mercedes’ pace advantage Hamilton had demonstrated, the Finn struggled to make inroads through the midfield.
Despite complaining of nausea late in the race thanks to a drinks bottle that wouldn’t stop giving him fluids, Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. held on to take the final point for tenth place ahead of the Force Indias of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon.
Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc finished thirteenth on his Grand Prix debut ahead of a rather unimpressive Lance Stroll in the Williams.
Brendon Hartley brought the sole remaining Toro Rosso home a lapped fifteenth, in last place. The New Zealander’s race was compromised when he badly flat-spotted his tyres on the dash to Turn 1, forcing him into an unscheduled early pit stop.
|FORMULA 1 2018 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (58 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||58||1:29:33.283|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||58||+ 5.036|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||58||+ 6.309|
|4.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||58||+ 7.069|
|5.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||58||+ 27.886|
|6.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||58||+ 28.945|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||58||+ 32.671|
|8.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||58||+ 34.339|
|9.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||58||+ 34.921|
|10.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||58||+ 45.772|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||58||+ 46.817|
|12.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||58||+ 1:00.278|
|13.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||58||+ 1:15.759|
|14.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||58||+ 1:18.288|
|15.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||57||+ 1 lap|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||24||Wheel|
|DNF.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||22||Wheel|
|DNF.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||13||Engine|
|DNF.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||5||Power Steering|
|DNF.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||4||Brakes|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||54||1:25.945|
Images via Ignite Image