Ferrari strike opening blow in Australia

2018-03-28 06:02

“I WAS waiting to put a lap in and wipe the smile off your face”. This was the jibe Lewis Hamilton directed at Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after Saturday’s qualifying session.

“What goes around comes around” was Vettel’s retort at the time, but he also responded on Sunday with an opportunistic win in the opening round of the 2018 season.

Hamilton withstood a challenge for the lead of the race from Kimi Raikkonen in the opening lap as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen slipped to fifth behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.

The Dutchman’s race suffered further when he oddly spun in the middle of turn one.

Not only did the Mercedes not disappear into the distance, but Raikkonen also kept him within three seconds for all of the first stint.

Elsewhere, Valtteri Bottas was making slow progress from 15th on the grid after binning the Merc in qualifying a day earlier.

The race seemed to settle slightly just before the forced retirement of both Haas drivers. Kevin Magnussen was the first to pull over with a loose wheel and Romain Grosjean suffered the same fate one lap later.

It was a desperate situation for the American team, who were running comfortably in fourth and fifth at the time. While Magnussen pulled off in a safe area, Grosjean’s Haas required the deployment of the virtual safety car (VSC) and later the real safety-car.

Raikkonen and Hamilton had made their respective trips through the pitlane while Vettel remained on track for several more laps. Bizarrely, Hamilton ran well below the prescribed laptime and ceded the lead of the race to Vettel.

The bunching up of the field behind the safety car also allowed Daniel Ricciardo back into the action and onto the gearbox of Raikkonen.

However, while the Aussie got within seven tenths of the Ferrari he never looked like making a pass for the final step on the podium.

Further adrift, Fernando Alonso emphasised McLaren’s comeback with a fine fifth ahead of Verstappen in sixth. Nico Hulkenberg brought his Renault home in seventh ahead of Bottas in eighth and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne in ninth.

Carlos Sainz snapped up the final point on offer in 10th despite fighting off severe nausea in the cockpit due to a drinks bottle failure.

Many will term Vettel’s win lucky, but opportunistic is a better-suited and fairer descriptor of events. Ultimately, it was Vettel’s pace, and Ferrari’s strategic call, that was the determining factor.

When the VSC, and later the safety car, were deployed, he was close enough to take full advantage of it.

Similarly, he had enough pace to hold off Hamilton and push the reigning world champion into waving the white flag with a handful of laps to go.

Vettel and Ferrari will come away from Australia with a significant boost in confidence and a doff of the cap to the strategists.

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