Sebastian Vettel took advantage of a mid-race safety car period to steal victory from rival Lewis Hamilton at the Australian Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver Vettel was third in the opening stint but ran longer than his rival Hamilton and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. Sebastian benefited a great deal from a caution period just before he was due to pit for tyres.
Vettel was able to hold off Hamilton’s subsequent recovery attempt with ease, aided by his fellow four-time champion running off-track in pursuit, to win by 5.9 seconds as Raikkonen completed a double Scuderia Ferrari podium in third.
Hamilton kept the lead at the start and rebuffed an attack from Raikkonen at Turn 3 before settling into a comfortable lead that stood at more than three seconds, as Vettel kept a watching brief in the other Ferrari.
Kevin Magnussen’s move around the outside of Turn 1 to jump Max Verstappen gave the front three chance to break clear, and the race was descending into a procession as the first stint developed.
Verstappen’s Red Bull looked erratic behind the Haas and he complained of overheating rears, which concluded with a dramatic spin at Turn 1 that dropped Verstappen to eighth.
The only other movement before the pitstops was Carlos Sainz Jr running wide at Turn 9 in his Renault and allowing Fernando Alonso’s McLaren into ninth, but the race was turned on its head by the two Haas pitstops.
Magnussen pulled up at Turn 3 after his left rear wheel was not correctly fitted, and team-mate Romain Grosjean suffered a similar fate just a lap later when a problem on his front left led to the Frenchman pulling over on the left-hand side on the exit of Turn 1 immediately.
That triggered a virtual safety car, which was a blessing to Ferrari as it had used its two-against-one advantage over Mercedes to good effect, bringing in Raikkonen early so Hamilton had to stop one lap later to protect against the Ferrari’s fresh-tyre advantage.
Vettel stayed out several laps longer and, with the virtual safety car deployed, he was able to take advantage and pit while the rest circulated slowly. The Ferrari emerge just ahead of Hamilton, turning a nine-second deficit into the race lead.
A real safety car soon replaced its virtual equivalent and the race remained neutralised until lap 32, giving Hamilton 26 laps to overhaul Vettel.
Hamilton stayed around a second behind Vettel for a lot of that time, then started a serious push with a dozen laps remaining but locked up at the Turn 9 right-hander and skated over the grass.
That dropped him back to almost three seconds behind and though he briefly got back within DRS range with five laps to go he complained of overheating rears and slipped back again.
Raikkonen kept a charging Daniel Ricciardo at bay to finish third, while Alonso – the other big winner from the mid-race safety car – claimed fifth despite immense pressure from Verstappen.
Nico Hulkenberg had a quiet run to seventh place for Renault, chasing Alonso and Verstappen late on.
Valtteri Bottas’s unspectacular recovery from P15 was boosted by the safety car and he took eighth from another beneficiary, Stoffel Vandoorne, with a nice move at Turn 3 on the restart. He then closed on Hulkenberg but was unable to pass and ended up back under pressure from Vandoorne.
The final point of the season opener went to Carlos Sainz Jr in the second Renault, who held off Sergio Perez’s Force India despite claiming he was suffering from nausea in the final third of the race.
As well as the race-changing Haas failures, three other teams lost a car over the course of the opening grand prix.
Williams rookie Sergey Sirotkin was the first retirement of the season after suffering a brake problem on lap six, while Marcus Ericsson brought his power steering-less Sauber into the pits on lap 14 and Pierre Gasly failed to finish after a Honda engine problem in his Toro Rosso.
So a fantastic result for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel at Melbourne. The virtual safety car definitely helped on race strategy to jump ahead of rival Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. This was Vettel’s ninth victory for the Scuderia and his 48th in Formula 1. Congratulations on this top result.
Australian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 58 1h29m33.283s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 58 5.036s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 58 6.309s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 58 7.069s
5 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 58 27.886s
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 58 28.945s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 58 32.671s
8 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 58 34.339s
9 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 58 34.921s
10 Carlos Sainz Renault 58 45.722s
11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 58 46.817s
12 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 58 1m00.278s
13 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 58 1m15.759s
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 58 1m18.288s
15 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 57 1 Lap
– Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 24 Retirement
– Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 22 Retirement
– Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 13 Retirement
– Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 5 Hydraulics
– Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 4 Brakes
1 Sebastian Vettel 25
2 Lewis Hamilton 18
3 Kimi Raikkonen 15
4 Daniel Ricciardo 12
5 Fernando Alonso 10
6 Max Verstappen 8
7 Nico Hulkenberg 6
8 Valtteri Bottas 4
9 Stoffel Vandoorne 2
10 Carlos Sainz 1
11 Sergio Perez 0
12 Esteban Ocon 0
13 Charles Leclerc 0
14 Lance Stroll 0
15 Brendon Hartley 0
1 Ferrari 40
2 Mercedes 22
3 Red Bull-Renault 20
4 McLaren-Renault 12
5 Renault 7
6 Force India-Mercedes 0
7 Sauber-Ferrari 0
8 Williams-Mercedes 0
9 Toro Rosso-Honda 0