Australian GP: Vettel beats Hamilton with strategy call
Sebastian Vettel took advantage of a mid-race safety car to steal victory from Lewis Hamilton in the 2018 Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver was third in the opening stint but ran longer than his teammate Kimi Raikkonen and early leader Hamilton and benefitted hugely from a caution period just before he was due to pit.
Vettel managed Hamilton's recovery with ease, aided by his fellow four-time champion running off-track in pursuit, to win by 5.9s as Raikkonen completed a double 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 second 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 manifested itself in dramatic fashion with a spun at Turn 1 that dropped Verstappen to eighth.
The only other movement before the pitstops was Carlos Sainz 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 teammate 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 pit while the rest circulated slowly and 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 the other big winner from the mid-race safety car, Alonso claimed fifth despite immense pressure from Verstappen.
Nico Hulkenberg had a quiet run to seventh place for Renault, while Valtteri Bottas's unspectacular recovery from 15th 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.
The final point of the season opener went to Sainz in the second Renault despite claiming of 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 what appeared to be 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 an apparent Honda engine problem in his Toro Rosso.
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||TAG||7.069|
|6||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||TAG||28.945|
|10||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Renault||Renault||45.722|
|11||Sergio Perez||Force India||Mercedes||46.817|
|12||Esteban Ocon||Force India||Mercedes||1'00.278|
|15||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||Honda||1 lap|
|16||Romain Grosjean||Haas||Ferrari||34 laps|
|17||Kevin Magnussen||Haas||Ferrari||36 laps|
|18||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||Honda||45 laps|
|19||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||Ferrari||53 laps|
|20||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams||Mercedes||54 laps|
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|Location||Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit|