Sebastian Vettel benefited from a mid-race safety car to take victory in the Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix, with the Scuderia Ferrari driver beating reigning champion, Lewis Hamilton into second place.
The front three of Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel broke away from the pack early on, and Finn Raikkonen was the first to enter the pit-lane for a change of Pirelli tyres on Lap 19 of 58.
Hamilton responded to Raikkonen’s stop a lap later, emerging from his sole stop to maintain track position over the second Ferrari of Raikkonen.
In akin scenes to last year, Vettel went considerably longer in the opening stint to Hamilton, with the German hoping a safety car could bring him into contention for the win, having fallen 10 seconds behind the leading Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport car.
On lap 26, Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean was forced to pull to the side of the Albert Park track, after the left-front wheel-nut came loose.
Two laps later, race director, Charlie Whiting threw the full safety car, during which time, Vettel came into the pit-lane to make his mandatory switch of rubber.
When the race resumed, Hamilton put Vettel under some initial pressure, but after a mistake at Turn 9, he decided to back off, making it a largely untroubled cruise to the flag for Vettel with the German taking his 48th Formula 1 victory by five seconds.
Raikkonen took the podium spot, just ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver having started from eighth place in his home Grand Prix.
Strong race for McLaren
McLaren F1 Team driver Fernando Alonso was able to fend off intense pressure from the second Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who was having a ragged race, having been passed by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen at the start, spun at Turn 1 and complained of tyre temperatures.
In a positive day for McLaren, Alonso’s team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne took the flag in ninth, seven seconds behind Alonso, and right on the tail of Valtteri Bottas.
Nico Hulkenberg, from ninth on the grid, had a quiet, if not steady race for the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team, coming home just behind the Alonso/Verstappen squabble in seventh place.
Following his qualifying crash and gearbox penalty, Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Bottas rose to eighth at the chequered flag from 15th on the grid.
The Finn was able to benefit from the safety car, in similar fashion to leader Vettel.
Carlos Sainz Jr made it a double points finish for Renault, taking the final point in 10th place, despite having cut through the grass at Turn 9 when fighting with fellow Spaniard Alonso early in the race.
Despite hoping for better performance in the race, both Sahara Force India F1 Team drivers finished out of the points, in 11th and 12th, Sergio Perez leading home team-mate Esteban Ocon. Perez had been hunting Sainz, after he complained of feeling nauseous but to no avail.
The only rookie to finish the race was Charles Leclerc, the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team youngster in 13th place drove a measured race, finishing three seconds ahead of the Williams Martini Racing of Lance Stroll.
Brendon Hartley was the only other finisher, in 15th place, the only driver to be lapped in the Red Bull Toro Rosso-Honda.
Both Haas drivers were running strongly in the points paying positions, with Magnussen in fourth place.
However, the left-rear wheel-nut came loose, ending his race after his pit-stop, while the same bad luck befell team-mate Grosjean, who had a front-left failure, and whose retirement brought out the virtual and then full safety car that Vettel was able to benefit from.
Pierre Gasly suffered an engine problem in Toro Rosso’s first race with Honda after 13 laps and was the third retirement from the race.
Marcus Ericsson had lost hydraulics in the second Sauber early on, while debutant Sergey Sirotkin was the first to drop out, suffering brake failure after just four laps.
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