Lewis Hamilton may have set the pace during two practice days at the Albert Park track in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, but when the chequered flag fell at the end of the opening race of the 2017 World Championship, it was the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel in the lead.
Vettel’s performance was impressive, and his victory meant a team other than Mercedes won the opening race of the season for the first time since 2013. With Vettel finishing first, and Kimi Raikkonen fourth, the Italian Scuderia also lead the Constructors’ Championship after one round.
Finishing the race in second and third, Brackley-based Mercedes can be far from disappointed with their performance in the curtain-raiser, although victory had looked on the cards throughout the event’s build-up.
Title favourite Hamilton made a strong start and looked like he had things under control until Ferrari upped their game in the closing third to claim the win.
Hamilton, though, took encouragement from the weekend, saying: “We arrived in Australia not really knowing what to expect from Ferrari.
“They showed good pace in Barcelona during testing, and it is obvious they have a good race car. I think it is good that the season looks like being a battle between Sebastian (Vettel) and myself. Plenty of wheel-to-wheel racing is what the fans want to see and it will be good for F1.”
Finishing on the podium on his debut as a Silver Arrows racer, Valtteri Bottas said: “I have to be quite happy although this weekend my pace was not quite where it should have been. I know why that was and I will work hard for the next race and try and be more competitive then.”
As for the region’s other teams, Silverstone’s Force India cars both finished inside the top 10 to come away with points as Sergio Perez led from debutant Esteban Ocon, who said: “I feel really happy in this team and I am pleased to have scored a point on my Force India debut. I think I can find more pace in the car and over the next few races we should be in a good position to challenge for the top six on a regular basis.”
Danill Kvyat, of Bicester-based Toro Rosso, was also encouraged after he and team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr finished ninth and eighth respectively.
“I am happy to be in the points and for the team to have both cars running well is very encouraging,” said Kvyat after the race.
There’s now a short break before the season resumes in China on April 9.