Heading into 2017, everyone assumed that Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton would stroll to another world championship. But Sebastian Vettel has emphatically stomped all over that notion, clinching victory in the Australian Grand Prix season opener on Sunday.
It's Ferrari's first Grand Prix win since 2015 when Vettel sealed a hattrick of wins in Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore. It's the team's 225th victory, and Vettel's 43rd win in Formula 1.
It had started off so well for Hamilton. After an initial aborted start, he got a good launch off the grid to lead into turn 1. Meanwhile Vettel managed to hold off a strong challenge from Valtteri Bottas as the top five held position, while Williams' Felipe Massa got the jump on Romain Grosjean for sixth.
However it was soon clear that Hamilton was unable to pull away from the field. Complaining of lack of grip and overheating tyres, he was forced to pit early on lap 17 which put him back out in traffic in fifth place behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen. That allowed Vettel to run longer and build a gap, so that when he pitted six laps later he came out just in front of the Red Bull which continued to frustrate Hamilton.
Even though Verstappen pitted soon after, Vettel quickly built a big lead over Hamilton who continued to struggle for grip despite having switched from ultrasoft to soft tyres to take him to the finish. He later reported the power of the Mercedes unit dropping in and out, leaving him focussed on just making it to the finish in second place.
Compared with his team mate Bottas had a calm début for Mercedes in third place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Verstappen held on to fifth place ahead of Massa, while Sergio Perez had a good day for Force India to claim seventh ahead of Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat.
Esteban Ocon clinched his first championship point in tenth ahead of Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, and Antonio Giovinazzi completed his Grand Prix début in 12th place ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne.
Australian hearts were broken when Daniel Ricciardo ground to a halt on the way to the grid. Although the Red Bull engineers did get the RB13 working again, he was two laps down by the time he finally started the race. The car failed again on lap 27 forcing Ricciardo to park in turn 3.
Ricciardo was not the first driver to formally retire. First out was Grosjean, who came into the pits on lap 15 with smoke belching from the back of the Haas. Three laps later Jolyon Palmer's Renault finally succumbed to recurring brake issues, and on lap 24 Marcus Ericsson parked a sick-sounding Sauber in turn 13 after surviving an opening lap clash with Kevin Magnussen.
After making a solid début for Williams, Lance Stroll ran into the escape road at turn 13 and then limped home to the pits to retire on lap 44. Already running last on track, Magnussen was finally forced out with suspension failure on lap 47. Fernando Alonso's day also came to a premature end when he retired with suspension issues with four laps to go.
Even those cars that did make it to the end were dealing with issues. Alonso's team mate Vandoorne overcame early dashboard problems and a loss of power by turning the MCL32 on and off again during his first pit stop. Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat was forced to make a late pit stop to have his engine air system refilled.
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||57 laps - 1:24:11.670s||1|
|2||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+ 9.975s||1|
|3||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||+ 11.250s||1|
|4||Kimi Räikkönen||Ferrari||+ 33.393s||1|
|5||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+ 28.827s||1|
|6||Felipe Massa||Williams||+ 1:23.386s||1|
|7||Sergio Pérez||Force India||+ 1 lap||1|
|8||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||+ 1 lap||1|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||+ 1 lap||2|
|10||Esteban Ocon||Force India||+ 1 lap||1|
|11||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault||+ 1 lap||2|
|12||Antonio Giovinazzi||Sauber||+ 2 laps||1|
|13||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren||+ 2 laps||1|
|17||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||DNF||0|