Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari scored the first win of the 2017 Formula 1 season after beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton via a close battle in the pitlane.
Hamilton held his lead from pole position as Ferrari’s vaunted rapid getaways failed to materialise and the top four on the grid, including Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen, stayed in formation through the early laps.
Vettel stayed close to Hamilton as they began to pull away from Bottas and Raikkonen, but the British driver slowly eeked out a 1.8s advantage over the Ferrari.
The pair traded fastest laps as Hamilton complained of a lack of grip over his team radio, but they held station for much of the first stint.
Vettel did get the gap back below one second shortly before Hamilton came in for his only stop of the race on lap 17 of the 57-lap event. The triple world champion switched to the soft Pirelli tyres but came out behind some backmarkers and Verstappen.
Ferrari opted to keep Vettel out and while he matched the times Hamilton was able to produce on his fresh rubber, the German racer was then able to go faster on his used ultra-softs as the Mercedes driver got stuck behind the Red Bull.
Hamilton complained there was “nowhere to get past” Verstappen and when Vettel pitted for his only stop of the race on lap 23 he emerged fractionally in front of the Dutchman to keep hold of the net lead of the race.
Vettel rapidly raced away from Verstappen – who pitted three laps later – and quickly established a six second lead over Hamilton.
From there Vettel continued to steadily pull away from Hamilton and finished with a 9.9s gap to claim his 43rd F1 win and Ferrari’s first victory since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix.
Speaking after the race, Vettel said: “It’s what we needed, the whole team has been working really hard – the guys didn’t get much sleep here and back in the factory. The car has really been behaving well and it’s incredibly fun to drive as a well.
“A beautiful day. [The championship] is a long way ahead, for now we’re just over the moon and happy. It’s been a hard winter and an incredible race today.”
Bottas closed in on Hamilton and got within 1.3s at the flag to score his first podium finish for the Brackley-based squad in third place. Raikkonen held off a late-race charge from Verstappen to finish fourth and Williams’ Felipe Massa came home sixth as the last driver on the lead lap.
Sergio Perez pulled off a pair of eye-catching passes on the two Toro Rosso drivers – on Daniil Kvyat on lap one and Carlos Sainz shortly after their pitstops – and he held off the advances of the latter in the closing stages to finish seventh. Sainz ended up eighth as a late stop to top up the engine air system on Kvyat’s STR12 cost the Russian driver time.
Esteban Ocon scored his first ever F1 point as he rounded out the top ten after passing McLaren’s Fernando Alonso late on with a breath-taking move at Turn 1 that also featured an attack from Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who finished 11th.
Antonio Giovinazzi, the first Italian to race in F1 since the end of the 2011 season, finished 12th for Sauber and Stoffel Vandoorne was the last classified finisher, two laps down for McLaren.
Alonso retired shortly after being passed by Ocon complaining of his MCL32 “pulling to the left”. Kevin Magnussen, who speared into the side of Marcus Ericsson at Turn 3 on the first lap but was not punished for the incident, stopped his Haas car seven laps before the finish with a suspected suspension issue.
The other drivers who failed to make the chequered flag were Lance Stroll, who retired from his F1 debut for Williams shortly after going off the track at T13, Ericsson, Jolyon Palmer and Romain Grosjean, who was running in seventh when he came into the pits with smoke streaming out of his engine.
Daniel Ricciardo did not enjoy much luck at his home race. The Australian driver’s Red Bull was struck down with an engine sensor problem as he made his way to the grid, and although he did enter the race two laps down, an engine failure caused his retirement shortly after half distance.
Australian Grand Prix 2017 results:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 57 1h24m11.670s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 57 +9.975s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 57 +11.250s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 57 +33.393s
5 Max Verstappen Renault 57 +28.827s
6 Felipe Massa Williams 57 +1m23.386s
7 Sergio Perez Force India 56 +1 Lap
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 56 +1 Lap
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 56 +1 Lap
10 Esteban Ocon Force India 56 +1 Lap
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 56 +1 Lap
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber 55 +2 Laps
13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 55 +2 Laps
– Fernando Alonso McLaren 50 DNF
– Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 46 DNF
– Lance Stroll Williams 40 DNF
– Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 25 DNF
– Marcus Ericsson Sauber 21 DNF
– Jolyon Palmer Renault 15 DNF
– Romain Grosjean Haas F1 13 DNF
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