Vettel works perfect strategy to win season opener
Sebastian Vettel made full use of the virtual safety car to sneak in front of Lewis Hamilton and hold off the frustrated champion to win Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Mercedes engine’s infamous ‘party mode’ that delivered Hamilton a blistering pole lap on Saturday could do little once Ferrari’s Vettel nosed ahead when re-entering from pit-lane midway through the race at Albert Park.
Pole-sitter Hamilton had appeared set to coast to victory with a clear pace advantage but the race turned on its head with the safety car, which was called after Romain Grosjean’s Haas failed and rolled to a stop at turn two.
In another bonus for Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen finished third, fending off Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and leaving the unlucky Australian still searching for a first podium in his home race.
Four-times world champion Vettel claimed a 48th overall win and his third in Melbourne following his victories at Albert Park last year and in 2011.
“It was needless to say we got a bit lucky with the timing of the safety car,” the German, who had started from third place and inherited the lead when Hamilton and Raikkonen had pitted earlier in the race, told reporters.
“It’s not the easiest track to pass.”
For Hamilton, the result was a bitter pill to swallow and had echoes of last year’s race.
Vettel also managed to re-enter in front of him from pit-lane in 2017 before burning away to victory while the pole-sitting Briton was blocked by traffic.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said his team had miscalculated the margin between the cars during the safety car period.
“We thought we had enough margin,” he told the BBC. “It must have been a software bug in the system that caused us to get it wrong. We are digging deep now to understand where we had a problem.”
“Today has been our day. The Safety Car helped of course, but apart from that, I think we did everything we could do as a team. So when something happened, we were ready to react. We did our job before the race, evaluating different scenarios, and then in the race we had the pace as well. Lewis was under pressure, he was fast, but not as much as he needed.
As for me, I need a little bit more of confidence with the car, which is not where we want it to be yet. There is a lot of work to do, but it is great to have both cars on the podium today. Yesterday in qualifying the car came alive, but it was still a little bit tricky, so we have some homework to do.
I still need to drive around the issues more than I want to. I know exactly what I want, and we need to work on it. I believe the car has the potential we need”.
— Sky Sports F1 🏎 (@SkySportsF1) 25 March 2018