2017 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel Shakes Things up with a Victory for Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel starts the season off with a surprise victory over Mercedes at Australia.

Lewis Hamilton may have stormed to pole position for the inaugural race of the 2017 Formula 1 season, but it was Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari that took the victory by a commanding lead — disturbing the otherwise impenetrable driving force of the Brackley-based Mercedes team.

Hamilton would make a strong start from pole position, appearing to keep Vettel at bay but the Ferrari driver would keep his sights trained on Hamilton throughout the opening laps. Making the most of the separation between the two Mercedes drivers, the German would close the gap down to within a second before Hamilton pulled into the pits on lap 17.

Appearing to maintain the strategic advantage, the race would fall into the hands of the four-time champion and Ferrari after Hamilton fell into the clutches of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, whose defense not only vaporized the rubber on the Mercedes, but its advantage as well. This would allow Vettel to disappear into the distance, ultimately granting a near 10-second lead and the first win with Ferrari since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix.

Behind Vettel and Hamilton was third place finisher Valtteri Bottas, who much like his Mercedes teammate has complained of extreme tire wear. While a fantastic result for his debut with the team there’s little denying that the Finnish driver wants to finish higher up the order, above his championship-winning teammate no less.

Rounding out the top five is Kimi Raikkonen in fourth, who for the majority of the race remained largely anonymous, only coming alive when fifth place finisher Max Verstappen threatened to steal the position. Verstappen briefly held the fastest lap before it too was taken back by Raikkonen on the penultimate lap.

Second place is an unusual, alien position for the otherwise dominant Mercedes-AMG team.

The midfield offered its fair share of sportiness with the returning Felipe Massa taking home a sixth place finish in comfortable fashion, and Sergio Perez making a few daring moves to secure his finishing position of seventh. Torro Rosso drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat finished in eighth and ninth respectively, and Esteban Ocon finished in tenth in his Force India debut.

Interestingly, Ocon was able to edge the final points-paying position away from Fernando Alonso of McLaren who would eventually have to retire the troubled chassis with handling issues. While a far more promising approach than last year, McLaren-Honda still has a considerable hurdle to overcome before stepping back into its winning ways.

One can’t help but wonder whether or not Fernando Alonso is being wasted away, and while the immediate answer among many will be a resounding “Yes”, it’s worth noting that Alonso has an uncanny knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s going to be a guessing game as to how long the Spaniard will be able to remain well-mannered in the face of a chassis that is only marginally more promising than last year’s.

Esteban Ocon secured a 10th place finish in his debut race for Sahara Force India.

The first race of the 2017 season brought its fair share of black clouds, with the afore-mentioned McLaren-Honda of Alonso being only one of seven retirements throughout the race.

The attrition rate began with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo falling foul to gearbox reliability issues during a reconnaissance lap. Eventually the team would be able to get Ricciardo’s RB13 back on track, albeit two laps down but the efforts were short-lived as the car would come to a halt on the exit of Turn 3 on Lap 29; coincidentally ending a 29 race-finishing streak.

A double retirement for Haas was the result of Romain Grosjean bringing a smoking VF-17 into the pitlane after 17 laps, and teammate Kevin Magnussen bringing in his during the closing stages of the race after an earlier incident with Sauber’s Marcus Ericcson. While Ericcson was able to get back on track his efforts were also for nil, retiring shortly before Ricciardo. Lance Stroll and Jolyon Palmer were also unable to complete today’s race.

The MCL32 shows more promise for the McLaren-Honda partnership, but there’s still a long way to go.

Formula One is often the culprit of repetition among the top teams, and as a result of the past several years the foregone conclusion has always been a Mercedes victory. The one constant has been the threat of a Ferrari leering in the background, taking every opportunity to score points. While it’s often the result of a mechanical or track-based issue on behalf of Mercedes, today was different — today’s victory spells that Ferrari is a serious contender for both the Driver’s and Constructor’s championships.

The next event on the F1 calendar is in two week’s time at Shanghai, China for the Heineken Chinese Grand Prix on April 9.

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