F1 round-up: Sebastian Vettel clinches Australian GP win

Sebastian Vettel out-manoeuvred Lewis Hamilton and the world champion Mercedes team with a stunning victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.

Vettel won by almost 10 seconds from Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in a commanding victory of tactics and superior speed around the Albert Park street circuit.

Ferrari hadn’t won in Melbourne since Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 victory and it was Vettel’s second triumph in Australia after winning the 2011 race with Red Bull.

DRIVER OF THE DAY

Sebastian Vettel was absolutely flawless in the season opener, establishing Ferrari’s ambitions from the onset. The four-time former world champion finished 9.9 seconds ahead of Hamilton.

Hamilton’s early stop meant he rejoined behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen which allowed Vettel to open up a decisive gap at the head of the field and one he wasn’t about to relinquish.

FASTEST LAP

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen missed out on a podium finish as he came in fourth but registered the fastest lap of the day. The Fin clocked his best time in lap 56.

Valtteri Bottas’ 1:26.593 proved the second-fastest, also on lap 56, with Vettel’s 1:26.638 third during lap 53.

While the front-runners all achieved their quickest speeds towards the end of the race the fact Hamilton’s fastest of 1:27.033 occurred on lap 44 – the second earliest of the top 13 drivers – emphasises how difficult he found it closing the gap on Vettel.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Daniel Ricciardo endured a hellish Australian Grand Prix with a weekend-long spell of wretched luck.

It just went from bad to worse for the amiable Red Bull driver who crashed in qualifying, copped a grid penalty, started the race from pit lane, before his car stopped on lap 29 of his 58-lap home GP.

“Sorry mate. Car is done. Let’s get out of here,” the shattered Ricciardo told his Red Bull Racing colleagues over the team radio.

That’s six Australian GPs now for Ricciardo; two retirements, a disqualification, a ninth, a sixth and a fourth place.

ONE TO WATCH

On his debut with Force India, Esteban Ocon impressed with a tenth place finish, registering his first points in Formula One. He showed great fight when he battled Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg in lap 52 to get into the top ten.

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Fifth 'best we could do' in qualifying, admits Verstappen

F1i 25/03/2017
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Max Verstappen will start from fifth place in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, and the teenager said that it the team couldn’t have expected any more.

The Dutch driver will start behind two rows dominated by drivers from Mercedes and Ferrari. He said that he felt this was a true reflection of Red Bull’s current form under 2017’s new rules.

“Of course not good enough,” he said after qualifying. “But after a troubled weekend and basically I saw it coming after winter testing – this is the best we could do.”

Asked by Sky Sports F1 why he felt that the team couldn’t have done any better on the day, Verstappen identified car set-up as an issue.

“Tricky balance in the car. All the time, when we’re changing something it changes quite a lot in terms of understeer and oversteer.”

But set-up wasn’t the only problem apparently holding Red Bull back at the start of the season.

“Basically not having the pace. Of course we’re still down on power but also in terms of grip levels we’re not the same as Ferrari and Mercedes yet.”

He was clear on what he needed when the lights went out in Melbourne tomorrow.

“Just a clean start. We don’t have the pace to challenge the Ferraris and Mercedes. I’m realistic. Probably a very lonely race, because behind me is also quite a big gap.”

However Verstappen did give a big thumbs up to the this year’s cars – at least to a point.

“In terms of driving, yes,” he replied when asked if the new tyre and downforce regulations were going in the right direction for Formula 1.

“It’s a lot faster and a lot more enjoyable, especially in qualifying when you take out the fuel. In the high speed corners it’s hooked, it’s really good.

“But in terms of racing I think it will be more boring. Tomorrow, whoever takes first in turn one will win the race.”

Verstappen added that he felt the new rules had contributed to the accident suffered by his team mate Daniel Ricciardo in Q3.

“The problem [for Ricciardo] is that the tyres are quite wide in the rear now, and as soon as you lose it it’s really difficult to catch it. Just because they are that wide, and you lose a lot of grip suddenly.

“It’s what I experienced in [pre-season testing in] Barcelona when you have a moment,” he added. “But normally when you just have a normal balance in the car and you don’t have an oversteer they’re actually easier to drive.”

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Violent spin and crash a setback for Ricciardo

F1i 25/03/2017
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Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo’s ambitions of shining on home turf were blown apart when the Red Bull driver was caught out by his car’s reaction and subsequent crash into the barriers.

Ricciardo had embarked on his first flying lap in Q3 when his unforgiving RB13 snapped as he rounded Turn 14, sending the Aussie backwards into the barriers and inflicting damage to the rear and right corner of his car.

The mishap cost the Honey Badger a chance to fight for a spot at the upper end of the grid for his home race, leaving him to start tomorrow’s race from tenth.

“It happened quickly, I could feel the rear was on the edge, it was starting to come around,” he said.

“I tried to catch it but it came around. As the result of more downforce and more grip, when you lose it it’s a lot more violent and aggressive – so it caught me out.

“There is still a bit to learn and don’t tend to find myself in the barriers much, so it’s a bit of an odd sight to see me in to the barrier.

“The cars have more grip, which makes them stick to the track more – but when it goes wrong they bite a bit harder.

“They are new beasts. I am positive about it – I like the cars.”

Ricciardo said he felt bad for imposing an extra workload on his Red Bull crew. The additional labor could imply a gearbox change if damage warrants, which would in turn entail a grid penalty for the Aussie, sending at the tail end of the field.

“I created a bit more work for myself and unfortunately for the mechanics,” he added.

“I feel for them, I know they have had a long weekend, tough getting cars prepared. We will turn it into a bit of aggro tomorrow and hopefully buy them a few stubbies after a better result than today.”

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