After three relatively sterile years of watching Mercedes dominate race after race, championship after championship, we finally have a competitive Formula One on our hands.
At least that's the story from Melbourne, Australia, where Sebastian Vettel secured Ferrari's first Grand Prix win since 2015 to suggest that there will be a title fight this season. Although the first race of the season can often throw up shock results, it very much seems like the Scuderia will be a force to be reckoned with this year.
With Hamilton and Vettel on the front row, it was the Brit who got the better start and charged into the lead by the first corner. Last year, that probably would'v been game over; Hamilton would have sailed to victory whilst the nineteen other cars toiled behind him. However, Vettel and his Ferrari were more than capable of tracking Hamilton for fifteen laps, with the German never falling more than 1.5 seconds behind the Silver Arrow.
What is even more encouraging is that Vettel didn't have to wreck his tyres or engine to do it. The Ferrari was extraordinarily comfortable keeping tabs on the Merc. If anything, it was Hamilton who struggled to keep his tyres in check. His strategists took a gamble by pulling him into the pits a lap early in order to achieve the undercut on Vettel. It almost paid off, but not quite. Vettel zoomed off into the distance whilst Hamilton came back out behind Max Verstappen in P4. Hamilton was quicker than the Ferrari for the first few laps after his stop, suggesting the undercut was on, but he got caught up behind the Dutchman whilst Vettel put the foot down in open air. He opened just a big enough gap to pit and emerge just ahead of both the Red Bull and Mercedes. It was very close - Vettel had to battle to keep Verstappen behind him as they headed into the first corner, but Ferrari's strategists had won the game of pit-stop brinkmanship and effectively won the race for Vettel. Hamilton bemoaned tyre management and the difficulties in overtaking - a pressing concern amongst the paddock this year - but his Mercedes simply wasn't quick enough to chase down the Prancing Horse.
Before the race, the major fear that emerged from both practice sessions and qualifying was that Mercedes will be as dominant as ever. Hamilton was three tenths of a second quicker than Vettel in qualifying, a notable gap in racing terms. However, when comparing the Mercedes and Ferrari challengers, perhaps it's better to compare Bottas' times with Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari. Hamilton is perhaps the most naturally gifted driver on the grid and so can squeeze every ounce of performance from his car. Bottas' time was a couple hundredths of a second short of Vettel's, suggesting the teams are neck and neck this season.
Elsewhere, the opening race was a torrid affair for McLaren. They were hardly expected to perform well this weekend, but this wasn't a pretty sight for the British team. Stoffel Vandoorne struggled in his opening race with downshift issues (he lost access to any visual aids in his cockpit), whilst Fernando Alonso toiled around Albert Park. He was looking good for a point before having to retire after lap 50. One moment summed up their wreck of a car so far; on a relatively short straight, Daniel Ricciardo performed an overtake on Vandoorne, who's car resembled more of a traffic cone than a Formula One car. It was enough for commentator Martin Brundle to express exasperation at the slow McLaren.
Next up is China and another chance to see if we are witnessing the real thing with Ferrari, or if their win this weekend was just a freak event to give fans false hope that we will finally go racing again this year.