Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari got their 2018 Formula One season off to the perfect start by claiming victory at yesterday's Australian Grand Prix.
In somewhat fortuitous circumstances, the German took advantage of a Virtual Safety Car halfway through proceedings to overtake Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes and steer his way to the finish line.
The race weekend started rather ominously, with Hamilton and Mercedes stealing the show with a blistering pole lap time in Q3, which all but confirmed the Mercs as favourites for the season ahead. Ferrari and Vettel thought they had done enough to clinch pole position in Q3, but Hamilton delivered one of the laps of his career to usurp his rival and claim the first qualifying session of the season.
The ealry part of the race took much the same form as qualifying; Hamilton got away cleanly at set the pace for the opening 26 laps or so. In truth, the Silver Arrow was cruising up top and enjoying a comfortable race, until Sebastian Grosjean pulled up with a retirement.
It was a day to forget for Grosjean, his team-mate Kevin Magnussen and the Haas team. An issue with the stop/go virtual lollipop system meant that both Magnussen's and Grosjean's pit-stops ended prematurely, before their mechanics had the chance to install the left front and rear tires respectively. Both were forced into retirement shortly after emerging from the pitlane, with the Frenchman Grosjean having to ditch his car on the inside of the track just passed turn 3, which required at VSC to clear.
During that VSC, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari called one of the tactical masterstrokes in recent years. With the pitlane delta temporarily reduced from 20+ seconds to just 15 seconds, the gap was just enough for Vettel to pit, install fresh rubber and emerge in the lead, a second ahea dof Hamilton.
It was a sucker punch that floored Mercedes and left Hamilton speechless. In the post qualifying press conference the day before, the pair had swapped jibes and created a tense atmosphere, with Hamilton delighted to have 'wiped the smile off Vettel's face' with his pole-setting lap, and the German responding by wanting Ferrari and he to 'enjoy the last laugh and party' tomorrow after the race.
Vettel's words came true following the VSC yesterday; Ferrari kept the lead for the remainder of the race to claim the first win of the season. It won't always be this easy for Ferrari this year. Mercedes look ominously quick in qualifying and would've won this race but for the slice of fortune afforded to the Italians in the form of the VSC.
Next up is the Bahrain Grand Prix in a fortnight, a track that has been kind to Mercedes in recent years. We expect more fireworks and a battle between the heavyweights once again.