Sebastian Vettel wins the Australian GP
March 25 2018 , 10:14 pm
Sebastian Vettel won a dramatic Australian Grand Prix after leapfrogging Lewis Hamilton during a safety car period.
The Mercedes driver was in control of the race until Romain Grosjean’s Haas stopped on track and officials imposed a virtual safety-car, which restricts the pace of the cars on track.
The world champion had already made his pit stop but Vettel had yet to make his – and Ferrari pounced on the opportunity.
A pit stop made under the virtual safety car takes 10 seconds less than one made when the cars are at full speed and the time gain of stopping while Hamilton was restricted on track allowed Vettel to rejoin the race just ahead of the Mercedes.
Hamilton tracked the Ferrari closely for much of the rest of the race but was unable to pass, before he dramatically lost pace in the closing laps and had to focus on maintaining second.
It was a bitter blow for Hamilton in the first race of a year in which he hopes to beat Vettel to be the first driver of the current era to win a fifth world title.
Until the virtual safety car intervention, Hamilton had appeared in total control of the race after taking a blistering pole position by nearly 0.7 seconds on Saturday.
He led away from pole and stretched a 3.3-second lead over Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who qualified second ahead of the German, before the Finn made his pit stop on lap 18.
Hamilton followed him in on the next lap and rejoined with a bigger lead – but Ferrari decided to run Vettel long, taking advantage of their opportunity with two cars running at the front to split their strategies.
The decision would have been made in the hope of an incident bringing out the safety car – and their gamble paid off thanks to a bitter blow for Haas, effectively a Ferrari B team.
As he slowed in the final laps – Mercedes blaming his rear tyres going off – he began to fall back towards Raikkonen.
The Finn began to close at more than a second a lap but Hamilton did just enough to maintain second place.
Raikkonen found himself under heavy pressure from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo from the safety car to the end of the race but held the Australian off.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was another to benefit from the caution period. He ran 10th in the first part of the race, but ran long like Vettel and emerged fifth.
Verstappen passed him under the virtual safety car as Alonso emerged from the pits but the Dutchman was told to give the place back because he had broken the rules forbidding passing under caution.
Like Raikkonen and Ricciardo, Alonso was under pressure from Verstappen for the rest of the race but he held him off to take a fifth place for McLaren in their first race with Renault engines.