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Vettel wins season opening Australian Grand Prix

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media-ferrari-sf71h-2018-australian-gp-commentA trip to the Antipodes has delivered Ferrari’s 230th win, a ninth for Sebastian Vettel with the Scuderia (the 48th of his career) at the end of a race that was unforgettable in terms of the excitement it delivered and a perfect job from the team. Starting from third on the grid, Seb made the most of the Safety Car period to pop out of pit lane ahead of Lewis Hamilton, while Kimi Raikkonen, from second, rounded off the Australian podium in third place, doing a great job of fighting off an attacking Ricciardo in the closing stages. The Scuderia thus finds itself leading both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships on 25 and 37 points respectively.

Sunshine and wind were on the agenda for the start at 16h10 local time. The track surface on the grid provided little grip, but our guys got away well and from second, Kimi even got alongside Hamilton, with Seb third. This is Melbourne, which means it was no surprise that the positions didn’t change much, despite the three DRS zones, seen here for the first time in F1. Even the split times were similar and on lap 9, the two SF71Hs were pushing hard with Kimi and then Seb setting a race fastest lap. Raikkonen closed the gap to the leader, but he also had to manage his race, while waiting for the tyre changes.

And the first of those stops came at the end of lap 18: Kimi pitted as planned, with the mechanics staying put until the very last moment, switching him from the Ultras to the Soft compound, so that the Finn was able to rejoin ahead of the two impressive Haas cars. The opposition reacted immediately, bringing in Hamilton, who went for the same tyre choice. This meant Sebastian found himself leading the GP and he upped the pace slightly. His turn to pit came at the end of lap 26, at the same time as the Virtual Safety Car was engaged, after Grosjean stopped out on the track.

This tactic paid off: Seb made the most of the zone before the Safety Car line and emerged ahead of Hamilton! A short and spontaneous applause rippled through the garage. “Well done team,” said Maurizio over the radio. But it was not even the mid point of the race yet. Immediately after that, the real Safety Car was required and it stayed out up to and including lap 31. All the drivers at the front of the field fitted the Soft tyres – Seb’s had six laps less – and after the restart there were no overtaking moves.

There were fights, thanks to the DRS, but Seb held firm and set the fastest lap on lap 34. As for Kimi he had to fend off Ricciardo for third, as the Australian had closed right up under the Safety Car. Out in front, the battle swung with the moveable wing: whoever was behind could use it, but ran the risk of overheating in the slipstream. Hamilton was not about to give up and Sebastian responded with another fastest time on lap 45. His rival was pushing hard, even losing the front end under braking and that saw the gap go out to almost two seconds. Seb? “The tyres are working very well,” he said over the radio.

Over the final five laps, Seb pulled out a bit of an advantage, while Kimi had a gap of just under two seconds to manage, but then closed on Hamilton who had lost his rhythm. The last lap was a heart-stopper but it finished with a first and a third place. Excuse us, but this time, we are the ones with the smile on our faces.

Vettel shared after his win, ”Today has been our day. The Safety Car helped of course, but apart from that, I think we did everything we could do as a team. So when something happened, we were ready to react. We did our job before the race, evaluating different scenarios, and then in the race we had the pace as well. Lewis was under pressure, he was fast, but not as much as he needed. As for me, I need a little bit more of confidence with the car, which is not where we want it to be yet. There is a lot of work to do, but it is great to have both cars on the podium today. Yesterday in qualifying the car came alive, but it was still a little bit tricky, so we have some homework to do. I still need to drive around the issues more than I want to. I know exactly what I want, and we need to work on it. I believe the car has the potential we need.

Hamilton said, "I did everything I could today, but it's not what anyone expected to happen. I'm still in a little bit of disbelief as I don't really understand what happened yet. Once I get back with my engineers they'll do a debrief and obviously I'll find out why. This weekend there was so much talk about party mode or if Ferrari would be quick enough. I don't think the gap was as big as it seemed yesterday, it's just that I had a good lap and maybe Sebastian didn't have a good lap. But today they were very, very quick. I put up a bit of a fight towards the end but they were within a tenth of us today. At least in my heart I know that I gave everything this weekend. I'm sure the team is feeling pain right now but we will regroup and we'll work on it."

Rounding off the podium Raikkonen said, “A win with two cars on the podium is a very good start of the season for the team. Maybe I have been a bit unlucky today, but at least the luck came to our team. Third place it’s not exactly the result we wanted, but it’s only the first race and the big picture is not too bad. So I happily take the third place. Overall I was pretty happy with my car today, the speed was there all day. It’s nice to have a good feeling. For sure there are things to improve, but if the feeling stays like this we’ll have all the tools to fight. And this is the most important thing. This is a quite special track in many ways, so let’s see what happens in the next race. Bahrain it’s not very straightforward either; from year to year we have seen that the hot conditions don’t give a 100 percent true picture. We need to be patient and do our best wherever we go.”

Daniel Ricciardo in fourth place shared, “I woke up this morning happy because it’s race day and it’s been too long since we raced so, already before the race I was just happy and smiling. It’s a long wait and in the week leading up to this race, you talk so much about the race and it’s like, let’s just do it. I’m happy with the way I drove today and we had a very fast race car. It’s not often I sit behind someone for most of the race but it’s a tight track and one of the more tricky ones for passing. There were a couple of times I had a look at turn three but Kimi was wise to that and could see what I was planning. Towards the end I applied more pressure on him but he was able to up the pace as well. I think we’re pretty close with Ferrari and our race pace is strong, which I thought would be the case, so we just need to get a few more tenths out of Qualifying and then we should be looking good. Being so close to the podium and getting fastest lap is definitely an encouraging way to start the season. I want to thank all the fans for coming out and supporting us today and now it’s definitely time to go and put my feet up for a couple of days after a busy week!”