Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has thrown down the gauntlet to defending Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton by claiming the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.
Vettel upset the form guide by claiming his third victory at Albert Park, finishing five seconds ahead of fellow four-time world champ Hamilton with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen third.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull equalled his best Albert Park result with fourth after battling back from eighth following a grid penalty.
It looked like a case of different season, same old result when Mercedes’ dominant champion Hamilton set a lap record to claim his seventh pole in Melbourne in qualifying.
But Vettel indicated Hamilton wouldn’t have it all his own way in 2018 with an inspiring victory that has set the stage for a titanic battle never before seen in Formula One.
This year marks the first time in F1 history two four-time world champions go head-to-head in a season.
The race is now on to see who will equal Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio’s five world titles.
Only Michael Schumacher (seven) has won more.
New F1 owners Liberty Media had strived to make the sport more appealing to fans in their first full season in charge in 2018 since ending Bernie Ecclestone’s controversial 40-year reign, adding a range of changes on and off the track.
Gone were grid girls amidst the changes, replaced by “grid kids” at Melbourne.
Even the cars themselves had a different look with the addition of the halo, a huge head protection device that people complained looked more like a thong.
But it looked like nothing had changed on track after Hamilton broke a lap record to claim his seventh pole position at Albert Park, sounding an ominous warning to the field ahead of the 58-lap opener.
Mercedes has won four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
It seemed like the season opener was Hamilton’s to lose but no one told Vettel.
The German is hoping to earn Ferrari’s first world drivers’ title since 2007.
Vettel inherited the race lead after Hamilton and second-placed Raikkonen followed each other into the pits to fit faster soft tyres by lap 20.
Hamilton emerged from the pits in second.
Vettel pitted during a virtual safety car period when Romain Grosjean’s Haas came to a stop after turn two on lap 25, and still emerged ahead of Hamilton with almost a second lead.
In his pursuit of the Ferrari, Hamilton locked up and ran wide on turn 10 of lap 47, costing him another two seconds.
It was a disastrous day for the Haas team with both their drivers featuring in the top five before retiring within a lap of each other after emerging from the pits.
Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was out by lap 24 while teammate Romain Grosjean parked track-side on turn two a lap later, prompting a yellow flag.
Overall, five of the 20-strong field failed to finish.