Sebastian Vettel has repeated his 2017 victory with a copybook performance to win the Formula 1® 2018 Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
The Ferrari ace took his third win at Albert Park, and second in a row, after Ferrari managed to move him ahead of early leader Lewis Hamilton during the pit cycle.
The British driver, who dominated practice and took pole on Saturday, looked like the driver to beat over the opening 15 laps, running comfortably at the front.
But a mid-race Virtual Safety Car, which causes all the cars to run at reduced speed, allowed Vettel to make his pit stop eight laps after the world champion, and when the Ferrari resumed, it was ahead – just – of Hamilton.
For most of the rest of the race the two four-time world champions were just either side of a second apart, until Hamilton made a mistake and lost two seconds.
But he fought back and closed, until with four laps remaining he backed off to ensure a safe second place. The margin between the two at the end of the race was five seconds.
“We were lucky, obviously, with the Safety Car,” Vettel said after his 100th F1® podium.
“My start, I was hoping it would be a bit better, I was struggling little bit with the tyres and hoping for a Safety Car. I was full of adrenaline, and he kept some pressure on, especially at the beginning of the last stint.”
Hamilton was gracious in defeat.
“It has been an incredible weekend,” he said.
“Big congratulations to Seb and Ferrari. We still have great pace and I was able to put pressure on at the end. At the end, it was about fighting another day.”
Kimi Raikkonen ran second at the start, but after his early stop resumed in third place, but that ensured that Ferrari goes back to Italy with the lead in the all-important constructors' championship.
“What can we do,” Raikkonen mused. “Seb got through and I tried to follow to see if we could do something later on. Seb has a little bit more fresh tyres.”
Daniel Ricciardo drove a brilliant race in his Red Bull. After starting from eighth place he moved steadily through the field, his cause helped by a spin by teammate Max Vertsappen. He pushed hard to the final lap to finish 0.7s behind Raikkonen.
Vertsappen was sixth, unable to make ground with some light damage on his car.
Fernando Alonso gave the revamped McLaren team fifth place. The Renault-powered car looked strong, prompting the Spaniard to tell his team on the radio: “We are in the battle. Now we can fight!”
His teammate Stoffel Vandoorne was in ninth place.
Renault took seventh with Nico Hulkenberg, though hopes that his teammate Carlos Sainz would be close were dashed when he became ill during the race, dropping him to 10th place.
Valterri Bottas struggled to make ground early in the race after starting 15th after taking a penalty for a changed gearbox.
The teams now prepare for the second race of the season, the Formula 1® 2018 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix on 6-8 April.