What happened at the Australian Grand Prix?

Driver by driver, team by team – here’s who did what and how in Melbourne.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, finished 2nd. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 3rd.

Was Australia a race Ferrari won, or one Mercedes lost? Hamilton’s lap 17 pit stop to discard his ultrasoft Pirelli tyres seemed a touch premature, particularly given the more durable rubber this year made Albert Park a nailed-on one-stop race. By the time Vettel pitted six laps later after inheriting the lead, Hamilton was stuck behind Verstappen’s yet-to-pit Red Bull, and had no answer for the German’s pace afterwards as he was unable to convert a record-equalling sixth Australian pole into victory. Bottas started and finished third on a very solid first weekend for his new employers, and was just 1.2 seconds behind Hamilton at the finish. Mercedes has faced little competition in recent times, and perhaps its strategic sharpness left something to be desired after winning 19 of the 21 Grands Prix a year ago.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 10th, did not finish. Max Verstappen: qualified 5th, finished 5th.

A horrible Saturday for Ricciardo turned into a nightmare Sunday, as he retired from a race for the first time since the 2015 Russian Grand Prix. A rare shunt in qualifying – just his third crash in three seasons – saw him condemned to a 10th-place start, which became 15th thanks to a five-place grid penalty for a replacement gearbox. It was a grid he never made, his RB13 breaking down on the formation lap, and he eventually retired from last place at half-distance when he did eventually get going, a sour end to a weekend where he was the centre of attention. Verstappen finished where he started, but a deficit of 1.2 seconds to Hamilton in qualifying and finishing half a minute behind Vettel means last year’s constructors’ championship runner-up has plenty of work to do before round two in China.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 1st. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 4th, finished 4th.

The F1 world converged on Melbourne wanting to know if Ferrari’s pre-season pace was legit, casting a cynical eye towards the Scuderia after its winter testing pace seemed to evaporate in previous years when the pre-season phoney war came to a close. Not this time, though: Vettel was in Hamilton’s shadow in qualifying, and took out his second Australian GP 24 hours later for Ferrari’s first victory since Singapore 2015. That was the good, and then there was Raikkonen; the Finn qualified half a second slower than his teammate and finished 22 seconds behind a cruising Vettel at the finish, making you wonder once again what Ferrari could achieve with a swifter driver in the sister car.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 11th, finished 7th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 14th, finished 10th.

Force India arrived in Melbourne with a striking new pink livery, and while it was hard to tell their drivers apart on track thanks to radical helmet revisions for both Perez and Ocon, both drivers finished inside the top 10 on race day to give the team seven valuable points after both cars failed to make Q3. Perez finished in Australia for the third time in the past four years, while for Ocon, who spent last year toiling for the backmarker Manor team, 10th was enough for his maiden world championship point.

Felipe Massa: qualified 7th, finished 6th. Lance Stroll: qualified 19th, did not finish.

Massa’s “retirement” – he came back to the team after Bottas moved to Mercedes over the off-season – didn’t interrupt his rhythm as the veteran Brazilian was the ‘best of the rest’ for much of the weekend behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, finishing as the final car on the lead lap, albeit 83 seconds behind Vettel. Stroll’s rookie race weekend started quietly before he hit the wall in third practice, necessitating a gearbox change and a mad rush for the team to get him on track for qualifying, while his race ended after lap 40 after a trip down the escape road at Turn 13.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 13th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 18th, finished 13th.

McLaren came to Australia after a wretched pre-season, where the car was both slow and unreliable, and had low hopes for the first race of the season. Still, it was surprising to hear Alonso, a two-time world champion, describe his race as “probably the best of my life” as he ran in the back-end of the points for much of it before his suspension failed on lap 50 of 57. Vandoorne, who turned 25 on race day, had to drive blind for much of the race with a malfunctioning dashboard, and was the last classified finisher in his second Grand Prix.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 9th, finished 9th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 8th, finished 8th.

The best-looking livery in F1 – to our eyes anyway – delivered on track as well, with both Toro Rosso tyros finishing in the points. Sainz was marginally the quicker of the two in qualifying – by 0.025secs – and made it three points finishes in Australia in as many years as he finished right in Perez’s shadow for seventh. Kvyat at least made the start – his Red Bull failed on the formation lap at Albert Park the past two years – and made his opening set of ultrasoft tyres last a whopping 34 laps in what was a solid weekend for Red Bull’s ‘B’ team.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 6th, did not finish. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 17th, did not finish.

Grosjean was arguably the mid-grid star of the weekend before Sunday, the fast Frenchman finishing inside the top eight in every session before the race. The American team had high hopes of Grosjean reprising his sixth-place finish in Melbourne a year ago, but a water leak after 13 laps saw him become the race’s first retirement. Magnussen’s weekend was less positive, the Dane struggling to get Turn 12 right in qualifying and then clattering into Sauber’s Ericsson on lap one of the race, a front suspension failure eventually seeing him retire 11 laps from home.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 20th, did not finish. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 12th, finished 11th.

The high point of Palmer’s trip to Australia came when the official event program referred to him as a three-time world champion; back in the real world, the second-year Brit smashed his RS17 into the wall at the last corner in second practice, bemoaned a lack of grip in qualifying despite Hulkenberg suffering no such problems, and then retired early in the race with brake issues. Hulkenberg had more to happy about on his first weekend with the team until race day, where he initially lined up in the wrong grid spot to start the race, and then finished a second outside of the points when he was pipped at the post by Ocon.

Antonio Giovinazzi: qualified 16th, finished 12th. Marcus Ericsson: qualified 15th, did not finish.

A strange weekend for Sauber, with regular driver Pascal Wehrlein pulling out of the event on Saturday morning citing fitness concerns, his pre-season compromised by an accident at the Race of Champions in Miami that left him with a back injury. Ferrari test driver Giovinazzi was drafted in and acquitted himself very well for a man who had never driven the Albert Park layout until Saturday, finishing just behind teammate Ericsson in qualifying and ending Sunday in 12th place after completing a Grand Prix distance for the first time. Ericsson’s event was more eventful, the Swede spinning into the Turn 6 gravel in Friday practice before his race was ruined after the clash with Magnussen in the opening corners.


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