Australian F1 Grand Prix 2018 Results: Sebastian Vettel Wins Season Opener

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2018

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 25: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H and the rest of the field off the start line during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Will Taylor-Medhurst/Getty Images)
Will Taylor-Medhurst/Getty Images

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel took full advantage of a timely virtual safety car to win the 2018 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, the first race of the season.

The German beat defending world champion Lewis Hamilton to the top spot, taking the lead after both Haas cars retired and brought out the virtual safety car.

Hamilton and his Mercedes had been untouchable until that point but could do little once Vettel dove into the pits. Under virtual safety car rules, positions are fixed on track, but those rules don't apply to the pit lane, and Vettel emerged in front after his stop.

Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium, finishing ahead of Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, McLaren's Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas had to settle for eighth place. Here's a look at the results, via F1's official Twitter account:

Bottas started from 15th place after his crash in qualifying required a change of gearbox, and the Mercedes man couldn't make up any places off the line. Hamilton kept the Ferrari duo behind him, with Raikkonen starting his attacks early.

Brendon Hartley came into the pits at the end of the opening lap, while Verstappen was stuck behind Kevin Magnussen and lost ground on the frontrunners. Further back, Bottas couldn't make any moves, per Autosport Live:

Sergey Sirotkin was the first man to retire in the 2018 season, bringing out double yellow flags, while Marcus Ericsson entered the pits soon after, telling his engineer he lost power steering.

Verstappen took a few too many risks trying to get past Magnussen and spun out as a result, losing positions to team-mate Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean of Haas.

F1 writer Will Buxton was not surprised:

At the front, little changed, with Hamilton keeping Raikkonen at a distance and Vettel seemingly looking after his tyres behind those two.

After early retirements from Williams and Sauber, Toro Rosso were next to run into issues, as Pierre Gasly lost all pace and had smoke coming out of his engine.

Raikkonen made the switch to the soft tyres and easily returned to the track ahead of the Haas duo, while Hamilton covered immediately, leaving Vettel in the lead. The Brit would emerge ahead of Raikkonen, maintaining track position.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 25: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team VF-18 Ferrari leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Haas impressed tremendously until Magnussen left the pit lane and immediately lost all pace. While he spoke of a suspension issue over the radio, replays confirmed the team failed to properly fit one of his wheels during the stop.

Just minutes later, Grosjean retired as well, bringing out the virtual safety car. iGP Manager couldn't help themselves:

At the front, Vettel's gamble to stay out longer paid off in a big way, as the German used the virtual safety car to keep the lead even after his pit stop. Ferrari played the rules perfectly, to the disbelief of Hamilton, who couldn't believe he lost the virtual lead.

The actual safety car came out shortly after, giving fans the chance to launch into the first conspiracy theories of the year. With Haas running Ferrari engines, it wasn't hard to connect the supposed dots:

There was more controversy in the background, where Verstappen appeared to pass Alonso as the latter left the pit lane. The Dutchman handed the position back, however.

Racing resumed at the end of Lap 31 with Hamilton right on Vettel's gear box but the Ferrari on fresher rubber. Red Bull also took full advantage of the odd situation and were suddenly fighting for the podium, with Ricciardo close behind Raikkonen.

Hamilton opened his assault with just over 10 laps to go but lost his racing line on Turn 9, losing plenty of time. That gave Vettel a solid gap over the Mercedes, keeping him out of the DRS zone for a while, and RaceFans Live thought the battle at the front was over:

But the defending world champion had the pace and came very close to entering DRS range in Lap 53. He backed off, however, making a ton of changes on his steering wheel and settling for second place.

Raikkonen hung on to third place while Alonso celebrated an impressive fifth-placed finish for McLaren. Both Renaults also finished in the points.

Bahrain will host the second race of the season on April 8.

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