GP AUSTRALIA F1/2017 –
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

With sweeping new regulations taking effect this year, it was going to be interesting to see how the 2017 Formula One grid stacks up – and it appears that the good omens that surrounded Ferrari during pre-season testing have followed it to the first race of the year. Sebastian Vettel stunned everyone yesterday by winning the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes AMG Petronas’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

The 29-year-old German used the latent speed of the Scuderia’s SF70-H to full effect, keeping up with pole sitter Hamilton in the early stages of the race. When the Briton pitted from the lead on lap 17, Vettel maximised his advantage as the Mercedes came out behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and could not get past – allowing the Ferrari to emerge from the pits on lap 22 just ahead of the two drivers.

Thereafter, Hamilton simply could not compete with Vettel’s sheer pace, struggling with a suspected problem with the floor of his F1 W08 EQ Power+ and an intermittent drop in power. He did manage to hold back a resurgent Bottas in the latter part of the 57-lap race, but was unable to prevent Vettel from romping home with his first victory since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, banishing memories of a winless 2016.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer battles for position with Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 26, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Just outside a podium finish sat Ferrari’s other driver Kimi Raikkonen, who was at risk of being overtaken by Verstappen in the latter stages before clinching the fastest lap on the penultimate lap. Felipe Massa finished sixth for Williams, followed by Force India’s Sergio Perez in seventh and the Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kyvat in eighth and ninth respectively.

Fernando Alonso nearly scored the final championship point for McLaren, which struggled throughout pre-season testing with an uncompetitive and unreliable Honda engine. However, he was passed by the Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg on lap 52 before retiring due to a suspension issue.

The last two finishers in the race of attrition were Sauber’s Antonio Giovinazzi – standing in for Pascal Wehrlein, who deemed himself unfit for the race as he was still recovering from an accident at last year’s Race of Champions – and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Formel 1 – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Großer Preis von Australien 2017. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas ;
Formula One – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Australian GP 2017. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas;

Unfortunately for the home crowd, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo had an appalling weekend – after crashing out in Q3 of qualifying on Saturday, a gearbox change forced a five-place grid penalty. Then, on the way out onto the grid, a sensor problem left his RB13 stuck in sixth gear; he eventually started his race two laps down, but retired midway through due to a suspected engine failure.

As a result, Vettel leads the championship with 25 points, seven points clear of Hamilton; Ferrari, meanwhile, is at the top of the constructor’s table with 37 points versus Mercedes’ 33. This marks the first time a non-Mercedes driver to lead the driver’s championship since Vettel himself won the championship in a Red Bull in 2013, as well as the first time Ferrari has led the constructor’s championship since 2012.