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Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Ferrari must improve qualifying pace to sustain a title push

Three things we learned from the Australian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel is welcomed back to the pitlane after ending Ferrari’s 28-race losing run in the Australian Grand Prix
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There was plenty of evidence in Melbourne that Ferrari’s long-run pace advantage over Mercedes during testing was genuine.

However, in qualifying it was a different story as although Sebastian Vettel secured a front-row start he was never going to challenge Lewis Hamilton for pole.

It all worked out for Vettel in the race but had Lewis Hamilton not got caught behind Max Verstappen after his pitstop the Mercedes driver may well have regained the lead when Vettel fitted new tyres. That points to some frustrating races for Vettel in the near future if he starts behind Hamilton again.

Overtaking is more difficult with this year’s cars so expect Ferrari to do all they can to get Vettel starting at the front.

2 Hamilton may not have things all his own way at Mercedes

Winter testing suggested Lewis Hamilton would face little challenge from his new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas – at least until the Finn was firmly settled in the team.

So it seemed after Friday’s practices, where Bottas was unable to lap within half a second of the triple world champion.

However, Bottas pipped Hamilton in the final practice session and despite starting only third on the grid the former Williams racer put plenty of pressure on Hamilton during qualifying.

It was similar story in the race, as despite not being able to live with Hamilton and Vettel’s early pace, he upped his game after the pitstops and for a while looked like he might challenge Hamilton for second.

3 Ferrari will need Raikkonen to step up if they are to win the constructors championship

Kimi Raikkonen was the main pre-season market mover, shortening from an early 50-1 to 10-1 when it became clear Ferrari had significantly improved their car.

However, the Iceman had a pretty ordinary weekend in Melbourne.

He qualified fourth, six-tenths of a second slower than his teammate Vettel and quickly dropped away during the race.

Indeed, in the later stages it looked like he might come under pressure from Max Verstappen, before the Finn upped his pace, ending with the fastest lap of the race.

It was an odd performance and the team will have questions for him.

Hamilton 11-8 to hit back in China

Sebastian Vettel was cut from 5-1 to 7-4 to claim his fifth Formula One drivers championship after winning yesterday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The Ferrari ace, who took his first four titles for Red Bull, drove a patient race, taking over from early leader Lewis Hamilton during the pitstops.

Hamilton began the race as 2-5 favourite after a dominant performance in qualifying, but could never shake off the attention of 7-2 chance Vettel prior to the scheduled stops to change tyres.

Hamilton had no answer to Vettel’s pace after losing the lead, and finished the race just 1.3 seconds ahead of his new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, a 10-1 chance for the race.

Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth.

Hamilton remains favourite to win what would be his fourth world championship, but can be backed at 6-4 having been 8-11 before the race.

Mercedes remain solid 4-7 favourites to retain the constructors championship, while Ferrari have been cut from 3-1 to 7-4.

The second stop on the 20-race schedule is China on April 9.

The Shanghai circuit presents a very different challenge to Albert Park, and is dominated by one of the longest straights on the calendar.

Hamilton is an early 11-8 favourite to hit back with Vettel 7-4 to follow up.

Had Lewis Hamilton not got caught behind Max Verstappen after his pitstop the Mercedes driver may well have regained the lead
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