Sebastian Vettel upsets Hamilton in F1 opener
Mercedes man Lewis odds-on to strike back in Bahrain
Sebastian Vettel upset the odds to win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and is a 4-1 chance to win his fifth world title this season.
The Ferrari star had been 4-1 before the track action began in Melbourne, but drifted to as big as 6-1 after Mercedes had the edge in practice and qualifying.
World champion Lewis Hamilton is out to 4-7 from 1-2 to beat Vettel to a fifth crown this season, but those who backed the British driver should not be panicking just yet.
Hamilton looked on his way to victory from pole in Melbourne but Vettel was able to get in front by making his pit-stop during a virtual safety-car period having stayed out for a longer first stint than his rival.
The favourite was not able to land a blow on the German afterwards at a track where passing is difficult but the Mercedes still looks the car to beat in terms of raw pace and balance.
Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen was third and Ferrari are 18 points ahead in the constructors championship, but still available at 5-1 for the team title.
Hamilton has been installed as 10-11 favourite for the second race of the year in Bahrain with Vettel a 10-3 shot and Valtteri Bottas, who ruined his weekend with a crash in qualifying, a 6-1 chance.
Vettel, advised in our race preview on racingpost.com, was an 11-2 chance to win the opener with Hamilton going off at 4-9.
Australian Grand Prix result: 1 S Vettel, 2 L Hamilton, 3 K Raikkonen, 4 D Ricciardo, 5 F Alonso, 6 M Verstappen, 7 N Hulkenberg, 8 V Bottas, 9 S Vandoorne, 10 C Sainz, 11 S Perez, 12 E Ocon, 13 C Leclerc, 14 L Stroll, 15 B Hartley, DNF R Grosjean, K Magnussen, P Gasly, M Ericsson, S Sirotkin.
Three things we learned from the race
1 It’s tighter at the top
The good news for Lewis Hamilton is that despite finishing second in Melbourne his Mercedes still looks the car to beat this season.
The bad news for the four-time champion is that the Silver Arrows are close enough to their rivals to be vulnerable when relatively minor things go wrong, such as the badly-timed safety car in the opener.
F1 fans and bookmakers should both be looking forward to a more competitive campaign with the big six from Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari all capable of challenging for victories when tracks and conditions suit them.
It’s good to see that the more open competition this season has seen the return of three each-way places with some bookmakers – there are some such offers in the early shows for Bahrain – whereas in the last couple of seasons punters have often had to wait until the without Mercedes market was priced up to get involved.
It was promising to see Kimi Raikkonen joining Vettel on the podium in Melbourne – a fast car could do wonders for the Finn’s focus, while Valtteri Bottas should not be written off as a subdued sidekick despite his qualifying crash that led to him starting the first race from 15th place.
2 There are three divisions
This year’s pack looks to be in three distinct sections, with the top three teams followed by the midfield tier of Haas, Renault and McLaren and the bottom-half places contested by Force India, Toro Rosso, Williams and Sauber.
American outfit Haas will have mixed feelings as their testing pace and qualifying performance gave them solid claims to be best of the rest and the troubles of Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo enabled Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen to lock out the third row of the grid. But both cars were forced to retire due to loose wheels after pit-stops.
That comedy of errors enabled McLaren’s Fernando Alonso (another beneficiary of the safety car) to finish a lofty fifth in the race the Woking-based team expected to be their toughest of the year.
Toro Rosso had avoided the Honda engine problems that plagued McLaren last year but they struck again in the race, forcing Pierre Gasly’s retirement.
3 Red Bull battle should be closer than bookmakers think
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo normally has a smile on his face, even though he had a few choice words for the grid penalty he received in his home race.
He would have been entitled to give a dirty look to the bookmakers who see him as a second-stringer compared to younger teammate Max Verstappen, though.
Ricciardo was 12-1 for the title in the pre-season betting compared to Verstappen’s 8-1 (6-1 generally) and a bigger price for the race than the Dutchman with every firm even before his penalty.
The trademark grin should have returned after he took 12 points compared to Verstappen’s eight, having climbed up from eighth on the grid to fourth, while an early mistake led to Verstappen finishing sixth, behind Alonso.
Ricciardo also registered the fastest lap of the race and if the car is quick enough this season he can win with it.
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