Australian Grand Prix: 9 things we learned from the season opener
After a long, long winter break Formula 1 racing was back today when the lights went out at the Albert Park track in Melbourne.
The new season brought with it a change in the pecking order - at least at this race - as Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari beat Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes on pure pace.
New season, new rules, new order. Here's what we learned...
1. The finger is back.
Hands up: we were doubters. After three years of crushing Mercedes dominance, we really didn't think Ferrari's pre-season testing pace would translate to the track once the season started. We were wrong.
Lewis Hamilton took pole on Saturday, but as soon the lights went out on Sunday you could see things had changed. The Mercedes man was not running and hiding from all-comers - Sebastian Vettel was hanging on. Then he was gaining. Then, with the help of a good bit of strategy, he took the lead at the pitstops.
And all the while Hamilton was complaining on the radio. He just did not have the pace, and could only watch on as Vettel brought the Ferrari home for their first win since Singapore 2015.
The German looked understanably ecstatic as he jumped out of the car and greeted his mechanics in Parc Ferme. Then out came the finger. This was not a win the Scuderia lucked in to. This was won on pure pace.
Vettel told his team after qualifying on Saturday: ‘We’ll get them tomorrow’. And he did.
2. HAMILTON VS VETTEL IS ON
So Vettel took the victory from Lewis Hamilton, but not by a huge margin. After an hour and a half of racing the Ferrari man took the flag just 10 seconds ahead of the Mercedes.
On the basis of this race that means we have two fairly evenly matched cars and drivers from two different teams. This is what we've been waiting for.
We've never seen a proper Hamilton vs Vettel title battle, but if this race is anything to go by, that is what we're going to get this year.
Toto Wolff may not like it, but it's great for Formula 1.
3. The new rules are... ok
This grand prix was our first opportunity to see the new style cars in race conditions.
Verdict? Well, the cars look good, but we knew that already.
Vettel said on the podium that 'you can keep pushing much harder' in these new cars without fear of the tyres dropping off completely, which is a positive.
But more overtaking? Erm, not so much. There were a few moves in the first lap flurry, then a dramatic three car abreast moment when Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg took Fernando Alonso at turn 1, but overall there was no more than there has been in the past few years - and the key lead change was done in the pitstops, not on the track.
When Lewis Hamilton was told after his pitstop that he needed to get past Max Verstappen, he replied curtly, 'I don't know how you expect me to do that'.
Albert Park isn't the best track for overtaking so let's wait until China before we jump to too many conclusions, but it's fair to say the racing was absorbing rather than thrilling.
4. The only luck Ricciardo had was bad
A spin and a crash on Saturday, followed by a gearbox change and a five place grid penalty was bad enough for Daniel Ricciardo on home soil.
Then it got so much worse on Sunday. An electronic problem meant his car was stuck in sixth gear and he was forced to start from the pitlane, two laps down on the field. His car eventually gave up on lap 29 and he was out.
As Martin Brundle said, 'If Ricciardo didn’t have bad luck, he’d have had no luck at all this weekend.’
5. The order is already starting to take shape
Ferrari and Mercedes look evenly matched at the front, while Red Bull are clearly third fastest with Max Verstappen 29 seconds behind Vettel at the flag.
With the new aero rules and design genius Adrian Newey in the team, many had tipped Red Bull to come up with a car that was the class of the field.
Given that they are clearly third fastest - and had reliability problems with Ricciardo's car, it's a disappointing start for the Milton Keynes team. Work to do.
6. Bottas is here to play
There was a moment in the race when Mercedes new boy Valtteri Bottas was lying in third position - but catching his team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Would Mercedes order Lewis to let him through? Would they tell Bottas to hold station?
In the end the young Finn did not get close enough to challenge Hamilton, but he finished the race less than two seconds behind.
Given how quick Lewis is, and the fact this was Bottas' first race for a new team, it was a pretty impressive showing from the ex-Williams man.
7. More misery for McLaren
Fernando Alonso was driving the wheels off his McLaren Honda as he battled for 10th place until Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg got past him.
His suspension gave out shortly afterwards to pit him out of the race.
It's no way for a two-time world champion and one of the fastest drivers on the grid to spend his time.
McLaren's current situation summed up in one pictured: Honda's Yusuke Hasegawa withj Fernando Alonso (Pic: Sutton)
'We are last,' he said glumly after the race. 'In normal conditions, on a normal circuit I think we would be last.'
Honda are already promising a new engine but Fernando's patience will snap long before that arrives.
8. Massa's still got it
He retired, then un-retired. Then took an excellent sixth place in the race, the first car home behind the Ferraris, Mercs and the Red Bull.
Top work from Felipe.
9. Webber and Vettel are friends again
Multi 21? Not a bit of it. Aussie Mark Webber was the man sent up to do the podium interviews after the race, and first things first was a hug for his old Red Bull sparring partner Seb Vettel. Nice.