Sebastian Vettel Enjoys Entropic Australian Grand Prix Win
Many retirements and an opportune safety car gave the German the Grand Prix win.
The 2018 Australian Grand Prix reiterated what Robert Burns explained over two centuries ago: The best laid plans of mice and men often go wrong. Mercedes learned this the hard way, entering the race weekend with what was without a doubt the fastest car, as proven by Lewis Hamilton's monster qualifying lap. Things gradually fell apart, first with Bottas' Saturday crash, and on Sunday, when the dominoes fell in Ferrari's favor, triggered by Haas' pit stop pratfalls.
This Grand Prix's chaos began in turn one, when an unaware Max Verstappen found himself swept over by Kevin Magnussen, around the outside of the corner. Verstappen would pursue Magnussen until lap 10, when he spun at turn one, relinquishing position to Romain Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo, and Nico Hülkenberg. Haas cars were now running P4 and P5 after the team's best-ever race start, leaping from lower-midfield nobodies to underdog heroes in the span of the winter.
In the following laps, retirements began to trickle in, from near the back of the field. Sergey Sirotkin pulled his Williams off the track, announcing a brake failure to his team over the radio. Marcus Ericsson would park his Alfa Romeo Sauber shortly afterward with a power steering failure, and after smoke burst from the back of Pierre Gasly's Honda engine, he too was out.
At this point, Sebastian Vettel, outqualified by his teammate, had slipped back several seconds from his Finnish fellow at Ferrari, and was running a distant P3. His fortune took a drastic turn following the pit stops of Haas, however. Magnussen pulled into the pits between laps 22 and 23, departing amidst a panicked pit crew, who suspected a loose wheel nut. The Dane would pull off the track shortly thereafter, and on the following lap, the sole remaining Haas driver in the race—Grosjean—would pit too, repeating the nightmare of exiting the pits with an unsecured wheel.
Grosjean had no choice but to ditch his car inside the exit of turn 2, prompting a virtual safety car, which eventually cascaded into a safety car. Vettel, on the backup long-run strategy, received the order to pit, and found himself ahead of Hamilton, who had previously been as far as 12 seconds ahead. Despite Hamilton displaying bursts of speed, the combination of dirty air and tires seven laps older hampered Hamilton, and Mercedes ordered the Brit to back down, and accept a P2 finish.
During his march to the race win, Sebastian Vettel joined the club of 3,000 race laps led, whose members include Hamilton and Michael Schumacher. Despite outpacing his teammate for most of the weekend, Räikkönen finished third, despite being harried by Daniel Ricciardo in the late stages of the race..
Fernando Alonso, finishing P5 for McLaren, the team's best race finish since the 2016 United States Grand Prix, was voted driver of the day.