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Five things we learned from the Australian Grand Prix

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel leads Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday. AFP
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel leads Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday. AFP

Five things we learned from the Australian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari won the Australian Grand Prix at the weekend. Here are five things we learned from Formula One’s season opener:

Hamilton still the man to beat

While Sebastian Vettel’s win was a great boost for Ferrari, the Italian team will know they enjoyed a huge slice of luck and are still playing catch-up with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton was blisteringly quick as he grabbed pole position by the massive margin of more than half a second and would have cruised to victory had the virtual safety car not allowed Vettel to snatch the lead.

Hamilton was still able to close on Vettel at will and only the impossibility of overtaking at Albert Park – statistically the second most difficult passing circuit on the calendar – caused the reigning champion to back off in the closing laps and save his engine for another day.

Then there were three

Red Bull showed signs that alongside Ferrari – who had two men on the podium – they can make it a three-way fight for the constructors title with Mercedes this year.

Daniel Ricciardo was all over the back of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari and only just missed out on the podium after fighting back from eighth position on the grid after a penalty. Max Verstappen, who worked his way back to sixth after spinning early in the race, is not likely to endure such an untidy grand prix again.

Alonso happy to ditch Honda

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso spent most of last season complaining about his McLaren’s Honda engine on team radio.

But the switch to a Renault power unit seems to have put a spring in his step of the Spaniard as he finished a fighting fifth with teammate Stoffel Vandoorne also scoring points in ninth.

“With some updates to come in the next few races we can start to look ahead a little bit, and Red Bull will be the next target,” Alonso smiled after the race. “Things are going to get better and better.”

Haas retirements mask their speed

The American team carried their surprising speed from preseason testing into the race where Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean ran just behind Hamilton and the Ferraris but held off the rest of the pack with ease – at least until they had to stop for new tyres.

Two disastrous pit stops meant two retirements due to loosely attached wheels, with both cars grinding to a halt out on the circuit after looking on course for top-five finishes. No prizes for guessing what the Haas pit crews will be practising ahead of Bahrain in two weeks’ time.

Sirotkin bags some bad luck

Sergey Sirotkin’s Formula One debut lasted just five laps when his Williams conked out at turn 13 with a sudden loss of braking. So was it a loss of hydraulics that caused his demise? Far from it, the Russian said, it was all down to a spectator’s sandwich.

Sirotkin was convinced a sandwich wrapping being sucked into the brake duct was to blame. “You would not believe what happened: it was a plastic sandwich bag, which went into the rear-right brake duct,” he complained.

“Yes, that’s how exciting it is. It was a big bag – a big sandwich bag.”

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