(Photo credit: Alberto-g-rovi)
The first Grand Prix of any season brings several questions and speculation about how the cars, drivers and teams have shaped up for the new season. If qualifying was any indicator, it looks like Mercedes is the team to beat this year as Lewis Hamilton set a stunning fast lap to go almost seven-tenths of a second faster that second-placed Kimi Raikkonen. That said, the race brought its own share of surprises. Here is what we learned from Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.
Ferrari have built a championship contender
Mercedes remain the team to beat, especially on a Saturday, but Ferrari have finally showed their full hand, revealing a car that is a championship contender. During the early stages of the race, second-placed Kimi Raikkonen had no trouble keeping up with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, although the Brit was comfortable controlling the race. Lap times were almost identical for both teams and the Italian outfit were never found lacking in matching the purple sector times of Hamilton's Mercedes.
Sebastian Vettel got lucky with the safety car and eventually ended up taking the lead, but he had little trouble keeping the current world champion behind him to claim the win.
The 2017 Ferrari was better suited to high downforce tracks but this year, they seem to have a better balance of speed and downforce. Time will tell if they can continue to keep pace in the development race and Red Bull Racing might yet a thing or two to say about this performance.
Haas Ferrari look strong
It was very disappointing to see both Haas Ferraris retire from the race especially considering how impressive both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean looked. Magnussen made an impressive move to take fourth place from Max Verstappen at the start and his car was formidable in maintaining position ahead of the Red Bull. Meanwhile, Romain remained steady in sixth place.
These were very positive signs for Haas as they look to be in contention to make a serious case to take the title of "best of the rest" behind Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and Mercedes.
Honda's engine vows continue
The Honda powered Toro Rosso looked very impressive in terms of reliability during pre-season testing, but the Australian Grand Prix bore witness to the familiar sight of an engine failure, causing Pierre Gasly to retire from the race.
Honda F1 technical director, Toyaharu Tanabe commented that: "We now have to investigate the precise cause and then we have a few days of hard work to ensure we do not have a repeat of the problem at the next race." For Honda's sake, we hope so to. As regulations dictate steams are only allowed to use three engines this year, this is a massive setback for the Japanese engine supplier.
Alonso is ready for a fight
With a brand new Renault power unit, the two-time world champion Fernando Alonso recorded his best result since 2015 as he crossed the finish line in fifth. Alonso took advantage of the Virtual Safety Car period to gain places and then defended off Max Verstappen brilliantly through the final 20 laps. After the race, Alonso sounded very optimistic about McLaren's performance and hopes to fight towards the top in the races to come.
Speaking to Sky F1 he said: "a lot more [is] to come and hopefully from Bahrain we will see another step forward and Red Bull will be the next target." Arguably one of the best drivers on the grid, it is refreshing to see Alonso in good spirits and feeling ready to put up a strong challenge at the front of the field.
The first race of 2018 was successful in setting the stage for what could be a tight championship battle and answering key questions around how the teams are shaping up for the season. That said, there were many more questions raised such as: Why are Force India struggling with pace? Will Williams Martini Racing continue to develop and work itself up the field? And what are Daniel Ricciardo's plans after his contract with Red Bull Racing ends this season?
What else did you learn from the Australian Grand Prix? Comment below!