Sebastian Vettel robbed Lewis Hamilton of victory in the Australian GP with an opportunistic win in the season opener.
A confused and unhappy Hamilton finished second, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen after the Finn held off a hard-charging Daniel Ricciardo during the closing stages.
Fernando Alonso was fifth for McLaren after a typically tenacious effort from the two-time world champion.
Vettel and Hamilton clashed after qualifying when the Mercedes driver told his Ferrari rival he wanted to “wipe the smile off your face” by claiming pole position.
But it was Vettel who had the last laugh as he took a victory that, on pure pace across the weekend, he had no right to claim.
While the risk to Hamilton, who had led off the line from Raikkonen and Vettel, was not immediately apparent, it was a double disaster for Haas which proved the Mercedes driver’s unexpected undoing in a race he had under complete control until the halfway stage.
The American outfit had appeared poised for their best-ever result through the opening stages of the race after Kevin Magnussen mugged Max Verstappen off the line with Romain Grosjean holding a watching brief.
A frustrated Verstappen then spun off as he sought to chase down Magnussen, promoting Grosjean up to fifth.
But both Haas cars retired immediately after their pit stops, the apparent victims of a faulty wheel gun, with Grosjean’s stranded car triggering the deployment of the Safety Car.
Hamilton, having pitted eight laps earlier, had to abide to a set time as he toured the circuit. But no such restriction applied to Vettel as the Ferrari came in for what was in effect a free stop, saving him over 10 seconds of lap time and able to re-emerge just ahead of a bewildered Hamilton.
“What just happened guys?” asked Hamilton. “Why didn’t you tell me Vettel was in the pits?”
Although the final result did not make it immediately apparent, race day also offered glimmers of genuine encouragement for Red Bull in their bid to join Ferrari and Mercedes as true title contenders.
While Verstappen unexpectedly came a cropper against Magnussen, Ricciardo finished the race as the fastest driver on the track as he hunted down Alonso.
But like Hamilton behind Vettel and Verstappen behind Alonso, the Australian found the Albert Park circuit too constricting to launch a successful overtake.
Alonso, typically, drove with a combination of skill and tenacity. Having berated his race engineer for lacking energy on team radio in the opening exchanges, the Spaniard crossed the line telling McLaren he was “proud” of their work this winter as his fifth place provided instant vindication of their switch to Renault power.
Australian GP Race Result
1. Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari
2. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
3. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari
4. Daniel Ricciardo- Red Bull
5. Fernando Alonso – McLaren
6. Max Verstappen – Red Bull
7. Nico Hulkenberg – Renault
8. Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes
9. Stoffel Vandoorne- McLaren
10. Carlos Sainz – Renault
11. Sergio Perez – Force India
12. Esteban Ocon- Force India
13. Charles Leclerc – Sauber
14. Lance Stroll – Williams
15. Brendon Hartley – Toro Rosso
Romain Grosjean – Haas(Retired)
Kevin Magnussen – Haas(Retired)
Pierre Gasly – Toro Rosso(Retired)
Sergey Sirotkin – Williams(Retired)
Marcus Ericsson – Sauber (Retired)