Vettel beats Hamilton: F1 finally gets the rivalry it craves

Ferrari provide some competition for Mercedes, but will a lack of overtaking undermine their battle this season?

Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Formula 1
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel (centre) celebrates after winning the Australian Grand Prix
(Image credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty)

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel roared to victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne yesterday, beating Lewis Hamilton by almost ten seconds and setting down a marker for what could be a thrilling season for F1.

For the past three years the Mercedes team have been untouchable. The team won all but two of last season's races and the last time both Mercedes cars finished a Grand Prix – and the team did not win – was at the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix, almost two years ago.

So the fact that the two Silver Arrows were outpaced by a rival is hugely significant and opens up the possibility of a genuine title race for the first time in years, with Hamilton and Vettel finally competing against each other on a level playing field.

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"For three years Mercedes have enjoyed a stranglehold over this sport, but Ferrari wrenched it away with a display of exceptional pace and cunning," says Oliver Brown of the Daily Telegraph. "The Prancing Horse has discovered a kick in its legs once more. Even more tantalisingly, the long-awaited battle between Vettel and Hamilton, two drivers who have won six of the last seven world titles between them, has at last begun to be drawn."

It's good news for Formula 1's new owners, Liberty Media. "It is not healthy for business to have one team as remorselessly dominant at Mercedes and it is refreshing that Ferrari have shown the calibre to reel them in," says Brown.

For the fans this marks a new era, which could explain the celebrations in the stands as Vettel took the chequered flag. "It is rare these days that F1 lends itself to such spontaneous outpourings of joy," says Brown. "But the sparking of a head-to-head battle between two iconic teams, not to mention the two most celebrated drivers of their generation, seemed worthy cause for a party."

The power shift is down to the new technical regulations, says Rebecca Clancy of The Times. This season the cars are bigger and the tyres wider, which means they have more downforce and are therefore faster than before.

"Mercedes have been dominant since the last big regulation change in 2014, when the hybrid V6 engine was introduced. The new rules appear to have evened out that dominance to some extent," she says.

But she also notes one of the side-effects of the rule change. "One feature of yesterday's race was the lack of overtaking," she says.

The bigger cars create more turbulence in their wake, which makes it hard for other cars to get past them, and the lack of passing was also of concern to Giles Richards in The Guardian.

"A full judgment must wait until we have seen how it pans out across a variety of tracks but if competition at the front is combined with an inability for the cars to actually compete, the new formula will have failed. And there can be no excuses – that this might be the result of all that aero was well known by everyone involved," he warns.

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