Sebastian Vettel kicked off the new Formula 1 season in style after beating Lewis Hamilton to victory in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, as Ferrari perfected its strategy and got lucky to get the jump on the quicker Mercedes at Albert Park.

A mid-race Safety Car gave Vettel the chance to vault pole-sitter and early leader Hamilton just before half-distance, leading to a tight battle between the pair in the closing stages that was ultimately won by the Ferrari driver.

Starting from pole, Hamilton was able to pull out a healthy buffer over the Ferrari pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel through the first stint of the race, enjoying a four-second buffer. Raikkonen ran ahead of Vettel until he dived into the pits at the end of Lap 19, taking on a set of Soft tyres. Wary of the undercut, Mercedes opted to bring Hamilton in one lap later, mirroring Raikkonen's strategy and getting back out in second place.

Ferrari kept Vettel out on his starting Ultrasoft tyres, angling to either move him onto Supersofts for the second stint or in case of a Safety Car. The Italian team's prayers were answered when a Virtual Safety Car was thrown following a stoppage for Haas driver Romain Grosjean. Just one lap after seeing teammate Kevin Magnussen - who had been running P4 after a rapid start - park his car due to a loose wheel at the pit stop, Grosjean suffered a similar issue, forcing him to park up at Turn 2.

The resulting VSC was perfectly timed for Vettel. A gain of five seconds over Hamilton in Sector 1 opened the gap up again before Vettel dived into the pits, switched to Soft tyres and emerged still in the lead. Hamilton was left bemused by his loss of the lead, with the team telling him: "We thought we were safe, but there was obviously something wrong."

After the VSC was upgraded to a full Safety Car, the race resumed on Lap 32 with Vettel leading from Hamilton, Raikkonen and the recovering Red Bulls. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had their strategies compromised after slipping behind the Haas cars, having started on Supersofts. A spin while trying to pass Magnussen also compounded matters for the Dutchman, who also had to hand P5 back to Fernando Alonso after passing under yellow flags at the start of the VSC.

Vettel was able to retain his lead on the restart, opening up a one-second gap over Hamilton at the front, but was soon warned about his power unit temperatures running too high. Raikkonen in third was slow to get away when the race returned to green, causing him to drop back and come under pressure from Ricciardo in the battle to complete the podium.

Hamilton turned up the wick with 10 laps to go, telling the team "I'm going for it" before closing up on the back of Vettel and moving to within half a second of the Ferrari. The spurt lastest mere moments, though, as Hamilton made a mistake at Turn 9 and ran over the grass, allowing the gap to extend out to over 2.5 seconds again.

Hamilton was able to cut the gap to around one second with a series of fast laps, but he dropped back again with five laps remaining as his tyres - six laps older than his rival's - began to fade, releasing the pressure on Vettel at the front.

The German driver was able to bring his Ferrari home to secure his second straight Australian Grand Prix victory, kicking off Ferrari's season in style as Hamilton was forced to settle for P2 at the chequered flag, eventually coming home more than five seconds adrift.

Raikkonen held off a spirited charge from home favourite Ricciardo in the closing stages to secure a double-podium finish for Ferrari. While Ricciardo was able to pick up the fastest lap of the race, he fell short of becoming the first Australian to finish in the top three of his home race in the F1 era, taking P4 at the flag.

The new McLaren-Renault partnership started in style as Fernando Alonso recorded his best F1 finish since the 2016 United States Grand Prix, fending off Verstappen to take P5. Verstappen's rollercoaster race ended with him taking sixth ahead of Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, while Valtteri Bottas was able to recover from his qualifying crash and grid penalty to finish eighth for Mercedes.

Stoffel Vandoorne made it a double-points finish for McLaren in P9, while Carlos Sainz Jr. completed the top 10 despite reporting feeling nauseous in the closing stages due to his in-car drink. Force India lagged towards the rear of the midfield as both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finished outside of the points in 11th and 12th respectively.

Debutants Charles Leclerc and Sergey Sirotkin enjoyed varying and largely quiet races. While Leclerc was able to come home P13 as the sole Sauber in the running following teammate Marcus Ericsson's early retirement, Sirotkin's debut lasted just four laps as he was forced to park up at Turn 16 due to an issue.

Toro Rosso's first race with Honda power proved to be one to forget, with Brendon Hartley being the last classified finisher in P15 after being forced to pit at the end of the opening lap. Teammate Pierre Gasly made a good start, only to be forced to retire after 13 laps due to a power unit issue.

F1 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX - RACE RESULTS

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