Driver ratings: Australian Grand Prix

Date published: March 25 2018

The 2018 season is officially underway, but which drivers starred and who flopped in the season opener?

Sebastian Vettel:  Talk about daylight robbery. Vettel was cut well adrift of Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen for a large portion of the race but he managed to steal a march under Virtual Safety Car conditions via the pit lane.

Vettel’s subdued reaction over the team radio was pretty telling. Even with maximum points in the bag, he knows he got a good stroke of fortune and knows that Ferrari have work to do if they want to topple Mercedes over the course of a season.

Not a vintage Vettel performance by any means this weekend – which included the rare sight of him being out-qualified by Raikkonen – but he has still managed to deliver the first blow. 7

Lewis Hamilton: That has got to hurt. After a dominant performance in qualifying with a trademark mega lap, Hamilton got away off the line well, covered off Raikkonen and looked to be cruising away into the distance.

But then, disaster struck. Hamilton was caught out under the VSC as Vettel managed to inch out ahead of him in the pit lane. The Brit immediately quizzed the team on how this was allowed to happen after seemingly being in control.

Hamilton asked if it was his fault for going too slow, but Toto Wolff suggested after the race that the error came down to a software issue.

He tried to right the wrong in the final stages, but he ended up pushing too hard and a lock-up saw Hamilton give up the chase. 8

Kimi Raikkonen: It was good to see a competitive Kim in action as he was able to take advantage of a mistake by Vettel and nail down a front-row start. Usually the roles are reversed.

Raikkonen had a little look at Hamilton in the first few corners but settled down into P2 and opened a handy gap to Vettel behind. But the ‘Ice Man’ also got caught out under the VSC and was caught napping after the Safety Car restart, forcing him to defend the final podium spot from a resurgent Daniel Ricciardo.

But overall there were some encouraging signs from Raikkonen, signs that there is still some life in him. 7.5

Daniel Ricciardo: Ricciardo’s three-place grid penalty for speeding under red-flag conditions may have been a harsh one given the circumstances, nevertheless it was still a mistake which left the Aussie with more work to do in his home grand prix.

It was a decent recovery job in the race, gaining four places and recording the fastest lap of the day. But the wait goes on to see an Aussie on the podium in Melbourne and a case of what might have been had he not been punished so severely for his error in practice. 7

Fernando Alonso: This is more like it for McLaren and it is great to see Alonso mixing it up toward the top of the leaderboard.

He was straight into the thick of the action from P10, getting all over the back of his compatriot Carlos Sainz who eventually made it very easy for Alonso to pass after running wide onto the gravel.

Alonso was another driver who benefitted strongly from the Virtual Safety Car, climbing all the way to P5 for his best finish in Australia since 2014. He also has Haas to thank for probably being a little higher than he really should have been.

He also provided a golden moment on team radio: “Okay, speak up a little bit, it is a long race and you are losing the energy already.” 7

Max Verstappen:  Not a great opening display from the Dutchman who has been widely tipped up as potential title rival this season.

He lost out to Kevin Magnussen at the start and got overly frustrated trying to get the position back on tyres he overheated. A costly spin saw him drop to P8 before he recovered a couple of places for a P6 finish.

He will want to forget about this one pretty quickly. 5.5

Nico Hulkenberg: A solid performance from a very reliable driver, showcasing that Renault are going to be a tough cookie in races and are continuing on the upward curve.

Started P7, finished P7, for a nice points haul in the season opener. He was passed by Verstappen atoning for his mistakes but kept out in front of Bottas’ Mercedes. 6.5

Valtteri Bottas: With his Mercedes future on the line again, a costly crash at the start of Q3 was the last thing Bottas needed to start the season with. He owned up to the mistake saying he was “too aggressive” going into the first corner – but he cannot afford too many of those over the course of the campaign.

A new gearbox was needed after the hefty shunt, pushing Bottas all the way down to P15 on the starting grid.

He made very little impression in the race itself, making up no places off the start and taking five laps to get beyond Lance Stroll for his first overtake. He was able to scratch and claw his way into the points but this performance will have done nothing for his confidence and a big reaction is needed in Bahrain. 4

Stoffel Vandoorne: A quiet race for the Belgian but he was safely in the points after starting P11 on the grid.

He is going to find it difficult to steal the spotlight away from his team-mate Alonso, yet he has the ability to make a valuable contribution to the team over the course of the season. 6.5

Carlos Sainz: A difficult first race for the Spaniard who came out worse in the scrap between himself and Alonso.

It then emerged that he was feeling ill in the car after taking on fluids and, with that in mind, he deserves credit for keeping Sergio Perez at bay for the final point on offer. 6

Sergio Perez: A quiet winter, a quiet qualifying and a quiet race for Force India who could see their usual fourth spot come under threat in the Constructors’ Championship this year.

The Mexican could only manage a late rally against Sainz for P10 but it proved too little, too late. 5

Esteban Ocon: There was a substantial gap between Ocon and Perez in qualifying but the Frenchman had a valid excuse after being compromised by Romain Grosjean.

Like Perez, it was a very low-key start to the season for Ocon in a car that clearly needs some vast improvement if he is to become a consistent points-scorer once again in 2018.

Force India got a bit unlucky with the timing of the pit stops in relation to the VSC but Ocon did struggle for pace in his second stint of the race.5

Charles Leclerc: A pretty respectable start from the young Ferrari academy product on debut, finishing P13 in a Sauber car that looks a little devil to drive, finishing ahead of a Williams and a Toro Rosso. 6

Lance Stroll:  Stroll emerges from the weekend with some credit after putting together a nice lap to get a dogged FW41 out of Q1.

But that was as good as it got for the Canadian who ran a pretty lonely race in P14. 5

Brendon Hartley: A distant last of the finishers, Hartley will probably just relieved to get to the end after seeing Gasly’s engine blow up.

He suffered a huge lock-up at the first turn once the lights went out, forcing him to change to soft tyres after lap 1 which didn’t last until the end. He couldn’t make any impression on the ultras as he tried to make the leaderboard look a little bit more respectable. 4.5

Romain Grosjean:  The first of two very unfortunate retirements for Haas, who obviously got a little dizzy running so high up the grid. It was a very strong performance from Grosjean, who was running in P5 before a disastrous pit stop saw him re-emerge with a loose wheel. 7.5

Kevin Magnussen:  Grosjean was narrowly outshone by his team-mate Magnussen, who did superbly to get around the outside of Verstappen at the start and take the inside line into Turn 2 for P4.

And then came the first of the dreary DNFs for Haas. Magnussen was reporting engine trouble on team radio after his pit stop but it appears another unsafe release with a loose wheel was the main excuse. Either way, the Dane was desperately unlucky and was arguably the stand-out performer of the day 8.5

Pierre Gasly: Found the gravel trap in qualifying, forcing him to abandon his final Q1 lap. Made a decent start from the very back of the grid but he was the first victim as the Honda curse struck again. His Toro Rosso going up in smoke on just lap 15. 4.5

Marcus Ericsson: Just about managed to keep his new team-mate in his place in qualifying but the Swede was another early retiree with a hydraulic issue just as he was starting to get into some kind of groove. 5.5

Sergey Sirotkin:  A brief flirt with the pit wall in practice aside, the Russian debutant played it very safe and steady throughout the weekend. His first-ever Formula 1 race, though, was a very short-lived affair, having to retire on just lap 7 with a technical issue

Given the gap to team-mate Stroll in qualifying, it looks like Sirotkin has a lot of work of ahead of him and not a lot of time before the words ‘Robert Kubica’ start echoing around his ears. 4