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Formula 1

Vettel the man to beat? F1's opening race as an indicator of potential season success

How have the winners of Formula One's opening race fared over the years? We recap the performance of early pacesetters from the past decade.

Vettel the man to beat? F1's opening race as an indicator of potential season success
Getty Images

Sebastian Vettel struck the first blow in the 2018 Formula One title race on Sunday with victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver benefited from a period under the safety car and a miscalculation by Mercedes' race software to emerge from his pit stop ahead of Lewis Hamilton for a lead he did not relinquish.

It was a second successive Melbourne triumph for the German but - as proved the case last season - first-race glory is no guarantee of season success.

So how have F1's early pacesetters fared over the years? Here we take a look at the fate of the opening-weekend victors from the past decade.

First race vs Drivers' champion

First race winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
Drivers' champion: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)

Having achieved a podium finish on his first visit to Melbourne in 2007, Hamilton returned to win an eventful race that featured only seven finishers. The Briton won only four of the remaining seven races but a fifth-place finish at the season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix was enough to deny Felipe Massa the title by a single point.

First race winner: Jenson Button (Brawn)
Drivers' champion: Jenson Button (Brawn)

Honda's withdrawal from F1 led to the formation of the Brawn GP team for 2009 and, helmed by Jenson Button, they made a stunning start to the season. Button won six of the first seven races and, while he was unable to add another victory to his tally after that, he held on to beat Vettel by 11 points.

First race winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Drivers' champion: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

Of Vettel's four titles to date, only one came having won the opening race of the season. The 2010 campaign started in Bahrain, where Vettel was on pole and led for long spells before a spark plug issue cost him victory, with Fernando Alonso instead topping the podium. An enthralling title campaign saw four drivers separated by only 16 points at the end of the season, Vettel edging Alonso into second with victory in the final race.

First race winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
Drivers' champion: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

2011 was a tale of Vettel dominance and he started as he meant to go on, winning by 22 seconds from Hamilton in Melbourne. The victory would be his first of 11 over the course of a campaign he ended with a 122-point advantage.

First race winner: Jenson Button (McLaren)
Drivers' champion: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

Vettel's control over the sport waned in the early part of the 2012 season, winning only one of the first 13 races and finishing second to Button in Australia. A run of four victories then propelled him into contention and ultimately won him a third drivers' crown by three points from Alonso, with Button fifth.

First race winner: Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
Drivers' champion: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

Lotus only managed two victories during their four-year stint in F1 from 2012 to 2015. Both came for Kimi Raikkonen, the second of which was at the 2013 opener. After wins were shared around for the first half of the season, Vettel eventually romped to the title with nine straight triumphs. Raikkonen finished fifth in the drivers' standings after missing the last two races with a back problem.

First race winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Drivers' champion: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

The dawn of Mercedes' dominance began with a mixed outing at Albert Park, where Hamilton was forced to retire after two laps and team-mate Nico Rosberg claimed a fourth career victory. However, the German played second fiddle to his colleague for the remainder of the campaign, as Hamilton stormed to a second career title, with Rosberg finishing as runner-up.

First race winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Drivers' champion: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Atoning for his early exit the previous year, Hamilton won the Australian Grand Prix in an increasingly familiar Mercedes one-two on this occasion. Hamilton claimed the title with three races to spare, finishing second to Rosberg in each of those remaining rounds.

First race winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Drivers' champion: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

This season really was the height of the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry and it got off to a successful start for the former Williams driver in Melbourne, after polesitter Hamilton was forced wide at Turn 1. The title race swung one way and then the other in a fierce battle between the team-mates, but Rosberg ended the campaign as happily as he started it, edging Hamilton by five points in the drivers' standings.

First race winner: Sebastian Vettel
Drivers' champion: Lewis Hamilton

Vettel's victory at Albert Park last year suggested F1 fans could be in for an epic title tussle. However, the Ferrari driver was unable to sustain his challenge for the duration of the season, as Hamilton began to dominate after midway point, taking the title with a 46-point margin over Vettel.


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