Mercedes rue missed Melbourne chance but Red Bull and McLaren have hope | Giles Richards

Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen showed Red Bull can be a force while Fernando Alonso gave McLaren reason to be cheerful

Mercedes rue missed opportunity

The Mercedes team will leave Australia ruing their failure to gain a season‑opening victory that was there for the taking but they proved the car is fundamentally strong. Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying lap at Albert Park was hugely impressive and shows the single-lap superiority the team enjoyed last year has carried over. With overtaking likely to be no easier this year than last season it is an advantage that could prove crucial. Equally, when in front, in the clean air the Mercedes was not going to be beaten by Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel admitted their car was not as quick over the weekend. The Scuderia still have some catching up to do.

Red Bull can believe better times lie ahead

Max Verstappen may have had a trying afternoon – early damage to the rear diffuser caused the spin that cost him places – but he came home in sixth while his team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo, made it to fourth from eighth. They were not challenging for the win but the feeling at the team was that in clean air they would have been a match for Ferrari. Ricciardo hounded Kimi Räikkönen and, had a pass been possible, may well have proved he had the pace on the Finn. They, too, can expect more, especially if Renault deliver a qualifying‑performance engine upgrade.

Alonso gives McLaren reason to cheer

Fernando Alonso’s fifth place owed something to circumstances but McLaren also leave Melbourne with reasons to be cheerful. After several reliability issues in testing the car was solid when it mattered and they have proved they have a platform on which to build. Alonso has said this was the race at which they expected to struggle most but, with upgrades forthcoming, he believes Red Bull rather than Haas are the team’s targets. It is a pleasure to see the Spaniard energised by F1 again and once more showing his skill fighting off Verstappen at the end.

Haas show promise

Huge promise in testing was confirmed by the team who enjoy a technical partnership with Ferrari and have brought a very competitive car to the new season. They qualified well and, when Kevin Magnussen passed Verstappen for fourth, with passing so hard, it was a place he looked as if he could hold. Romain Grosjean, too, was quick and the pair looked to be in a strong position to score major points. That they were both eliminated with wheels not correctly fastened after unsafe releases from pit stops was hugely disappointing but they can expect greater things in the forthcoming races.

Vettel gives credit to Hamilton

Despite a post-qualifying interchange during which a laughing Hamilton had told an unamused Vettel he had enjoyed “wiping the smile” from his face with a lap which Vettel believed had been set on a special engine mode, with points under his belt Vettel was in a better frame of mind to accept Hamilton had been quicker. “The credit is for his lap and not for the engine power,” Vettel said. There had been some needle but now there was rapprochement in the air. “We don’t have a problem with each other, even if we are very different people,” the German added.


Giles Richards in Melbourne

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