Five things we learned from the Australian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel saw off the challenge from Lewis Hamilton to win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Vettel’s victory at the Albert Park curtain-raiser underlined his and the Italian team’s title credentials for the new Formula One campaign.

Here, we dissect five key talking points from the opening round of the season.

1. Ferrari really are the real deal

Formula One has become so accustomed to watching a Mercedes car win that the predictability of their dominance has become a turn off for many fans. So to see Ferrari not just match Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes but beat them, too, is precisely what this new era required. Of course this is only one race, and it is worth noting that Vettel should have won here last year but for a dodgy strategy call. But the resurgence of the Prancing Horse should hopefully provide us with the ingredients for a scintillating season.

2. New year. Same old McLaren

While Ferrari are back on top of their game, the same cannot be said for another of Formula One’s finest constructors. Fernando Alonso and team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne failed to finish in Melbourne, and while the former was on course for a miraculous point before his suspension packed up in the closing stages, he believes the once-mighty McLaren are currently the worst team. “I was driving one of my best races,” Alonso, the double world champion, said. “But we are last in terms of performance. We couldn’t finish. We need to be more competitive soon.” Ouch.

3. Weekend to forget for Palmer, Magnussen and Ericsson

Jolyon Palmer headed into his second season full of hope, but the 26-year-old from Horsham endured one of the worst weekends of his short career. Palmer crashed in practice before qualifying last – an eye-watering 3.3 seconds adrift of team-mate Nico Hulkenberg in the same Renault machinery – and then failed to finish the race. Palmer rose to 14th but a brake issue forced him to call it quits on lap 18. Palmer will be in need of a quick-fix before the next race in China a week on Sunday.

On the opening lap of the race, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen clattered into the rear of Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber. The pair spun onto the sand, bits flying off both cars before they returned to the pits for repairs. They rejoined the race but the incident compromised them. They both retired before the end of the race. Magnussen, in particular will be aggrieved, as his performance was below par and well off his teammate Romain Grosjean throughout the weekend.

4. Home is not where the heart is

Daniel Ricciardo completed a mammoth 18 hours of media commitments in just one day last week, such is Australia’s love for their home hero. But Ricciardo’s weekend never got going here. He made an uncharacteristic error in qualifying after crashing out and then stopped en route to taking up his position on the grid. Red Bull managed to get him in the race – albeit two laps down – but he retired with a mechanical issue.

5. Is the new Formula One an improvement?

The race on Sunday was the first following significant changes to the regulations, and since American giants Liberty Media acquired the sport. F1’s new chairman Chase Carey and Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches – the sporting and commercial executives – were all present in Melbourne, and while they will be pleased that a Mercedes car did not win, the show itself was hardly a thrill-a-minute spectacle. It is suspected that the extra downforce on the new cars and increased air flow makes it harder to follow and harder to overtake. Indeed there were few overtakes of genuine note on Sunday, but it has always been hard to pass around the narrow Albert Park circuit. The acid test will come at the next round in China where there were a record number of overtakes last year.