MELBOURNE • Sebastian Vettel's hopes of a Sunday "party" after Mercedes' Saturday celebrations were fulfilled in spades with a "lucky" win for Ferrari at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix yesterday.
Vettel capitalised on a virtual safety car deployment to sneak out of the pits in front of pole-sitter Hamilton and held off the reigning world champion to claim a 48th win overall and third at Albert Park.
On Saturday, Hamilton and Mercedes had far superior pace in qualifying, and the excited Briton could not help but make a cheeky dig at Vettel, saying his searing "party mode" pace was intended to "wipe the smile" off the German's face.
Vettel, who had been third fastest in qualifying, retorted that "what goes around comes around".
"He's free to have a party tonight and then hopefully Kimi and myself will have a party tomorrow," the 30-year-old countered.
And so it proved, as a frustrated Hamilton was left in a Ferrari sandwich between Vettel and third-placed Kimi Raikkonen.
Podium finishes for Sebastian Vettel, who joins Michael Schumacher (155) , Lewis Hamilton (117) and Alain Prost (106) in the podium centurion club.
Grand Prix wins Vettel has, the fourth most, after Schumacher (91), Hamilton (62) and Prost (51).
AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 29min 33.283sec
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr)Mercedes +5.036 sec
3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +6.309
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +7.069
5 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren +27.886
6 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull +28.945
7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault +32.671
8 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +34.339
9 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren +34.921
10 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Renault +45.722
1 Vettel 25 pts
2 Hamilton 18
3 Raikkonen 15
4 Ricciardo 12
5 Alonso 10
1 Ferrari 40pts
2 Mercedes 22
3 Red Bull 20
4 McLaren 12
5 Renault 7
Although presented with a golden opportunity to rub Hamilton's nose in it, Vettel denied there was extra satisfaction winning after the Briton's taunt.
"Not really. He said he was joking and I believe him," Vettel told reporters yesterday. "I think we are old enough, I don't think we need to go on that sort of level. It's fine as long as we joke with each other.
"We love racing and we try to do our best once we're in the car and beat all the others. I think in that regard, I don't see why we shouldn't get on with each other."
Hamilton took the lead into turn one and, although briefly pressured by Raikkonen from second, he held on to the end of the lap.
The chasing Ferraris were unable to put him under immediate pressure as he had a 2.2-second gap to Raikkonen by lap seven and was also 3.5 seconds clear of Vettel.
The race turned on its head when a loose wheel forced Haas driver Romain Grosjean to stop before the halfway mark of the race, causing Hamilton to slow down during the deployment of the virtual safety car and prompting Vettel to pit.
The virtual safety car, which restricts the pace of the cars on track, caused the field to slow down while Vettel, who was leading courtesy of Hamilton's earlier stop, was able to dive into the pits for fresh tyres and lose less time than under normal race conditions.
It meant Vettel emerged from the pits marginally in front of a startled Hamilton and held on to his advantage to the chequered flag.
"What just happened guys?" the 33-year-old Hamilton queried his Mercedes team over radio during the race. "Why didn't you tell me Vettel was in the pits?"
"We thought we were safe, but there's obviously something wrong," the team replied.
"Did I do anything wrong? Should I have gone faster?" Hamilton pressed further.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said an investigation would be needed to find out what happened.
"It's very hard to take because we had the pace. For whatever reason, we need to find out, we lost the win," Wolff told Sky F1.
"We thought we had about three seconds margin. I think the problem is within our systems. I think we have a bug somewhere that said 15 seconds is what you need, we had 12, it should have been enough but it wasn't."
Hamilton looked a bit bewildered after the race as he wondered how exactly the race got away from him.
"Today they did the better job. We have to go back to the drawing board and work on it," Hamilton said. "We still have great pace and, during the race, I could apply pressure at the end but it is so hard to overtake here.
"At the end, it was live to fight another day and save the engine."
It is the perfect start to the campaign by Vettel, who is eyeing a fifth world title like Hamilton that will match Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio's tally.
"We got a bit lucky but we will take it. I think last year we had more pace in relative terms. Last year, we were putting them under pressure," said Vettel.
"If you look at the gaps the whole weekend, we're not yet a true match. At this point, we know that we are not yet where we want to be because we want to be the fastest."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS