Vettel and Ferrari still have hope, Bottas under pressure, Haas impress: Australian GP talking points

Ahead of Sunday's first round of the 2018 Formula One season here are things to watch for at Albert Park

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari talk in parc ferme after qualifying for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 24, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Qualifying for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix ended with Lewis Hamilton on pole in his Mercedes-GP ahead of the Ferrari pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. Here are some talking points ahead of the race, which begins at 9.10am UAE time.

Ferrari do not need to panic yet

Vettel did a good job of not looking particularly fazed by the pace of Hamilton as he took pole.

Given Hamilton had been fastest in qualifying in Melbourne the previous four years for Mercedes-GP, going into the weekend it was hardly surprising to see him at the top of the time sheet at the end of the session.

Vettel was in bullish mood post-qualifying, verbally jousting with Hamilton over the use of the alleged "party mode" button that helped take the Briton to his 73rd pole.

But the German will know that if history is anything to go by that he and Ferrari should not be discounted from challenging for victory on Sunday.

He won last year from second on the grid, passing Hamilton in the pit stops and comfortably winning thanks to a superior race pace.

In 2016 he took the lead at the start from third on the grid and only missed out on victory due to a bungled strategy call on tyres. In that race he had led despite the Ferrari being slower than the Mercedes, so he will be confident that if he can get track position at the front on Sunday that he will be able to hold on to it.

This is Hamilton's seventh time starting from pole in Melbourne but he has only twice converted those into race victories, in 2008 and 2015. It therefore should not be assumed that his Saturday pace will automatically mean victory on Sunday.

Vettel and Ferrari are not worried now. If they are 0.6 seconds a lap slower on Sunday, as they were on Saturday, throughout the 58-lap event then that will be something to be concerned about.


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epaselect epa06625872 Finish Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes AMG GP crashes during the qualifying session for the 2018 Formula One Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, 24 March 2018.  EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

Damage limitation for Bottas

Valtteri Bottas spoke a good game in the build-up to the new season. He outlined his plans of raising his game and being more consistent so he can challenge Mercedes teammate Hamilton for the world championship.

Crashing heavily in qualifying and starting 15th on the grid was not the plan for the Finn and his hopes for a strong start to the campaign are in tatters.

The consolation is he still should be able to score points on Sunday. He will likely be starting on the harder tyre, which should allow him to run a longer first stint then most of the cars around him, and he should be able to finish at least in the top eight if he has a clean race.

But given he is again out of contract at the end of the season with Mercedes, crashing is not a great first impression on the year. Indeed, the animated expression from team boss Toto Wolff in the team garage was hardly offered glowing support of Bottas.

Sunday is about damage limitation for Bottas, but he has already lost some momentum to Hamilton.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team VF-18 Ferrari on track during final practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 24, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Haas are the big improvers

Kevin Magnussen never qualified in the top 10 in 2017 for Haas. Yet on Sunday he will line up fifth on the grid, with teammate Romain Grosjean alongside him on the third row.

They were sixth and seventh fastest in qualifying, before each getting promoted a place thanks to the three-place grid penalty for Red Bull Racing Daniel Ricciardo's for speeding under red flag conditions in practice on Friday.

It is their best overall performance on a Saturday since joining F1 in 2016.  It underlines the team's pace in pre-season testing was genuine and that at present they are the fourth quickest team on the grid behind Mercedes-GP, Ferrari and Red Bull.

The key on Sunday is to capitalise and score points while they have the opportunity. McLaren, Renault and Force India will look to gain ground quickly in the coming races and it is crucial they take advantage of these chances while they are available to them.