The haloed cars tackle the Melbourne circuit to get the 2018 season off to a start. Picture: DAIMLER
The haloed cars tackle the Melbourne circuit to get the 2018 season off to a start. Picture: DAIMLER

The 2018 Formula One season got under way at the Melbourne circuit in Australia on Sunday following pre-season testing in Spain.

Testing in Barcelona showed a great deal of improvement by most teams compared to the preceding season.

The new season sees the debut of halo-festooned cars as part of the cockpit protection system for drivers.

In addition, drivers are wearing biometric gloves which contain sensors that in the event of a mishap allows sensors to relay vital information about the driver’s condition over a Bluetooth link to FIA medical crews.

Also, a new safety car in the form of the Mercedes-AMG GTR with 430kW and 700Nm has been commissioned.

The start of the season was met with much anticipation with free testing on Friday favouring the top three teams — Mercedes-AMG, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing — which was replicated during qualification.

The Volkswagen Polo Cup features the latest Polo GTi models this season. Picture: QUICKPIC
The Volkswagen Polo Cup features the latest Polo GTi models this season. Picture: QUICKPIC

On race day, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton managed to place his Mercedes on pole ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferraris in second and third.

When the lights went out, Hamilton kept his car ahead of a charging Raikkonen into the first corner and then opened up a three-second lead before the first pit stops on lap 19.

The Haas team of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean experienced issues after their respective pitstops due to a faulty wheel gun, which saw both retire on track, forcing a virtual safety car situation in which competitors are compelled to coast.

This opened up an opportunity for Vettel to pit in what was essentially a free pitstop, meaning that he was exempt from the virtual safety car as the pit rules don’t conform to the track, which meant Vettel saved 10 seconds of track time

He rejoined the race ahead of a bewildered Hamilton who could be heard over the radio asking his team: "What happened? Did I do something wrong? Why didn’t you guys warn me Vettel was pitting and he could rejoin ahead of me?"

The strategic move gave Vettel victory, ahead of Hamilton and Raikkonen respectively.

Vettel leads the championship with 25 points, followed by Hamilton on 18 and Raikkonen with 15.

The next race will be in Bahrain on April 8.

Opening races

The opening races of the Extreme Festival of Motorsport took place at Kyalami where the top-tier Sasol GTC class’s first race was won by Gennaro Bonafede (Sasol BMW), ahead of defending champion Michael Stephen (Engen Aud) and Johan Fourie (EPS Courier BMW). In GTC 2, Keagen Masters (VW Golf GTI) kept ahead of Bradley Liebenberg (Ferodo Mini JCW) and Trevor Bland (Universal Healthcare VW Golf GTI).

Race two was riddled with incidents that culminated in one of the biggest shunts in the history of the race class. Fourie, travelling at 260km/h by the end of the main straight on lap five, experienced brake failure. His car spun before colliding with Stephen’s vehicle and then hit a wall, forcing his retirement.

The race was red flagged and restarted. Simon Moss (Engen Audi) finished first, ahead of Bonafede and Van Rooyen (RCS BMW).

The second GTC 2 race was won by Liebenberg, followed by Bland and Charl Smalberger (UniChip VW Golf GTI).

In the Engen Polo Cup series race one went to Jeffrey Kruger (Universal Healthcare Polo), who also set the fastest lap time for the class. He was followed by Jonathan Mogotsi (VW Motorsport Polo) and Juan Gerber (Gerber Motorsport Polo).

The second race was also won by Kruger, ahead of Tasmin Pepper (Electric Polo) and Keegan Campos (Turn 1 Polo).

The next race will take place at the Killarney Raceway in Cape Town on April 21.