Venue: Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit
Sebastian Vettel struggled throughout the second half of 2018 but goes into the new Formula One season refreshed and ready to challenge Lewis Hamilton again.
Just three thousandths of a second separated Ferrari’s top dog and Mercedes’ reigning world champion after eight days of testing in Barcelona.
However, the paddock consensus is that it is the red cars, and not the Silver Arrows, which have the best package this year.
With Vettel seeking to complete a hat-trick of Melbourne victories, the German gets the nod to prevail again Down Under at 9/5 in our Australian Grand Prix predictions.
We are used to seeing a Mercedes car top the time sheets in pre-season running, but that was not the case this winter.
It seems that the world champions are playing catch-up on their Italian rivals and Vettel must capitalise on that early advantage.
The SF90 appears both quick and stable, while Vettel should also benefit from a couple of forward-thinking moves by Ferrari.
Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has been replaced by the calming influence of Mattia Binotto, while the talented Charles Leclerc takes over from Kimi Raikkonen as number two.
Vettel still hungry for success
Vettel won the last of his four consecutive drivers’ titles for Red Bull in 2013, but the 31-year-old insists the desire to add another with his current team remains strong.
He told German newspaper Sport Bild: “My goal, my dream, is to become a Ferrari world champion.
“It also motivates me that Ferrari is the biggest brand in Formula One. For me, it would therefore be the ultimate if I could win the world title with Ferrari.”
Hamilton was in the form of his life in 2018, wrapping up the championship with two rounds to spare and winning eight of the last 11 events.
The five-time champion now has the chance to move to within just one triumph of Michael Schumacher’s record haul.
However, he believes Mercedes have a “hill to climb” judged on the exploits in testing, with Ferrari apparently being significantly faster when fuel levels are high.
We favour Vettel to get off to a flying start, but those who think Hamilton will ultimately hold onto his title can get 13/10 for the Briton to finish on top of the table again.
Past Australian Grand Prix results:
2018 Vettel (Ferrari), Hamilton (Mercedes), Raikkonen (Ferrari)
2017 Vettel (Ferrari), Hamilton (Mercedes), Bottas (Mercedes)
2016 Rosberg (Mercedes), Hamilton (Mercedes), Vettel (Ferrari)
2015 Hamilton (Mercedes), Rosberg (Mercedes), Vettel (Ferrari)
2014 Rosberg (Mercedes), Magnussen (McLaren), Button (McLaren)
2013 Raikkonen (Lotus), Alonso (Ferrari), Vettel (Red Bull)
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