Sebastian Vettel said his victory in Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix came as “a big relief” to the Ferrari team following a winless year in 2016.
Vettel qualified second in Melbourne before jumping Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton through the pit stops when Ferrari opted to keep him out longer on the ultra-soft tires.
Vettel opened up a sizeable lead over Hamilton soon after his pit stop, eventually crossing the line 9.9 seconds clear of the Briton to win the opening race of the year.
The result marked both Ferrari and Vettel’s first win since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, showing the work that the team has done over the winter to turn things around after struggling last year.
“If you’re not part of the team it’s difficult to realize, but what this team has done in the last six months has been really tough, rough as well, not easy to manage,” Vettel said.
“Today is fantastic, a big reward and big relief for everyone. It’s just the tip of the iceberg though, the foundation has been laid a long time ago.
“I’m sure we’ll have a great night, create some great memories tonight and take it from there. We enjoy what we do, the spirit is great in the team and it’s up to us to keep it up.”
The result marked Vettel’s first win in Australia since 2011 and Ferrari’s first at Albert Park since 2007. In both years, they went on to win the drivers’ title, Ferrari taking the 2007 crown with Kimi Raikkonen.
History may be on Vettel’s side, but the German is not turning his attention to a fifth world title yet.
“No, I’m not interested in that point to be honest,” Vettel said when reminded of Raikkonen’s Australia win and title success in 2007.
“Obviously I was very fortunate so far in my racing career that I had some very good races and good years, but definitely after the first race is not the time to look at the table. We really have to go step-by-step.
“It’s good to know we have a great car but it’s just the beginning. New regulations, new generation of cars so there will be a lot of progress.
“These guys [Mercedes] have proven to be the ones to beat in the last couple of years more and more. We know they have a great engine but they’ve had a great car the last couple of years and they made good steps forward so we’re the ones who need to catch up.
“For today I’m just very happy and for sure whatever happens this year, the race today doesn’t hurt.”