So much, then, for this being Ferrari’s red-letter day. At a race where they had been expected to reassert their traditional muscle, potentially breaking Mercedes’ stranglehold of the sport, their two cars were cut an astonishing 57 seconds adrift. In Formula One terms, that is an aeon, and not one that can be easily bridged.
For Sebastian Vettel, the winner the previous two years in Melbourne but only fourth here, it was an alarming sign of the struggles to come. Just when he had dared to hope that Ferrari would furnish him with a car to vanquish his arch-nemesis Lewis Hamilton, he was left crestfallen and bewildered at the team’s crushing by Mercedes. “I was too slow, I just wanted to get to the end,” he said. “Everyone else looked to have far fewer problems than we did.”
Charles Leclerc, on his Scuderia debut, did not much cover himself in glory either. At one point, the Monegasque driver veered on to the grass to lose ground to Max Verstappen, ultimately trailing home in fifth.
He briefly flickered into life late on, coming within overtaking range of Vettel, but was told in no uncertain terms by Ferrari’s pit-wall brigade to back off. As a 21-year-old team-mate to a quadruple world champion, he has been told to play a supporting role.