Formula 1

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Fascinating Australian GP could pave the way for classic F1 season

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After the catastrophic introduction of a new qualifying format on Saturday, Formula 1 left Australia in a much more buoyant mood despite the familiar result.

Nico Rosberg led team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes one-two but it was far from conventional in how it came about.

Ferrari, while still off the pace in a single-lap blast, proved a much greater threat over the 305 kilometres than most were expecting and the chasing pack also left fans full of anticipation for the 20 races left to come.

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Here are some conclusions from the opening weekend of the 2016 F1 season and why it may well shape up to be the most competitive ever.

Ferrari prove they can challenge Mercedes

It was the big question after testing and now we know yes Ferrari will take the fight to Mercedes this year.

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While Melbourne isn't always the perfect barometer to gauge how a year will play out, there was sufficient evidence to prove the Scuderia can exploit Mercedes' weaknesses.

Since the change to a single clutch and the end of driver assistance, Mercedes' starts have been average at best and that was once again on show as Sebastian Vettel blasted into the lead from third, leaving Hamilton and Rosberg to squabble heading into turn one.

If that is a pattern that continues throughout the season Ferrari may well only have to fill the second row to ensure they can fight the Silver Arrows.

Three-compound tyre system boosts on-track action

While this also applies to the Ferrari/ Mercedes battle, the impact of the new three-compound system brought in for 2016 improved the action massively.

AUTO-PRIX-AUS

While it may have taken place, I can't recall a single mention of 'looking after the tyres' during the race and the way the different tyres behaved during the race prove how they can spice up the action.

Drivers used the softest compound to run aggressively early on, but what was in theory, the slowest compound available, the medium, actually proved the best race tyre as Rosberg matched Vettel's pace post-red flag and Romain Grosjean also used it to great effect as Haas F1 claimed an impressive sixth place on debut.

The same three options, super-soft, soft and medium are also being taken to the Bahrain Grand Prix in 10 days time and the different characteristics of the Sakhir circuit will make finding the optimum strategy just as hard as it was in Australia.

Renault finally offer Red Bull hope

In what was one of the other surprise results of the weekend, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was able to take fourth in his home race.

With concerns that the now Tag Heuer-badged Renault power unit would continue to drag the former world champions down there was hope that with a little more development they may even knock on the Ferrari/Mercedes battle.

Australian F1 Grand Prix

Ricciardo was only 25 seconds behind race winner Rosberg and was even seen easing past Mercedes-powered Williams under DRS, something that was very rare in the past two seasons.

It does seem Renault are making huge strides forward and with another strong upgrade set to be coming for the Canadian GP they will only get stronger as the year progresses.

Williams under duo-Red Bull attack

With two teams then set to fight for wins and maybe the title, hallelujah, the battle for third in the Constructors' championship looks even more tasty!

Daniel Ricciardo was the first non-Mercedes or Ferrari over the line on Sunday, but Williams still managed to leave Melbourne in that third place despite looking horribly out of form.

The Albert Park track may not totally suit their car but it was still a massive disappointment to see Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas only finish fifth and eighth respectively.

Australian F1 Grand Prix

It does, however, open the door to Red Bull and particularly Toro Rosso who need a strong start to the season.

Haas F1 genuine midfield contenders

McLaren, Force India, Renault and Haas may just be out of reach for the third place fight but certainly will look to get into what may become a battle for fifth as the year progresses.

Haas looked like seasoned pros as they read the race perfectly, switching Grosjean onto what effectively was a non-stop strategy by changing tyres under the red flag and the Frenchman did the rest, running an excellent pace to finish sixth.

As they continue to learn and gain experience there's no telling exactly where they could be by the end of the year but certainly after watching the likes of HRT, Caterham and Marussia fail at the back, to see a team enter and immediately look worthy of their place in F1 was refreshing.

Renault will be disappointed to see how far ahead Ricciardo's Red Bull was but they still performed better than most expected as Jolyon Palmer gave an excellent account for himself in his first race.

Australian F1 Grand Prix

As for Force India they, much like Williams, suffered from the Mercedes power unit not being as dominant as it was though Nico Hulkenberg continued to show his great talent by finishing seventh.

What next for McLaren?

There was hope for McLaren after qualifying as both drivers started just outside the top 10, but after Fernando Alonso's horrific crash and a poor strategy used by Jenson Button, the British team didn't make the most of it, finishing towards the back of the field.

While it would be wrong to suggest that is how the remainder of the season will play, it remains quite frankly embarrassing that a team with the stature of McLaren has two former world champions in its cars and is still barely able to score points.

If things don't change soon heads must roll.

Vettel vs. Hamilton is on the horizon

The final conclusion is the one many hoped we would be making. A fight between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton is on the way.

Australian F1 Grand Prix

While Nico Rosberg will certainly be in the title fight and could well lead it on current form, what happens between the two men vying for the title of the greatest of the current generation will dominate the headlines.

We had a few brief sniffs of what could happen on track as Vettel passed Hamilton, albeit on fresher tyres, and then ran wide as he looked to close the Briton down late in the closing laps.

But when these two go wheel-to-wheel for the first time in a straight fight we can expect plenty of fireworks and plenty of fans on the edge of their seats.

Australia was a refreshing start; let’s hope it was just a taste of what's to come.

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