Safety car stuns favourite Hamilton

His terse handshake and stony glare said it all.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton was not happy to be standing on the second step, as runner-up to Australian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel.

But he congratulated his rival and insisted he made a "sensible choice" having been dished up a set of circumstances that would cruel him of a race win.

The Great Brit showed unmatchable pace in qualifying around the Melbourne street circuit, setting a new lap record on his way to a seventh pole position at Albert Park.

And after 27 laps, it all came unstuck.

Romain Grosjean's Haas stopped alongside the track, bringing a yellow flag at the worst possible time for the four-time champion.

Hamilton had already made his stop, when cars were at full speed.

The safety car conditions meant Vettel was able to head into pit lane with the rest of the field slowed, giving enough of an advantage to overtake the Mercedes man.

And Hamilton was understandably annoyed.

"This is the second hardest circuit to overtake on," he said.

"You need a 1.8 second advantage or something crazy like that to pass someone.

"I had fresher tyres. I was as close as I could be but the aerodynamics make it very tricky.

"He looked like he was struggling ... but he was able to hold on."

Just as he swallowed his pride after the race, shaking the German's hand and not detracting from his win, Hamilton was forced to bite the bullet during the 58-lap classic.

The 33-year-old said he gave up hope of winning the race as the laps ticked down with regulations that limit the number of engines his Mercedes team can use.

"I was fighting engine temps. We've only got three engines (this season). It's got to make seven races," he said.

"It's better to live to fight another day and make sure the engine is in good health.

"I had to make the sensible choice."

If there's a silver lining for the reigning champion, it's that two of his four titles have come without success at the season-opening race in Australia.

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