Sebastian Vettel feels Lewis Hamilton being held up by Max Verstappen was "crucial" to Ferrari beating Mercedes to victory in Formula 1's 2017 season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Vettel ran close behind Hamilton in the opening stint of the Melbourne race and took the lead by running longer than the British driver.
Hamilton pitted on lap 17 and lost time behind Max Verstappen's Red Bull when he emerged, with Vettel staying out for six more laps.
Vettel emerged just in front of the pair, rebuffed a Verstappen attack into Turn 3 and built a lead of six seconds by the time Verstappen pit two laps later and released Hamilton.
"I was struggling to keep up, but still hanging in there," Vettel said of his first stint. "I knew I needed to be right behind him.
"Once it was clear that he went in, there was no point to follow. We stayed out, the tyres were still holding on and the pace looked alright.
"It was very tight. I knew that Max would probably try something but I just kept in front.
"That was obviously crucial for our race, I tried to push for as hard as I could for the one or two Max was still out to open a bit of a gap and control the race.
"We did a very good race. I'm very happy with the calls today."
Hamilton said he made the call to stop earlier, because he feared Vettel was about to pass him on track as the Mercedes struggled for grip.
"I was struggling with the grip from the get-go," he explained. "Sebastian was able to always answer in terms of lap time, and the majority of the time do faster lap times.
"Then towards the end I got a bit in traffic and started to overheat the tyres and I was struggling with grip and it was to the point that I needed to come in.
"The gap was closing up and I was sliding around. So it was my call because otherwise he probably would have come by anyway.
"So then I came in and then I got obviously stuck in traffic, which is a little bit unfortunate but that's motor racing."
VETTEL ENJOYED 'MORE RAW' RACE
Hamilton's lead in the opening stint was never more than two seconds, and Vettel had moved to within DRS range when the British driver came into the pits.
Vettel said he enjoyed being able to push throughout the opening stint, despite doing 23 laps on ultra-soft tyres.
"It was very pleasant," he said. "A different race to last year, where you had to manage a lot.
"Now I think it was a bit more raw, especially the beginning. Even if it wasn't a wheel-to-wheel fight I could see Lewis was pushing really hard.
"It was nice that we could just push and race to the first stop."