2014 Australian GP: Comfortable win for Nico Rosberg after Lewis Hamilton retires
German driver wins by over twenty seconds; Engine failure leaves Hamilton powerless; Ricciardo disqualified five hours after race; McLaren return to podium; Kvyat becomes youngest points-scorer in F1; Williams better 2013 points haul after Bottas' recovery to sixth
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 16/03/14 2:30pm
On a riveting and elongated race day at Melbourne that carried on into the early hours of Monday morning, the two pre-season title favourites retired within five laps, McLaren's Kevin Magnussen claimed a podium on his F1 debut, Red Bull debutant Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified after finishing second on the road, and Nico Rosberg delivered an emphatic display of Mercedes' strength to win the Australian GP by over 20 seconds.
Alas for Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, there was rather too much of whimper, however, with both the 2014 favourite and the reigning World Champion forced into early exits even before F1's brave new world had fully dawned.
While debate rages about the full merits of the sport's dramatic rules revolution, there's no dispute that F1 looks, sounds and feels very different. There's a new frontrunning team, too, with the Mercedes in a class of its own as Rosberg strolled to an easy victory after sweeping past the stricken Hamilton off the line.
The fact that Rosberg still proceeded to win by 24 seconds even when deprived of a need to push at full throttle following Hamilton's fifth-lap retirement and the mid-race deployment of the Safety Car laid bare the scale of Mercedes' performance advantage. It's early days, but with a lick of blue paint, the Silver Arrows W05 could easily be mistaken for the dominant Red Bull of 2013.
"I had an unbelievably quick car today," exclaimed a jubilant Rosberg. "It's such a pleasure to drive. It's such a great feeling and I really look forward to the next races so much now having this. It's so fast, it's great."
As Rosberg disappeared into the distance, there was simply no response to the stunning pace of the Mercedes from the rest of the field, with Ferrari up to half a second off the pace and Daniel Ricciardo's RB10 subsequently found to have breached the rules as the Aussie claimed what had initially appeared to be an impressive second place on his Red Bull debut.
Fully five hours after the chequered flag had fallen, the stewards announced that a fuel irregularity meant Ricciardo had been disqualified, although the World Champions are to appeal the verdict.
In any case, what is for certain is that the precocious Kevin Magnussen claimed a podium finish on his F1 debut, with McLaren back on the podium after an interminable 16-month absence.
If Ricciardo's disqualification is upheld, podium finishes will be like London buses for McLaren, with Jenson Button, fourth on the road at Albert Park, belatedly joining his team-mate on the rostrum.
"It's not a win but it definitely feels like a bit of a win," said Magnussen. "Me and Dan had pretty similar pace but obviously you can do stuff with the engine to try and push for a few laps and then you have to back off because you have to harvest the energy again."
Wherever you looked along the Melbourne, there was a story to be told. Down at Williams, the contrasting emotions of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were acute. While Massa raged at Kamui Kobayashi after being shunted out by the Caterham driver at the first corner, Bottas had his own bittersweet tale to tell after fighting back for sixth having cost himself a likely podium finish by hitting the wall when challenging Fernando Alonso.
The champagne was flowing, too, at Toro Rosso after both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat, yet another impressive debutant, finished in the points.
For the latter the result represented a double milestone - at 19 years and 10 months old Kvyat, by just less than a month, beat Vettel's mark as the youngest driver to ever score a point in F1.
After Toro Rosso's winter misery, their double-points finish represented an astonishing turnaround, matched only by the sight of Ricciardo and the hitherto-unreliable RB10 fending off Magnussen for second as a recovering Button made it a three-way fight to be the best of the rest behind the long-gone Mercedes.
By that stage, Vettel had long since left the arena, the World Champion rendered a passenger at the start of the race when his car developed a crippling engine fault. Down to 15th by the end of the first lap, his retirement just a few laps later felt like a blessed relief.
For Sebastian, the start of 2014 couldn't feel any more different than his run of nine successive victories at the conclusion of 2013.
But a German winning with comfort to spare and turning a race into a procession up at the front? In F1, some things never seem to change.