Lewis Hamilton makes perfect start to title defence in Australia
World champion leads home Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg; Sebastian Vettel finishes third on Ferrari debut; Only 15 cars start the race with 11 taking the chequered flag.
By Mike Wise
Last Updated: 23/03/15 1:08pm
Lewis Hamilton made the perfect start to his world championship defence with victory in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne ahead of Nico Rosberg.
Starting from pole position, Hamilton never came under pressure during the 58-lap race and led home Mercedes team-mate Rosberg by 1.3 seconds at the chequered flag.
Sebastian Vettel finished third on his Ferrari debut, ahead of Williams driver Felipe Massa and Sauber's Felipe Nasr, who was a fine fifth on his debut - albeit on an afternoon that brought high attrition.
The Silver Arrows’ superiority effectively meant a two-horse race between Hamilton and Rosberg, although the closest the latter got was when the Briton celebrated victory.
Rosberg offered the brief possibility that he might challenge after the pair made their first and only pit stops midway through the race. Hamilton's lead was cut to 1.6s; however, it increased again after the German was told to use less fuel.
“Lewis did a fantastic job this weekend, he drove like a world champion all weekend," Rosberg said on the podium. “[I] couldn’t quite beat him, I was trying every single lap all the way to the maximum and I will do all year. I’ll give him a big run for his money.”
As expected, then, Mercedes had it all their own way. Behind them, however, a combination of poor reliability and retirements made an already shrunken field look positively threadbare by the end.
With the two Manor cars having failed to turn a wheel all weekend, the grid dropped to 17 cars after Valtteri Bottas' back problems in Saturday's qualifying session prevented the Williams driver from starting.
But only 15 actually made it, with the warm-up laps claiming both Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat. Standing in for Fernando Alonso this weekend, the McLaren driver had only just left the pits when a Honda engine failure forced him to pull up at Turn 6, while a broken gearbox forced the Russian to park his Renault-powered Red Bull.
And the race had barely started before both Lotuses were out as well. With Hamilton leading Rosberg into Turn 1, the Ferraris of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen touched a little further back.
Raikkonen had to back off and with the fast-starting Nasr forcing his way in between the Finn’s car and Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus, all three touching but the Venezuelan ending up in the wall.
With the safety car brought out, Romain Grosjean retired his Lotus with an engine failure. So just 13 cars took the re-start, offering the likelihood of a rare points finish for some.
Sauber certainly profited, with Marcus Ericsson also finishing eighth on a weekend that had started with both the Swede and Nasr wondering whether Giedo van der Garde's legal action against the team would allow them to race.
Another debutant, Carlos Sainz, finished ninth although the hopes his Toro Rosso team-mate, Max Verstappen, had of becoming F1’s youngest points scorer will have to wait after the 17-year-old retired on lap 34.
Raikkonen was another to pull off the track after wheel problems scuppered his chances not long afterwards. Running a two-stop race, Ferrari struggled with a cross-threaded wheel nut at the left-rear of the Finn's car both times and he retired shortly after his second visit.
Although the first stop had dropped him to the back of the field, Raikkonen climbed back to fifth and could conceivably have passed Massa by the end.
Vettel confirmed Ferrari's resurgence with the final podium place, having shadowed Massa in the first half of the race, running a longer opening stint and getting past after both drivers made their respective stops.
“It is a great start to the season for us, we had a good winter already and we can be very proud,” Vettel said. "Of course it's not a victory, but for us today it feels like a victory. For us it's a nice relief after a horrible season [for Ferrari] last season."
With Daniel Ricciardo salvaging sixth place on a difficult weekend for Red Bull, Nico Hulkenberg came home seventh for Force India with team-mate Sergio Perez 10th.
Even in a race with so few runners, there were no points for McLaren-Honda. But at least they finished, with Jenson Button coming home 11th and last in what was effectively a test session for the struggling partnership.
The Midweek Report returns at 8.30pm on Sky Sports F1 on Wednesday with Mike Gascoyne and David Brabham joining Natalie Pinkham in the studio to analyse events in Melbourne.