Nico Rosberg led every lap of the Australian Grand Prix to make the perfect start to his 2014 Formula One campaign. Mercedes didn’t have it all their own way as unreliability struck Lewis Hamilton but the W05 proved the class of the field in terms of outright pace. Daniel Ricciardo backed up his qualifying heroics with a fine second on home soil while Kevin Magnussen secured his maiden podium at the first attempt, taking third for McLaren.
Paddock fears that the race would see total unreliability were hardly eased on the formation lap as Max Chilton’s Marussia failed to get away. Jules Bianchi followed suit in the sister car soon afterwards, triggering an aborted start, but at the second attempt the race was underway with Rosberg leapfrogging Hamilton and Ricciardo to take the lead. Chaos ensued behind as Kamui Kobayashi outbraked himself into turn one, clipping Kimi Raikkonen before skittling Felipe Massa’s Williams out of the race along with himself.
Hamilton ran fourth early on behind Rosberg, Ricciardo and Magnussen but the warning signs were evident immediately as Nico Hulkenberg breezed past him into fourth. Within two laps, Mercedes were informing the polesitter that his race was run due to a misfiring cylinder in his engine. Lewis wasn’t the only high profile casualty as reigning champion Sebastian Vettel also pulled in due to a loss of power from his Renault power unit.
The front three were soon spreading out but a close battle for fourth was forming between Hulkenberg and the two Ferraris with Valtteri Bottas also in close company. The Williams driver stormed past Raikkonen for sixth on lap eight but a costly error at turn ten undid all his hard work as contact with the wall punctured his right rear tyre. The tyre debris necessitated a safety car period and Jenson Button was the first to react, pitting from ninth, and the quick decision from McLaren paid dividends as the Briton leapfrogged both Toro Rossos as well as Raikkonen’s Ferrari to line up sixth in the queue once all runners had pitted.
When green flag racing resumed, Rosberg scampered off into the distance with Ricciardo and Magnussen dropping Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. The fight for fourth would ultimately be decided in the second pitstop phase with McLaren once again stealing a march, bringing in Button on lap 33. Alonso dived in a lap later but the damage was done but he did at least maintain fifth after jumping Hulkenberg.
Rosberg remained serene at the front and extended his lead to 24.5 seconds by the finish but the crowd reactions would have you believe Ricciardo was the winner after he home favourite held off Magnussen for second, both securing their first podium finishes. Button briefly threatened a charge in the final stint but eventually settled for fourth while Alonso opened his account for the season with fifth, finishing exactly where he started.
After his early tag with the wall, Valtteri Bottas enjoyed a thrilling drive through the field as Williams demonstrated their impressive race pace. An error from compatriot Kimi Raikkonen eased him through to eighth and neither Jean-Eric Vergne nor Nico Hulkenberg could do anything to resist the Williams in the closing stages. Bottas therefore snatched sixth with Hulkenberg and Raikkonen seventh and eighth respectively. Toro Rosso proved their qualifying performance was no fluke by getting both Vergne and debutant Daniil Kvyat into the points.
Sergio Perez finished eleventh after a disastrous opening lap while his old team Sauber made an underwhelming start to the year with twelfth and thirteenth for Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez. Max Chilton did at least recover from his start line problems to finish fourteenth but he was the last classified finisher after both Lotus cars ground to a halt short of the distance.
Following the race Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from his second place finish for ‘fuel-flow irregularities’, promoting Magnussen to second place on his debut and team-mate Button on to the podium. As a result of the changes to the field ahead of him Perez now collects the final point of the race.