Nico Rosberg took victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday after getting his strategy right after a mid-race red flag caused when Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez clashed heavily at turn three.
Rosberg and his Mercedes AMG PETRONAS team took the Medium Pirelli tyres for the final stint while Sebastian Vettel, who had jumped into the lead at the start took the Supersoft tyre, which ultimately turn out to be the wrong choice for the Scuderia Ferrari driver.
Vettel had made the best of the start, with pole sitter Lewis Hamilton finding himself pushed down to sixth by turn two after a slow getaway, but by following Rosberg’s lead with tyre choice, he was also able to get ahead of Vettel to complete a Mercedes 1-2.
Vettel was forced to make another pit stop due to his Supersoft tyre choice, and now on the Soft tyres caught Hamilton and was looking to make an overtaking attempt in the closing stages before a mistake at the penultimate corner saw him lose too much time, meaning he was forced to settle for the bottom step on the podium.
The red flag was caused when Alonso’s McLaren-Honda clipped the rear of Gutierrez’s Haas F1 Team car heading into the braking zone of turn three on the seventeenth lap and hit the wall before hitting the gravel trap sideways and rolling over twice.
The Spaniard’s car ended up inverted and heavily damaged next to the wall, but he was able to extract himself from the car, with both he and Gutierrez appearing unhurt, with both being taken to the medical centre for evaluations before being released with a clean bill of health.
Daniel Ricciardo was running in the podium places for a number of laps, but the Australian ultimately was forced to settle for fourth for Red Bull Racing, passing Felipe Massa in the closing stages for position and pulling away from the Williams Martini Racing driver with a number of quick laps.
Romain Grosjean secured a debut points finish for the Haas F1 Team by finishing sixth having made the necessary switch from the Soft tyre to the Medium tyre under the red flag, with the Frenchman able to hold off a big group of cars until the chequered flag.
Nico Hulkenberg secured seventh for Sahara Force India but found his afternoon compromised by the red flag, having stopped just before and losing track time while being the leading driver attempting the alternative strategy of starting on the Soft tyre and switching to the Mediums.
Valtteri Bottas recovered from his five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change to finish eighth in the second Williams, while a feisty battle between the two Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers only ended at the chequered flag, with Carlos Sainz Jr finishing just ahead of Max Verstappen.
The two had been running competitively further up the order in the early stages but found themselves losing out with their strategy calls, with Verstappen suffering a spin after clipping the back of his team-mates car with just a handful of laps remaining, which had risked compromising both of their afternoons.
Jolyon Palmer drove well to finish eleventh for the Renault Sport F1 team, just ahead of team-mate Kevin Magnussen, who had benefited from the red flag by being allowed to recover his lost lap caused when he suffered a first lap puncture.
Sergio Perez struggled with brake issues towards the end of the Grand Prix and was only able to finish thirteenth, while Jenson Button was the only McLaren-Honda driver to see the chequered flag, albeit a lapped fourteenth, ahead of Felipe Nasr for the Sauber F1 Team and the Manor Racing machine of Pascal Wehrlein.
As well as Alonso and Gutierrez, other retirements included the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who had jumped into second place at the start but ultimately was left empty handed when his car caught fire just after the race resumed, while Marcus Ericsson crawled into the pit lane with a drivetrain issue on his Sauber with just under twenty laps remaining.
Rio Haryanto did not restart the race following the red flag in the second Manor due to a mechanical issue, while Daniil Kvyat did not start the Australian Grand Prix for a second consecutive season after problems on the formation lap saw the young Russian stop on the approach to the grid and necessitate an extra formation lap that reduced the number of laps of the race from 58 to 57 laps.
Ultimately, but not in the way many were expecting, Mercedes took another 1-2 finish, with Rosberg securing his fourth consecutive victory after ending 2015 with a hat trick of triumphs.
Australian Grand Prix Race Result
|4||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull-Tag Heuer||+24.330s||57||12|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India-Mercedes||+1m14.199s||57||6|
|9||55||Carlos Sainz Jr||ESP||Toro Rosso-Renault||+1m15.680s||57||2|
|10||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Toro Rosso-Renault||+1m16.833s||57||1|
|13||11||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India-Mercedes||+1m31.699s||57|
|14||22||Jenson Button||GBR||McLaren-Honda||+1 Lap||56|
|15||12||Felipe Nasr||BRZ||Sauber-Ferrari||+1 Lap||56|
|16||94||Pascal Wehrlein||GER||Manor-Mercedes||+1 Lap||56|
|DNS||26||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Red Bull-Tag Heuer||Did Not Start||0|