Lewis Hamilton kicked off his Formula 1 world championship defence in style at the Australian Grand Prix today by claiming a dominant victory ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
The British driver led for all but one lap in Melbourne to clinch his second win at Albert Park, following on from his victory at the 2008 race.
As expected, Mercedes dominated proceedings and eased to a one-two finish, but the main talking point on Sunday was the high rate of attrition as just 11 cars reached the flag.
Before the race had got underway, the grid fell from 18 to just 15 starters after Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat were all unable to make the grid. Bottas failed to start from P6 due to a back injury, whilst both Magnussen and Kvyat suffered technical problems on their installation laps, giving the 2015 season something of a false start.
Off the line, both of the Mercedes drivers made a good getaway to remain P1 and P2 through the first corner, with Hamilton retaining the lead from Rosberg. Just behind, the two Ferrari drivers tangled, but Vettel managed to stay ahead of the struggling Raikkonen who narrowly avoided an incident between Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado. Contact between the two drivers left Maldonado in the wall, warranting a safety car after just one lap in Melbourne.
In the sister Lotus, Romain Grosjean was forced to retire due to a loss of power, leaving just 13 cars in the field once the race resumed on lap three. Hamilton perfected his restart to drop Rosberg by 2.5 seconds after just one lap, whilst Raikkonen tried to make up for his poor start by battling with Ricciardo and Nasr in the positions ahead. The Finn was eventually forced to pit on lap 16 in a bid to get out of Ricciardo’s dirty air, switching to a two-stop strategy.
Five laps later, the first of the one-stoppers took their pit stops, with Massa diving in from third place to take on a fresh set of medium tires for Williams. The Brazilian emerged from the pits in sixth place behind Daniel Ricciardo, but was soon in clean air after the Red Bull driver pitted. However, it proved to be too little, too late for Massa as Vettel moved up into net third place by going longer three laps longer.
As the race approached half-distance, the leading Mercedes duo took to the pits with Hamilton coming in one lap earlier than Rosberg. Enjoying similar stop times, the Briton retained his lead, leaving Rosberg some five seconds behind and with a mountain to climb if he was going to deny his teammate the win at Albert Park.
In the fight to be top rookie, Max Verstappen made his first pit stop in F1 on lap 33 after starting on the medium tire. The Dutch youngster managed to emerge from the pits in ninth place on a fresh set of soft tires, but all hopes of points went up in smoke when an engine fire forced him to retire from the race just one lap later.
Rosberg began to make inroads into his teammate’s lead after pitting, reducing the gap to just 1.5 seconds before Hamilton took notice. The Briton duly responded with the fastest lap of the race, extending the gap once again as Rosberg complained of high tire degradation.
Kimi Raikkonen was having no such problems on his two-stop strategy, retaining fifth place after making his final pit stop on lap 42. However, an issue with the left-rear tire on his car in the pits forced the Finn to pull over at the side of the track just four corners later, whittling the field down to just 11 with 15 laps to go.
With the sparse field largely spaced out in the final ten laps, the most interesting battle between Marcus Ericsson and Carlos Sainz Jr. for eighth place. Both drivers put in impressive displays to score points, but it was Ericsson who managed to fight past and up into the position.
Hamilton and Rosberg continued to trade quicker lap times at the front in the dying stages of the race, but the German simply could not find the pace to reel his teammate in. After 58 laps, Hamilton crossed the line with an advantage of 1.3 seconds to clinch his second Australian Grand Prix victory.
On debut for Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel managed to stay ahead of Massa after leapfrogging the Williams driver in the pit stops to secure third place ahead of the Brazilian. With less than five seconds separating the two drivers at the line though, the stage is set for a thrilling season-long battle between these two teams.
One of the stand-out performances in Australia came courtesy of Sauber rookie Felipe Nasr, who put the uncertainty of the winter behind him to finish fifth on debut for the team. With Ericsson finishing eighth, Sauber celebrated a 14-point haul to start 2015 after failing to record a single top-ten finish last year.
Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez put in a quietly impressive display for Force India to finish seventh and 11th on Sunday, with Carlos Sainz Jr. also enjoyed a good F1 debut in P9.
With 11 cars finishing the race, the only driver not to score points was McLaren’s Jenson Button, who finished two laps down on the leaders and some 38 seconds behind the rest of the field.