Nico Rosberg kicked off his 2014 season in perfect style, producing an imperious performance to take victory at the Australian Grand Prix.
Rosberg was peerless on his way to his first win in Australia, the fourth of his career, and the first for Mercedes in this new era of Formula One, coming home a clear 24 seconds ahead of local hero Daniel Ricciardo, who finished a career best second on his first start for Red Bull. Kevin Magnussen rounded out the podium with third for McLaren on his Formula One debut, in doing so becoming the first Danish driver to ever finish on the rostrum.
After an aborted first start due to Jules Bianchi’s stalled Marussia, it was Rosberg who seized the lead into turn one as the lights went out to signal the start of the first race of the 2014 season, while pole man Lewis Hamilton tumbled down to third in the second Mercedes, behind his team-mate as well as Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
There was drama almost immediately as Kamui Kobayashi locked up into turn one in the middle of the pack, collecting Felipe Massa’s Williams, and putting them both out of the race in the process, as moments later Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez touched into turn three, causing the field to scatter around them to take avoiding action.
The field was cut to 18 runners just five laps later, as first Hamilton, and then Sebastian Vettel toured into the pits retire, for Mercedes and Red Bull respectively, both champions out with engine trouble.
Having snatched the lead off the start-line Rosberg began to distance himself from the rest of the field, building up a gap of around 5.8 seconds ahead of Ricciardo before Valtteri Bottas, who had been working his way through the pack after a grid-penalty, brought out the first safety car of the year on lap 12, after the Finn hit the wall coming out of turn nine, suffering a puncture and leaving debris on the run down to turn ten.
The deployment of the safety car prompted a flurry of activity in the pit lane as Rosberg, Ricciardo and Magnussen, running third on his F1 debut, all stopped for a set of fresh Pirelli tyres, with the German maintaining his lead ahead of the sole remaining Red Bull after the first round of stops came to a close.
Rosberg, now unburdened from any need to save fuel thanks to the laps completed under the safety car started to lay the hammer down, building up a lead of just over 16 seconds from Ricciardo by the time of his second and final stop on lap 38, with even a minor moment of drama when his left-front wheel rim was damaged during his tyre change unable to spoil what was a faultless drive for the German, who won in dominant fashion.
Daniel Ricciardo came home a career best of second on his Red Bull debut, while McLaren’s rookie Kevin Magnussen produced a mature drive in just his first ever Formula One start to finish third, in doing so equalling the same result from the last man to make their F1 debut for the team, Lewis Hamilton.
Jenson Button was fourth in the second of the McLarens, having used the undercut at his second stop to pass Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, as the Woking-based outfit take an early lead in this seasons constructors’ championship.
Alonso finished an anonymous fifth for Ferrari, 12 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the sole Williams, the Finn fighting back to finish sixth following an early clash with the wall in the opening stint of the race, passing both Hulkenberg and Jean-Eric Vergne late on, who came home seventh and ninth respectively.
Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10, the Russian taking a point on his F1 debut for Toro Rosso, ending the race just six seconds shy of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who struggled for pace throughout the 58-lap race.
Sergio Perez was 11th in the second Force India, having spun on the opening lap, ahead of the two Saubers of Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez, while Max Chilton, who was forced to start from the pit lane, was the last of the classified runners, securing what could prove to be an important 14th place for the Marussia team.
Jules Bianchi finished eight laps down in the sister Marussia, the last car running on circuit – the Frenchman having started from the pit lane like his team-mate after he stalled on the grid, causing the first aborted start.
Neither Romain Grosjean or Pastor Maldonado finished for Lotus, both men stopping out on track, bringing the Enstone-based outfit’s dreadful opening weekend to a premature close.
Marcus Ericsson retired on his debut just after the half-way mark, while his Caterham team-mate Kmaui Kobayashi was eliminated on the opening lap along with Felipe Massa during the turn one melee.
Australian Grand Prix – Race – Classification
1. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 1:32m58.710s
2. Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull-Renault +24.525s
3. Kevin Magnussen – McLaren-Mercedes +26.777s
4. Jenson Button – McLaren-Mercedes +30.027s
5. Fernando Alonso – Ferrari +35.284s
6. Valtteri Bottas – Williams-Mercedes +47.639s
7. Nico Hulkenberg – Force India-Mercedes +50.718s
8. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari +57.675s
9. Jean-Eric Vergne – Toro Rosso-Renault +1m00.441s
10. Daniil Kvyat – Toro Rosso-Renault +1m03.585s
11. Sergio Perez – Force India-Mercedes +1m25.916s
12. Adrian Sutil – Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
13. Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
14. Max Chilton – Marussia-Ferrari +2 laps
15. Jules Bianchi – Marussia-Ferrari +8 laps – Not classified
Romain Grosjean – Lotus-Renault – 43 laps
Pastor Maldonado – Lotus-Renault – 29 laps
Marcus Ericsson – Caterham-Renault – 27 laps
Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault – 3 laps
Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 2 laps
Kamui Kobayashi – Caterham-Renault – 0 laps
Felipe Massa – Williams-Mercedes – 0 laps
Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG PETRONAS