Rosberg wins season-opening F1 race as Ferrari falters
Nico Rosberg took an unexpected win at the season-opening Australian GP on Sunday.
Unexpected as he had started behind his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton and was passed by the two Ferrari teammates in the first chicane.
However, while Rosberg may have not gotten off to the hottest of starts, Hamilton’s was worse, as Rosberg edged him toward the side of the track in the first turn while Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen flew by.
Hamilton found himself shuffled back to sixth position, and so his team opted to keep him out until Lap 17 when he could pit, put on the harder compound tires and run deeper in the race than his competitors.
However, this strategy backfired for Hamilton when the red flag flew on Lap 18 for a crash between Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez and McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, who flipped upside-down.
Under the red flag, all of the drivers were allowed to change tires before the safety car led them around for a restart.
This meant that all of the drivers essentially were allowed to create a fresh strategy on Lap 19 of 57 (the race was scheduled to be 58 laps but was docked by one after the first start was aborted due to Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull breaking down on the warm-up lap). This was a problem for Hamilton as his pit stop had dropped him back to sixth place.
Ferrari’s strategy for Vettel was to go on to the supersoft tires, build up a huge lead, and then challenge Rosberg from behind at the end. However, it backfired for the German when he was unable to put much of a gap over Rosberg and then, on his pit stop, there was a slow tire change on the right front tire.
"It’s the perfect start," Rosberg said. "The strategy was crucial today. It was the tire choice after the red flag. I was glad to see they (Ferrari) were on the super-soft (compound) and happy that I could keep up on the medium."
On the other side of the Ferrari camp, Raikkonen’s solid race fell apart when he came down pit road shortly after the restart with his car on fire.
Vettel caught Hamilton for second position in the closing laps but could not make the pass and then ran off track with three laps to go.
"I did the best I could after a difficult start — damage limitation really," Hamilton said. "I’ve had much worse in the first race and l’d take this as a bonus after being as low as seventh."
Romain Grosjean was sixth to give American team Haas an impressive points finish in its first race. An emotional Grosjean told the team over the radio that "this is a win, unbelievable."
Max Verstappen was challenging for a podium finish early but was called into the pits after his teammate Carlos Sainz, who had been behind. Verstappen lost the position to his teammate but was then unable to pass him on the track, despite the team at one point telling Sainz to allow him to go by.
Local favorite Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull was fourth, falling just short in his bid to become the first Australian on the podium at his home race.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Full race results:
1. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari
4. Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull
5. Felipe Massa – Williams
6. Romain Grosjean – Haas
7. Nico Hulkenberg – Force India
8. Valtteri Bottas – Williams
9. Carlos Sainz – Toro Rosso
10. Max Verstappen – Toro Rosso
11. Jolyon Palmer – Renault
12. Kevin Magnussen – Renault
13. Serio Perez – Force India
14. Jenson Button – McLaren
15. Felipe Nasr – Sauber
16. Paschal Wehrlein – Manor
17. Marcus Ericsson – Sauber (DNF)
18. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari (DNF)
19. Rio Haryanto – Manor (DNF)
20. Esteban Gutierrez – Haas (DNF)
21. Fernando Alonso – McLaren (DNF)
22. Daniil Kvyat – Red Bull (DNF)