Nico Rosberg justified Mercedes’ billing as 2014 Formula One favourites by producing a faultless drive to claim victory in the Australian Grand Prix, the German finishing some 24 seconds ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen, both of whom claimed their first podium finish.
The fourth win of Rosberg’s career came on a day when only his team-mate could have offered a challenge. However, for pole sitter Lewis Hamilton the chance of battling with Rosberg for the top step never materialised. At the start, the second following Jules Bianchi’s failure to get away, Rosberg shot into the lead while Hamilton bogged down and lost places to the other podium finishers. The problem was due to a broken cylinder, an issue that saw the Briton retire after just three laps.
If this was a disappointment for Mercedes, the pace and dominance of Rosberg’s car will be a consolation. He was significantly after than any other car out there and the winning margin of 24 seconds over Daniel Ricciardo could have been a lot more had the German not backed off and managed his pace for the final 20 or so laps. When he pushed, for example to re-establish his lead after the safety car, we saw lap times over a second a lap faster than his pursuers.
“To start the season with a win is unbelievable and I have to say a big thank you to everybody who was involved in building our car over the winter,” said Rosberg. “I always dreamed of having such a strong Silver Arrow and now it seems we are there. In the race, everything went perfectly for me. My start was great and I was able to push from there until the end, with our fuel consumption well under control.”
Ricciardo and Magnussen were elected to finish on the podium for the first time in their F1 careers; Ricciardo after 51 starts and Magnussen on his debut. Ricciardo was however called before the stewards on a fuel flow matter after the race.
It was a disappointing race for defending champion Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull driver was off the pace in qualifying with software issues and he also suffered a deficit of power in the race. He struggled on until lap five before pulling into the pits to retire.
Out on track Rosberg was able easily to establish a 10-second lead in the opening stint, pitting on the 12th lap due to a Safety Car and then opening up a 15-second lead during his second stint. From there it was straightforward. Rosberg continued to draw away from Ricciardo and crossed the line with 24 seconds in hand over the local hero.
The battle for second came in the final stint, when Magnussen closed in on Ricciardo and threatened to improve on an already stellar drive. He couldn’t find a way past the dogged Aussie, however, and had to be content with matching Hamilton’s 2007 feat of finishing third on his debut. The young Dane has looked comfortable and confident so far and today he was able to lap on a par with three-time Australian GP-winning team-mate Jenson Button, who made use of an early second stop to under-cut Fernando Alonso and take fourth place, a finish that gives McLaren the early lead in the Constructors’ Championship.
In the closing laps Magnussen was unable to pass home-favourite Ricciardo, Red Bull’s latest recruit also giving a fine display of the young talent in Formula One. He had a relatively quiet race, although showing that Red Bull are by no means out of this championship.
Behind Button, Fernando Alonso was able to pass Nico Hulkenberg after being held up for a frustrating 30 laps and brought home some solid points on a quiet day for Ferrari. His team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, finished in eighth place, behind Valtteri Bottas and Hulkenberg.
Bottas and Williams have shown strong dry weather pace in testing but could not replicate this in Saturday’s wet qualifying session. With race conditions dry, the FW36 looked to be the second quickest car on track, Bottas making his way up to sixth place before tapping the wall, causing a puncture and consequently bringing out the Safety Car for debris on the circuit.
After dropping down to 15th place, Bottas benefitted from the safety car he had caused bunching up the field. He powered back through the pack to sixth place, giving Williams more points than they achieved in all of 2013. It was a less enjoyable day for Felipe Massa, however. He was dumped out of the race in turn one when Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi braked too late and smashed into the back of Massa’s FW36.
The top ten was completed by the Toro Rosso pairing of Jean-Eric Vergne and 19 year old rookie Daniil Kvyat, who becomes the youngest points scorer in F1 history.
There were some signs of an improvement in fortunes for Lotus as Pastor Maldonado moved up to eleventh place in the opening phase and knocked on the door of the points positions. But he soon retired on the side of the circuit with Romain Grosjean following suit later in the race.
An accident at the start eliminated Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa, the Caterham slamming into the Williams into turn 1. Although Massa was furious, it emerged when the stewards looked into it that the Caterham had suffered a rear brake failure.
Look out for our UBS Race Strategy Report on Tuesday here on JA on F1, with many behind the scenes details on the strategy and why the race unfolded as it did
Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne, Race, 57 Laps
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1h32m58.710s
2. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +24.525s
3. Kevin Magnussen McLaren +26.777s
4. Jenson Button McLaren +30.027s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari +35.284s
6. Valtteri Bottas Williams +47.639s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India +50.718s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +57.675s
9. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +1m00.441s
10. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +1m03.585s
11. Sergio Perez Force India +1m25.916s
12. Adrian Sutil Sauber +1 lap
13. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +1 lap
14. Max Chilton Marussia +2 laps
15. Jules Bianchi Marussia +8 laps*