First blood to Nico Rosberg as he wins F-1 season opener
Nico Rosberg won the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, picking up where he left off at the end of 2015. The German opened his account with a maximum 25 points thanks to a smart strategy call from his Mercedes team, who had pitted him earlier than early race-leader Sebastian Vettel for a set of new medium tyres. Vettel made a sensational start from third on the grid to take the lead into Turn 1, followed by his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who had also leapfrogged the napping Mercedes pair. Hamilton had unusually positioned his car pointing to the left, rather than the right, which meant he was not able to cover cars coming through the middle - as both Ferraris did. Rosberg got the better start of the Mercedes, despite dropping a place to third.
Hamilton made light contact with Rosberg in the first corner, losing him momentum and dropping him to sixth. Max Verstappen jumped to fourth after an impressive start.
Rookie Jolyon Palmer in the Renault made an excellent getaway from 14th despite being forced onto the grass briefly on lap one. He further demonstrated his resolve by making Williams' Valtteri Bottas work hard to pass him, displaying an air of maturity seldom seen from debutants.
Rosberg was the first front runner to pit on lap 13, and on a new set of soft tyres crucially emerged just ahead of Force India's Nico Hulkenberg. Race-leader Vettel pitted a lap later for a brand new set of super-soft tyres and emerged just ahead of Rosberg, but the Mercedes has closed the gap right up. But Vettel pulled away and then passed Hamilton, who was yet to stop, on lap 16.
Raikkonen and Hamilton both pitted on lap 17, with the Finn taking on a new set of supersofts while Hamilton bucked the trend and went for a set of un-tested mediums.
The race was red-flagged on lap 18 after a massive accident between McLaren's Fernando Alonso and Haas' Esteban Gutierrez. On the run down to Turn 3, the Mexican appeared to brake earlier than usual for the corner. The McLaren driver's front right wheel connected with the back of the Sauber launching the Spaniard into the wall. The car dug into the gravel trap at high speed, flipping over before launching into the air and stopping, upside down, against the wall. The remains of the car were unrecognisable as Alonso crawled out, seemingly unscathed.
After a 15 minute delay the race was restarted, and Vettel took instant command from Rosberg. Raikkonen, who was slow away at the restart, retired on lap 23 from third place.
The cameras at this point were fixated on the Toro Rosso pair, Verstappen and Sainz Jr. Running fourth and fifth the young drivers both began to grow frustrated with each other and, in Verstappen's case, the team too. The young Dutchman pitted for new tyres, which weren't ready for him, and dropped him down the order. It would result in the first of many heated radio calls to the pit wall.
After the pit stops, the Toro Rosso pair found themselves chasing Palmer, who gallantly fought them off for several laps before his tyres could offer him no more. It was an impressive first race for the Briton.
Romain Grosjean caused one of the biggest surprises of the weekend by driving his new Haas to a merited sixth-place finish.