By: Charles Bradley, Editor in Chief
Nico Rosberg got his F1 World Championship challenge off to a perfect start in the season-opening Australian GP, after clipping Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the first corner and overcoming the challenge of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The race was punctuated by a huge crash that befell McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who flew over the back of Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas and slammed into a barrier before somersaulting across the gravel trap. Both were unhurt.
Rosberg took the lead after Ferrari’s tyre strategy backfired. Vettel had just changed to supersoft tyres before the red flag, and stayed on them while Rosberg took adavantage of the stoppage to change from softs to mediums.
As Vettel pitted for a new set of softs, Rosberg was able to cruise to the finish without pitting again.
After a terrible first lap, thanks to a slow start from pole and a nudge from Rosberg at the first corner, Hamilton rose from sixth to second. Vettel rounded out the podium, ahead of local hero Daniel Ricciardo ofRed Bull.
Story of the race
The original start was aborted when Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull broke down on the approach to the grid.
At the second attempt, Hamilton got a slow launch away from pole allowing Vettel to lead, as Rosberg locked up at the first corner and ran wide. This forced Hamilton wide too at Turn 1, and his front wing was clipped by Rosberg’s left-front wheel, their loss of momentum allowing Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari to jump to second as Hamilton slumped to sixth.
Vettel led Raikkonen by 1.5s at the end of the opening lap, with Rosberg third from Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen and the Williams of Felipe Massa. Hamilton ran sixth from Carlos Sainz’s STR, with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg passing Ricciardo for eighth on the opening tour.
Hamilton passed Massa for fifth between Turns 3 and 4, just after they lapped Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, and Ricciardo repassed Hulkenberg for eighth. Ricciardo chased down and passed Massa into Turn 1 on lap 11. Massa pitted on the following tour.
Hamilton got stuck behind fourth-placed Verstappen, complaining “I can’t get past this guy” and suggesting “we gotta switch our strategy”.
Rosberg pitted on lap 12, switching to the soft tyres, and almost banged wheels with Hulkenberg as he rejoined.
Vettel pitted a lap later for supersofts. A flying Rosberg was right on his tail as he returned to the track, causing him to defend stoutly into Turn 3.
Raikkonen stayed out but was complaining that his front tyres were "really suffering” as he led Hamilton by 12s.
Vettel unleashed his supersoft pace, caught Hamilton and passed him around the outside of Turn 2, while Rosberg briefly got caught behind his Mercedes teammate on a different strategy.
Raikkonen pitted on lap 16 for supersofts, as Hamilton went for the medium-compound tyre.
Huge crash suspends racing
The race was brought to a shuddering halt by a huge shunt between Gutierrez and Alonso at Turn 3 on lap 17.
Alonso’s right-front wheel clipped Gutierrez’s left-rear and slammed the wall hard before being launched into a series of rolls by the gravel trap and hitting the barrier again. Gutierrez’s car spun harmlessly into the gravel.
Alonso staggered away from his shattered car, but appeared unhurt as he walked to the medical car.
Gutierrez reported an engine problem on the opening lap, and was running 19th at the time of the shunt. He immediately asked: “Is [Alonso] OK?”
The race was red flagged while the huge debris field was cleared. This allowed Hamilton to change his front wing, which had incurred some slight damage in his first-corner contact with Rosberg.
The race restarts
Rosberg took advantage of the red flag by switching to the medium tyre, while the Ferraris stayed on supersofts.
The race restarted in the order Vettel, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Ricciardo (a big gainer in the opening laps and through the first pitstop cycle), Verstappen, Sainz, Hamilton, Massa, Haas’s Romain Grosjean (who benefited massively and got a free pitstop under the red flag) and Bottas.
Vettel set a sequence of new fastest laps as he needed to extend a big gap over Rosberg to make his strategy work.
But teammate Raikkonen pulled into the pits to retire on lap 22 with fire coming from his air intake: “Something happened, I broke something.”
Rosberg’s pace on the medium tyre was soon the match of Vettel on the supersoft, which proved Mercedes had made the right call in fitting the harder tyre during the race suspension. An initial gap of 3s soon dwindled.
Sainz pitted from fifth on his softs, as did Verstappen a lap later (when his team didn’t appear ready for him), both promoting Hamilton to fourth.
Vettel pitted at the end of lap 35, opting for the soft for the run to the finish – a slow left-front change further hampering his chances.
Rosberg was left with an 8s lead over Ricciardo, with Hamilton a further 3s back. Vettel rejoined in fourth, ahead of Massa and the battling Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Bottas (who started with a 5-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox).
Another great scrap unfolded behind, with Renault’s Jolyon Palmer holding off the delayed and squabbling Toro Rossos of Sainz and Verstappen, who finally found a way past at Turn 1 and Turn 4 respectively.
Hamilton hit tyre trouble right at the end on his mediums, locking up and allowing soft-shod Vettel to close right on to his tail. But Vettel ran wide with a couple of laps remaining, and was forced to settle for third.
Ricciardo was a distant fourth, ahead of Massa.
Grosjean won the battle for sixth – an amazing result for the all-new Haas team – ahead of Hulkenberg and Bottas. Sainz was hit by teammate Verstappen at Turn 15 in the closing stages – which had been coming all day.
Verstappen denied debutant Palmer a point on his debut.
Magnussen was a lap-one pitter due to a puncture on his Renault, but got his lap back during the red flag. He finished 12th, ahead of Force India's Sergio Perez, McLaren's Jenson Button, Sauber's Felipe Nasr and Manor's Pascal Wehrlein.
2016 Australian GP results
|1||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes F1 W07||1:48:15.565||57|
|2||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes F1 W07||+8.606||57|
|3||Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari SF16-H||+9.643||57|
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull RB12||+34.330||57|
|5||Felipe Massa||Williams FW38||+58.979||57|
|6||Romain Grosjean||Haas VF-16||+1:12.081||57|
|7||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India VJM09||+1:14.199||57|
|8||Valtteri Bottas||Williams FW38||+1:15.153||57|
|9||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso STR11||+1:15.680||57|
|10||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso STR11||+1:16.833||57|
|11||Jolyon Palmer||Renault R.S.16||+1:23.399||57|
|12||Kevin Magnussen||Renault R.S.16||+1:25.606||57|
|13||Sergio Perez||Force India VJM09||+1:31.699||57|
|14||Jenson Button||McLaren MP4-31||+1 lap||56|
|15||Felipe Nasr||Sauber C35||+1 lap||56|
|16||Pascal Wehrlein||Manor MRT05||+1 lap||56|
|R||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber C35||Drivetrain||38|
|R||Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari SF16-H||Fire||21|
|R||Rio Haryanto||Manor MRT05||Mechanical||17|
|R||Fernando Alonso||McLaren MP4-31||Collision||16|
|R||Esteban Gutierrez||Haas VF-16||Collision||16|
|N||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull RB12||Electrical||0|