2016 AUSTRALIAN GP: NICO ROSBERG WINS, FERRARI STRONGER BUT NOT ENOUGH TO CHALLENGE WIN

Mercedes AMG bounced back from a poor race start to open its 2016 Formula One championship account with a one-two finish with Nico Rosberg victorious ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel, who led for a long spell after the start was third for Ferrari.

After an aborted start caused by Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull Racing car failing on the grid as the cars lined up, both Mercedes drivers made a poor getaway from the lights. The slow starts from pole position man Hamilton and front-row starter Rosberg, allowed third-on-the-grid Vettel to power through between the Mercedes men to steal the lead. The duo were also passed by the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and as Hamilton struggled to get back into contention he was also passed by Rosberg, Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen and Williams’ Felipe Massa. Behind Hamilton, Carlos Sainz was seventh in the second Toro Rosso ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Sainz kickstarted the first round of pitstops, with the top 10 qualified gradually making their way towards pit lane to shed their used supersoft tyres. That moved Ricciardo up to P7 and with clear air ahead he soon closed on Massa and passed the Brazilian for P6 on lap 10. Hamilton, meanwhile, was struggling. He found himself stuck behind Verstappen and was soon on the radio telling his team to consider a strategic adjustment as he could find no way past the Dutchman.

Ahead, the leaders were pitting. Rosberg dived for the pits on lap 13 and took on soft tyre. Vettel followed soon after but stuck with the supersoft rubber. He emerged from his stop just in front of Rosberg but managed to fight off a determined assault from his fellow German to hold the lead. The complexion of the race was about to change drastically, however.

On lap 17, Fernando Alonso, pressuring Esteban Gutierrez in the battle for P12, looked to overtake the Mexican on the run towards Turn 3. The Mexican’s trajectory shifted slightly and he appeared to dramatically lose speed, causing the hard-charging Alonso to smash into the rear left of the Haas. Alonso was bounced into the wall at the side of the track and them after digging into the grass his car flipped and became airborne, flying through the gravel trap and beaching once before coming to rest upside down against the barriers. It was a massive accident, but within seconds Alonso was crawling out from the beneath the record, apparently unharmed. He then waved to the crowd as he and Gutierrez climbed into the medical car.

With debris scattered across the track the race was red flagged and the drivers made their way back to the pit lane. A flurry of activity ensued as teams reviewed strategies and plotted the next phase of the grand prix.

When the race resumed on lap 20, after lap behind the safety car, both Mercedes cars, in second and seventh, were on medium tyres, while the Ferraris, in first and third were on supersofts. Ricciardo who had risen to fourth was also on supersofts, ahead of Verstappen and Sainz. Behind seventh-placed Hamilton and Felipe Massa, Haas’ Romain Grosjean was the biggest beneficiary of the red flag, the Frenchman gaining a free stop and climbing to ninth. There was little time to see if third-placed Raikkonen could once again challenge for second, however.

On lap 22 the Finn arrowed towardsa the pit lane telling his team “I broke something”. He parked in front of the team’s pit and with smoke billowing from the back of the car and flames spouting from the air box, his race was run. The race was now a question of whether Vettel could pull out a big enough gap over the medium-shod Mercedes to hold his lead or use better pace in the closing stages to catch them, as their medium tyres indicated they would race to the flag, whereas Vettel needed another stop.

Try as he might Vettel could not shake off Rosberg and when the Ferrari man made his final pit stop on lap 35 he dropped to third. Hamilton meanwhile had battled back to second and though Vettel pressed the champion hard in the final stages, getting to within a second as Hamilton’s tyres went off and he slid wide, the German’s challenge for P2 ended when he made a mistake himself, sliding wide late on the penultimate lap. He was forced to settle for P3.

Rosberg, then, crossed the line to take his 15th career win and his Australian Grand Prix victory. With Hamilton second ahead of Vettel, fourth place went to Ricciardo, an excellent finish from eighth on the grid and a hiugely popular result with his home crowd. Massa was fifth for Williams, while Grosjean scored a remarkable sixth place for the US-based Haas team on its F1 debut. Nico Hulkenberg was seventh for Force India ahead of Valterri Bottas, while the final points places went to the Toro Rosso pairing of ninth-placed Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen in P10.

The duo provided a huge amount of entertainment as they conducted their own private battle for position throughout the race. Sainz succeeded in frustrating his team-mate at every turn to the extent that Verstappen’s temperature eventually boiled over and he launched a wild move late in the race which resulted in the pair colliding and Verstappen spinning. They continued on, however, to earn the team its first points of the season.

P. DRIVER NAT TEAM TIME/GAP
1 NICO ROSBERG GER MERCEDES 1:48:15.565
2 LEWIS HAMILTON GBR MERCEDES +8.060
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL GER FERRARI +9.643
4 DANIEL RICCIARDO AUS RED BULL RACING + 24.330
5 FELIPE MASSA BRA WILLIAMS + 58.979
6 ROMAIN GROSJEAN FRA HAAS + 1:12.081
7 NICO HULKENBERG GER FORCE INDIA + 1:14.199
8 VALTTERI BOTTAS FIN WILLIAMS + 1:15.153
9 CARLOS SAINZ ESP TORO ROSSO + 1:15.680
10 MAX VERSTAPPEN NED TORO ROSSO + 1:16.833
11 JOLYON PALMER GBR RENAULT + 1:23.399
12 KEVIN MAGNUSSEN DEN RENAULT + 1:25.606
13 SERGIO PEREZ MEX FORCE INDIA + 1:31.699
14 JENSON BUTTON GBR MCLAREN + 1 lap
15 FELIPE NASR BRA SAUBER + 1 lap
16 PASCAL WEHRLEIN GER MANOR + 1 lap
NC MARCUS ERICSSON SWE SAUBER DNF
NC KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN FIN FERRARI DNF
NC RIO HARYANTO INA MANOR DNF
NC ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ MEX HAAS DNF
NC FERNANDO ALONSO ESP MCLAREN DNF
NC DANIIL KVYAT RUS RED BULL RACING DNS
Fastest lap - Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1m 28.997s (lap 49)