MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg comfortably won the Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday after pole sitter Lewis Hamilton and world champion Sebastian Vettel retired early with mechanical failures.
Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo finished second, becoming the first Australian to finish on the podium in his home GP, while McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen finished third in his debut.
Rosberg started third on the grid and was first to reach turn one, then drove away from the field to eventually win by 24.5 seconds at the Albert Park street circuit. The margin of victory and the authority of the performance showed why Mercedes is considered a strong favorite to finally win its first constructors’ title this season.
“I had an unbelievably quick car today,” said Rosberg, whose world champion father Keke won the inaugural Australian F1 GP in 1985. “It was such a pleasure to drive, it’s such a great feeling and I really look forward to the new races.”
Hamilton retired after four laps and Vettel followed a lap later, both with engine failures as their teams, and others, tried to come to grips with the F1’s new V6 turbo hybrid engines.
“We looked so strong but to then have a hiccup is tough for everyone, but we will bounce back,” Hamilton said.
Like Mercedes, Red Bull was on one hand celebrating a strong performance in the opening race while also harboring concern about the engine problems that caused the retirements of their top drivers.
“We learned the car is quick, we just need to get everything together,” Vettel said. “No doubt we’ll fix this issue, the question is how soon?”
McLaren’s Jenson Button was fourth behind his rookie teammate and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished fifth in a worryingly uncompetitive performance for the Italian team.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas recovered from losing a wheel early in the race to finish in sixth place; pulling off a succession of impressive passing moves that showed the strong potential of the car.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen – in his return to the team after six years away – finished seventh and eighth respectively, ahead of the Toro Rosso pair Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat.
The 19-year-old Kvyat’s 10th place made him the youngest driver ever to earn an F1 point, breaking Vettel’s record set at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix. The 21-year-old Magnussen was the second-youngest driver to claim a podium finish, behind Vettel’s record at the 2007 U.S. Grand Prix.
Despite fears that few cars would complete the race due to a series of reliability problems in preseason testing and over this weekend, 15 of the 22 racers finished. There was only one major accident, with Caterham driver Kamui Kobayashi slamming into the back of Felipe Massa’s Williams at the first corner, immediately ending the race for both drivers.
Ricciardo’s second place brought the Albert Park crowd to its feet on the final turn, and local fans were finally able to see an Australian on the podium after years of seeing his Red Bull predecessor Mark Webber fall short.
While Vettel’s retirement was cause for concern, Ricciardo’s strong showing indicated Red Bull’s myriad problems in preseason testing could be on the way to being cured and that predictions of a poor season were premature.
“We had not done a race distance until today,” Ricciardo said of the preseason work. “We didn’t have much confidence we would see a checkered flag, let alone see it in a podium position.”
Magnussen’s heady performance for a rookie driver illustrated why McLaren put such faith in him, discarding Sergio Perez after a single season to make room.
McLaren leads the constructors’ championship after one race; an impressive recovery after a dire 2013 season in which the high-achieving team failed to secure a single podium.
“It’s not a win but it feels like a bit of a win,” Magnussen said. “The team is coming off a difficult season and they just wanted to come back.
“The team is massively motivated to stay on top and they are a team that should be on top in Formula One.”