Lewis Hamilton began his title defence by claiming his second victory at Albert Park, keeping team-mate Nico Rosberg at arms length from the beginning.
The reigning Champion faced intermittent challenges from Rosberg slipping within a second or two of the sister Mercedes car, but realistically held complete control over the Grand Prix from pole to flag.
While the Mercedes duo cruised predictably up front, the grid behind them was anything but predictable. The Manor drivers had failed to make Qualifying as their team struggled to reinstall software to the cars for the new season, meaning Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi will have to wait until at least Malaysia before turning a wheel in anger.
Kevin Magnussen was one of three other drivers who failed to start the race: the Dane, who was drafted in to replace the injured Fernando Alonso, saw his Honda engine give up on his lap from the pits to the grid pre-race. Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat also ended his race effort on his lap to the grid when a terminal problem with his gearbox was discovered. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas failed to even take his car from the garage today, as he was not given medical permission to race. The Finn injured the small of his back yesterday in Qualifying and failed one of the aspects of the mandatory extraction tests earlier today, meaning he will have to wait until Malaysia to begin his season proper.
These five absences left only fifteen cars on the grid for the race start, but the car number soon dropped to thirteen. Pastor Maldonado was the innocent victim of a jab from Felipe Nasr which sent him into the barriers at turn 2 and deployed the Safety Car. Meanwhile, his Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean suffered a technical fault which sent him out of the race, compounding a dismal weekend for Lotus.
With Maldonado’s stricken Lotus cleared, the Safety Car pitted and Hamilton led the drivers away for the first full racing lap of 2015. Nico Rosberg stuck close to the rear wing of the sister Mercedes, but third placed Felipe Massa soon lost sight of the Silver Arrows, such is the advantage the World Champions hold.
Further down the grid, the eleven other drivers had grouped together into individual battles spaced out along the track. Daniel Ricciardo spent time in front of his home crowd trying to keep Kimi Raikkonen’s slightly damaged prancing horse behind him. Further behind, Sergio Perez and Jenson Button were scrapping for the final places when the Mexican botched an overtake on his former team-mate and spun at turn 3.
The battle for third between Massa and Vettel was going well for the Brazilian until he pitted first and allowed Vettel to stay out in open air for several laps, while Felipe met traffic in the much slower RB11 of Daniel Ricciardo. When Vettel emerged from the pit lane a few laps later, he had promoted himself to third and held a cushion over the Williams.
Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen was doing a good effort of making up for the mistake he made in Qualifying which saw him start twelfth, and he stayed on track on his first set of tyres until lap 33 of 58. When the 17-year-old came out of the pits, however, a puff of smoke acted as a precursor for a full engine failure at Turn 15 a minute later. The heartbroken Dutchman clambered from his cockpit and lamented his bad luck as his former F1 racer father, Jos Verstappen, stormed out of the Toro Rosso garage.
Verstappen’s retirement reduced the number of cars to twelve, but when Kimi Raikkonen’s left-rear tyre came loose after a pit stop four laps later, the Finn was forced to pull over at turn 4 and stomp back to the paddock. As Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene grilled the pit crew as to why the car left the pits without the wheel properly attached, the stewards announced that the unsafe release will be investigated after the race. Raikkonen can expect a ten-place grid penalty for the Malaysian Grand Prix, as is the standard penalty for an infringement of this type.
With the racing drivers now limited to eleven, only Carlos Sainz and Marcus Ericsson gave commentators something to talk about as the latter caught and passed the former in the final laps. Up front though, Hamilton was untouched as he led Rosberg across the line for his 34th victory.
Sebastian Vettel crossed the line to take a podium finish on his debut with Ferrari, while Felipe Massa shadowed the Scuderia over the line. Felipe Nasr finished fifth on his Formula One debut – the highest result for a Brazilian driver in his first F1 race. Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, while Marcus Ericsson scored six points from finishing seventh – meaning Sauber take fourteen points home from the Grand Prix. Having gone scoreless in 2014, this will certainly not go uncelebrated. Carlos Sainz joined Felipe Nasr as a rookie scoring a point on his debut, when the Spaniard finished ninth for Toro Rosso. Sergio Perez was the final points finisher for Force India, while Jenson Button finished dead-last and was the only man to cross the line without scoring a point.
Provisional Race Results:
- Lewis Hamilton
- Nico Rosberg
- Sebastian Vettel
- Felipe Massa
- Felipe Nasr
- Daniel Ricciardo
- Nico Hulkenberg
- Marcus ericsson
- Carlos Sainz
- Sergio Perez
- Jenson Button
- Kimi Raikkonen – Loose wheel
- Max Verstappen – Mechanical failure
- Romain Grosjean – Mechanical failure
- Pastor Maldonado – Collision
- Kevin Magnussen (DNS)
- Daniil Kvyat (DNS)
- Valtteri Bottas (DNS)
DNS – Did Not Start
Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team.