Lewis Hamilton put in a controlled drive to win the opening round of the 2015 Formula One World Championship, finishing just over a second ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg, who handed Mercedes a dominant first one-two finish of the season.
Hamilton said afterwards, “Nico was very quick throughout the race. I was really trying to manage the fuel and the tyres not knowing the limit in terms of how far they can go.”
“Once you get a two-second lap to try to manage that there is no need to eke out more. When Nico turned up the heat I was able to react,” added Hamilton.
Rosberg acknowledged, “Lewis drove like a world champion today but I was driving to the max every lap and I will be doing my best to give this guy a big run for his money.”
“It’s a nice feeling to be second because it is an awesome start to the season for Mercedes. The team have given us an absolutely stunning car this year so thank you to the team for that,” said the German.
Sebastian Vettel finished third, 33 seconds behind the Mercedes drivers, to hand Ferrari its first podium finish since Hungary last year and claimed his first appearance on the podium since Japan 2014.
“It feels great to be with Ferrari. It’s a very big honour and I’m very happy. We’ve had a great winter and I said to the guys thanks very much. I’m very proud, there’s a lot of work ahead to beat these two and Mercedes,” said Vettel.
Race day began in eventful style, as just an hour before the race Valtteri Bottas was ruled out, the Finn being deemed unfit to race due to a back injury sustained in qualifying. Williams reported that Bottas had suffered has a very small tear in the annular part of a disc in his lower back and FIA official ruled that he should not start.
The incidents mounted in the build up to the start when the McLaren of Kevin Magnussen and the Red Bull of Daniil Kvyat expired on the way to the grid.
When the lights went out at the start Hamilton got away best, comfortably holding the lead from Rosberg. Behind them Felipe Massa kept his starting place of third but fourth-on-the-grid Sebastian Vettel tangled with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen resulting in the Finn having to back off.
That lift resulted in the Ferrari man being tapped by the hard-charging Felipe Nasr and the Brazilian then connected with the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan driver was pitched into the wall and out of the race.
Maldonado’s team-mate Romain Grosjean soon joined him the garage, the Frenchman pulling into the pits to retire his E23 as the Safety Car led the field around Albert Park. Just 13 cars would resume action.
When the Safety Car returned to the pits Hamilton again maintained control, quickly building a 2.6s lead over Rosberg. Massa held third ahead of Vettel, while Sauber rookie Felipe Nasr has gained the most following the start, the Brazilian rising from tenth on the grid to fifth.
The sole Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo was sixth ahead of Carlos Sainz, who was in his starting position of seventh. Raikkonen remained in eighth after his bruising start and the final two points positions were filled by Toro Rosso teen Max Verstappen and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Raikkonen soon passed Sainz and began to chase down Ricciardo, but the status quo remained until the Finn was the first to make his way to the pit lane for a change of tyres. Raikkonen opted for more soft tyres but a problem with the rear left delayed him significantly. He rejoined in P11.
Massa was the next to pit, from fourth on lap 21. Unlike Raikkonen, the Williams driver took on medium compound Pirellis. At the front Hamilton was still in control, the Briton now 3.5s ahead of Rosberg, with Vettel still third, a distant 13.5s adrift of his compatriot.
Daniel Ricciardo pitted from sixth place on lap 23. He too took on medium tyres, as did Vettel when he pitted a lap later. The German’s in-lap and stop were good and Vettel was able to jump past Massa to claim third place.
Sainz was the next in but his race was severely compromised by a disastrously slow stop owing to a long delay in replacing his left rear tyre. He dropped to 12th place.
Hamilton finally made his first pit stop on lap 25, taking on medium tyres in a clean visit to the pit lane. Rosberg followed a lap later and he also took the harder compound tyres.
Verstappen was the last man to visit the pit lane, the Dutch driver taking on soft tyres on lap 32.
The order at the top after the first round of stops was Hamilton 2.2s ahead of Rosberg, with Vettel third, 13.9s behind the second Mercedes. Massa was third but being hotly pursued by the flying Raikkonen who was running almost seventh tenths of a second quicker than the Williams ahead.
Nasr, meanwhile, had dropped to sixth, with Ricciardo seventh, ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Verstappen rejoined in ninth place but was soon out of the race, an engine failure almost immediately after his pit stop ending his debut race. His car’s demise put Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson into ninth and Perez into the points.
Raikkonen made his second stop on lap 40, taking on a final set of medium tyres after his two soft-tyre stints but the Finn was quickly out of the race after a second error with the rear left that meant he had to pull over and retire from the race.
The Finn’s retirement meant that Hamilton now led by 2.3s from Rosberg, with Vettel third, 2.9s ahead of Massa. Nasr was fifth ahead of Ricciardo, with Hulkenberg now seventh. The final points positions were taken by Sainz, Ericsson and Perez.
And at the front that was how the order stayed. Rosberg kept Hamilton honest, pushing to the last to finish just over a second behind the world champion, who took his 34th career win.
With Vettel third, Massa took fourth ahead of compatriot Nasr, while Ricciardo salvaged some pride for Red Bull Racing with sixth place ahead of Hulkenberg.
Sainz tried to cling on to eighth place but his tyres were deteriorating quickly and on lap 56 he was passed by Ericsson. Perez took the final point on offer, while Jenson Button, the last finisher, completed a race distance for Honda-powered McLaren in 11th place.