FIRST BLOOD: Nico Rosberg led a Mercedes one-two victory to claim the first win of the 2016 season at the Australian GP. Image: AP / Rob Griffith
Melbourne - Nico Rosberg capitalised on a slow start by team mate Lewis Hamilton and superior tyre strategy over Ferrari to win the season-opening Australian GP.
He won his fourth straight GP and 15th overall after stringing together the final three races of 2015 to beat his Mercedes rival Hamilton by eight seconds.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who led off the grid and was faster than the Mercedes pair on his super softs before needing a tyre change on lap 36, was third.
It was an incident-packed race with McLaren's double world champion Fernando Alonso walking away from a horrifying high-speed crash and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari catching fire in the pit lane.
The team has now won 33 of the last 39 races and it was a sweet triumph for Rosberg who has trailed Hamilton in the drivers' standings for the past two seasons.
Poor start for Mercedes
Australian Daniel Riccardo was fourth in his Red Bull, with Brazilian Felipe Massa fifth and Renault's Romain Grosjean sixth.
Hamilton, who had led every practice and qualifying session for the first race, was slowly away allowing Vettel to dart through a narrow opening between both Mercedes to beat them to first turn.
Rosberg locked up on the inside of the first corner, forcing Hamilton to back off and allow Raikkonen to pass them both on the exit to the sharp right-hander.
Hamilton's loss of momentum cost him two more places to Max Verstappen and Massa.
As it happened: 2016 Australian GP
Vettel opened up a 2.2sec gap over Raikkonen, with Rosberg falling to 1.1sec behind the second Ferrari.
After a flurry of pit stops by the leaders, Alonso had a heart-stopping moment and was fortunate not to be seriously injured in a spectacular shunt with Esteban Gutierrez in a Haas approaching turn three.
Alonso's McLaren veered into the wall and went into a series of rolls before it flew through the gravel trap and hit another barrier.
The twice former world champion was shaken but unharmed and quickly clambered out of the barely recognisable wreckage.
The race was stopped and cars returned to the pit lane by the safety car as considerable debris was cleared from the track.
Out in flames
Alonso's mangled Clarence was craned away with all four corners sheared away by a horrifying collision.
The stoppage wiped away the Ferrari pair's advantage - and planned tyre strategy - with the entire field able to change to fresh rubber during the stoppage before restarting behind the safety car with 18 laps of the 57 gone.
Indonesian rookie Rio Haryana failed to rejoin, however, with his Manor car experiencing driveline problems.
Vettel, still on the softest compound, again established a lead after the restart from Rosberg, Riccardo and Verstappen with Hamilton sixth.
Raikkonen's Ferrari came into the pits with flames coming out of the air box of his car and the Finn appeared unflustered while a marshal extinguished the fire above his head as he exited the cockpit with his race over.
Vettel stretched his advantage on lap 26 to 3.7sec over Rosberg, with Ricciardo 9.8sec behind the leader in third, while Verstappen, Sainz and Hamilton were 12-14sec behind the flying Ferrari.
But Vettel began to struggle on his fading super-softs with Rosberg, who would not have to stop again on the medium compound, closing the gap before Vettel pitted his Ferrari on lap 36 and rejoined the race on soft tyres in fourth.
Hamilton, now up to third on his own mediums, passed Ricciardo for second on lap 42 to lie 10sec behind Rosberg with Vettel 15.8sec off the lead.
Vettel, with fresher rubber, closed on Hamilton but his challenge ended with two laps to go when he locked up at the penultimate corner and ran wide on to the grass.
Australian Grand Prix: Race results
1. Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes) 302.271 km at 1hr 48min 15.565sec
(average speed 167.526 kph)
2. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) at 8.060 sec
3. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari) at 9.643
4. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Red Bull) at 24.330
5. Felipe Massa (BRA/Williams) at 58.979
6. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Haas) at 1:12.081
7. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Force India) at 1:14.199
8. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams) at 1:15.153
9. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Toro Rosso) at 1:15.680
10. Max Verstappen (NED/Toro Rosso) at 1:16.833
11. Jolyon Palmer (GBR/Renault) at 1:23.399
12. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Renault) at 1:25.606
13. Sergio Perez (MEX/Force India) at 1:31.699
14. Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren) at 1 lap
15. Felipe Nasr (BRA/Sauber) at 1 lap
16. Pascal Wehrlein (GER/Manor) at 1 lap
Daniil Kvyat (RUS/Red Bull): retired 1st lap
Fernando Alonso (ESP/McLaren): 17th lap
Esteban Gutierrez (MEX/Haas): 17th lap
Rio Haryanto (INA/Manor): 18th lap
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari): 22th lap
Marcus Ericsson (SWE/Sauber): 39th lap
Overall standings after one race:
1. Rosberg 25 pts
2. Hamilton 18
3. Vettel 15
4. Ricciardo 12
5. Massa 10
6. Grosjean 8
7. Hlkenberg 6
8. Bottas 4
9. Sainz 2
10. Verstappen 1
1. Mercedes 43 pts
2. Ferrari 15
3. Williams 14
4. Red Bull 12
5. Haas 8
6. Force India 6
7. Toro Rosso 3