MERC'S DOMINATING DUO: Lewis Hamilton (right), race-winner in Melbourne, poses with Mercedes team Nico Rosberg. The pair set the tone for the 2015 season by dominating the 2015 Australian GP. Image: AFP / William West
MELBOURNE, Australia - Lewis Hamilton's world championship defence got off to a flying start on Sunday with a crushing victory for Mercedes in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix as Formula 1 rivals succumbed to a farcical rash of reliability problems.
Pole-sitter Hamilton started from a grid reduced to 15 cars from a possible 20 and cruised to his 34th race win with a 1.3-second gap to runner-up team mate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton has won seven of the last eight races, though it was his first victory Australia for seven years. It was the his 34th win in his 149th grand prix.
BOTCHED TYRE CHANGES
With Mercedes enjoying a stroll, Sebastian Vettel finished third, 34 seconds behind Hamilton, on his Ferrari debut after winning a battle for the podium with Williams driver Felipe Massa.
Ferrari's cheer was tempered, however, by two botched tyre changes for Kimi Raikkonen, the second forcing the him to retire when fifth late in the race due to his left rear wheel not being properly attached.
Interviewed on the podium by Arnold Schwarzenegger, better known for his role as the 'Terminator', Hamilton said it was great to be back on top.
Hamilton said: "It is an incredible feeling to continue winning."
VERSTAPPEN FORCED TO RETIRE
Max Verstappen's record-setting turn as the youngest ever F1 driver ended on a sour note when the 17-year-old rolled to a stop near the pit entry after complaining of smoke in the cockpit of his Toro Rosso.
Only 11 cars finished, with both Lotus drivers out before the end of the first lap on an embarrassing day for a series that prides itself on being the pinnacle of motorsport.
McLaren's Kevin Magnussen, standing in for the absent Fernando Alonso, and Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat were unable to start after both suffered failures on their formation laps.
After a chaotic start that saw Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado crash into the barrier on turn two after being nudged from behind, Hamilton and Rosberg sped away from the chasing pack.
Opening a 15-second gap to third placed Felipe Massa after the 20th lap, Hamilton successfully kept his team mate Rosberg at arm's length.
SAUBER CASE DROPPED
Following a week of legal battles, Sauber were buoyed by a fifth place finish for Brazilian rookie Felipe Nasr, gaining their first points since 2013.
It was the best finish by a Sauber rookie, with Nasr's team mate Marcus Ericsson and Red Bull's Carlos Sainz also earning their first points by finishing eighth and ninth respectively.
Local hero Daniel Ricciardo had a terrible start and his Red Bull lacked pace but he battled hard to finish sixth in front of home fans.
It was a dark day for Honda-powered McLaren, however, with Jenson Button finishing last of the 11 cars and lapped twice by Hamilton and the leaders.
Force India driver Sergio Perez had an eventful afternoon, being instructed to drop back two places after over-taking illegally when the safety car was out early.
He then overcame a collision with Button in a battle to avoid the indignity of last place.
The race at Albert Park got under way on a farcical note with only 14 cars left in the race after the opening lap. Only 11 cars finished the race.
Just 15 were able to line up on the grid due to a rash of technical failures and Pastor Maldonado then crashed his Lotus into the barriers on the first lap, bringing out the safety car.
Both Manor Marussia cars were ruled out of the race at Albert Park after failing to participate in Saturday (March 14) qualifying or any of the free practice sessions before it.
BOTTAS INJURED, KVYAT CRASHES
The field was then reduced to 17 when Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was ruled out less than an hour before the race due to a back injury he sustained during qualifying.
Red Bull then lost Russian driver Daniil Kvyat, whose car came to a halt after skidding into the gravel during a reconnaissance lap, which followed a power unit failure on Magnussen's car.
Magnussen was unable to complete a single formation lap before the engine blew with the car quickly grinding to a halt, billowing smoke.
2015 Australian GP at Albert Park results:
Top speed - 307.574km, average speed 200kkm/h
1 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1hr31min54.067
2 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes +00:01.360
3 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari 00:34.523
4 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams 00:38.196
5 Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber - Ferrari 01:35.149
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull 1 lap
7 Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India 1 lap
8 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber - Ferrari 1 lap
9 Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso 1 lap
10 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India 1 lap
11 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 2 laps
Ret. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 18 laps
Ret. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Toro Rosso 25 laps
Ret. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 58 laps
Ret. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus 58 laps
Ret. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Red Bull 58 laps
Ret. Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) McLaren 58 laps
Did not start - Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams-Mercedes
(rank: Ret = retired)
1 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 25
2 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 18
3 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari 15
4 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams 12
5 Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber 10
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull 8
7 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Force India 6
8 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber 4
9 Carlos Sainz Jnr (Spain) Toro Rosso 2
10 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India 1
11 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren
1 Mercedes 43
2 Ferrari 15
3 Sauber 14
5 RedBull 8
6 Force India 7
7 Toro Rosso 2
8 McLaren 0
9 Lotus 0
10 Marussia 0
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