VICTORY IN MELBOURNE: Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (left) speaks with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the podium after winning the season-opening 2015 Australian F! GP. Image: AP / Rob Griffith
MELBOURNE, Australia - Lewis Hamilton easily held off team mate Nico Rosberg for the whole race to give Mercedes a dominant victory in the season-opening 2015 Australian GP in Melbourne on Sunday (March 15).
Reigning Drivers' champion Hamilton beat 2014 race winner Rosberg by 1.3sec and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel by a whopping 34sec.
Sebastian Vettel, in his first race drive for Ferrari since switching from Red Bull, finished ahead of Williams' Felipe Massa.
EIGHTH VICTORY IN A ROW
It was all-conquering Mercedes' eighth consecutive victory (including 2014 races). The team's most recent loss was to Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo the 2014 Belgian GP but its 20th race in a row with at least one or other of its drivers on the podium.
Hamilton has won seven of the last eight GPs, though this was his first in Australia for seven years. It was his 34th win and his 149th GP.
Hamilton said: "This is my first win in Melbourne since 2008. Nico was quick throughout the race. In terms of tyres we did not know how far they could go. When Nico turned up the heat I was able to react, which was good."
'AWESOME START FOR THE TEAM'
Rosberg said Hamilton drove a mistake-free race and was difficult to catch: "It's a nice feeling to be second, it's an awesome start for the team. Lewis has done a fantastic job, he drove like a champion all weekend. I'll give my maximum all year trying to beat him."
It was a morale-boosting podium finish for Vettel for Ferrari; the Italian team was a well-beaten fourth behind Mercedes in 2014's Constructors' championship. He said: "We can be very proud. We have a great car but there is a lot of work ahead of us to beat these (Mercedes) guys.
"We want to make sure that life is not easy for those two during the season."
Felipe Nasr finished a plucky fifth ahead of home favourite Ricciardo, a boost for the Sauber team which for much of the week was in a distracting legal battle with driver Giedo van der Garde.
ONLY 15 START, 11 FINISH
Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat and McLaren's Kevin Magnussen withdrew with mechanical problems during the formation lap; Williams' Valtteri Bottas had to sit out the race because of a back injury so only 15 cars started, the fewest for a season-opener since 1963.
Hamilton got away quickly from pole and was first into the right-hand hairpin but Lotus' Pastor Maldonado was nudged into the right-hand barrier and out of the race, bringing out the pace car on the opening lap.
Hamilton opened a 2.4sec gap to team mate Rosberg by the end of the first racing lap. Rosberg replied and reduced the gap to 1.2sec behind by the end of lap 10 with Massa and Vettel eight or nine seconds further back.
At one-third distance Hamilton led Rosberg by 2.4sec, with Massa 1.5sec clear of Vettel in the battle to join the Mercedes on the podium.
TOUGH DAY FOR VERSTAPPEN
Both Mercedes had a one-stop strategy. Rosberg got the faster pit stop by 2.9sec but Hamilton was able to retake the lead with ease in the race to the chequered flag.
Teenager Max Verstappen's race came to end on Lap 34 when his Toro Rosso had a power unit failure and he parked on the grass.
Verstappen, at 17 years and 166 days, was the youngest yet to compete in an F1 race - a record unlikely to be broken, thanks to rule changes since he was awarded his superlicence.
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen retired on Lap 42 moments after his second pit stop. Replays showed a mechanic on the left-rear corner waving as Raikkonen left the pit, indicating that the wheel was not properly attached.
Ricciardo, bidding to become the first Australian in 35 years to win the home GP, could not run down Sauber's Nasr for much of the second half of the race, a sign of the problems former Constructors' champion Red Bull is having with its Renault engines.
Three-times race winner Jenson Button battled on with his misfiring McLaren to finish last; only 11 cars were running when the chequered flag was waved.
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