The 2016 Formula One World Championship started with a bang on the streets of Melbourne's Albert Park, with Mercedes' Nico Rosberg taking the flag. The Ferraris sprung an ambush on Mercedes at the start, with both red cars leading the race by lap three. A second defining moment came when Gutierrez and Alonso came together at high speed on the way into turn three, destroying the McLaren and bringing out the red flags.
The Ferrari team took a tyre gamble on the restart but Mercedes got it right, Rosberg leading home a lucky one-two. Australia's Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed his race, coming home fourth behind the two Mercedes and Vettel's Ferrari.
PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING
Friday's introduction to 2016 was a wet one, with both sessions wet and dry, but mostly wet. Nico Rosberg punched the wall in his W07 but the order was as expected, with mix of Ferraris, Red Bulls, Williams and Toro Rossos mixing in to the top ten.
Qualifying was a debacle. The new knockout rules were simple enough in principle but disastrous in practice. The cut-off times were applied no matter where the driver was on-track meaning (in the case of Esteban Gutierrez) that the driver's best lap was meaningless.
It got worse in Q3 - Daniel Ricciardo was first to be eliminated (Kvyat suffered a similar fate, starting eighteenth) and the final four minutes was tumbleweeds as everyone decided Hamilton and Rosberg were too far ahead and that was that.
The flag hadn't flown and drivers were already on the weighbridge.
The usual round of recriminations from team bosses followed and the format was immediately scrapped for the remainder of the season.
Race day dawned bright and clear and the promise of a dry race and more rule changes, including the relaxation of the radio rules. The first attempt to start was aborted after Kvyat parked his Red Bull in the middle of the start finish straight. The marshals cleared the car just in time for the second start.
Sebastian Vettel screamed off the line, pressuring Rosberg to the side of the track and making space for Raikkonen to follow him through. Hamilton was shuffled back to sixth after light contact with his teammate who ran wide after Vettel's start manoeuvre.
Magnussen's first race for Renault had a bumpy start with a puncture and Red Bull's other car, Ricciardo, was mugged by the Force India of Hulkenberg. The Toro Rossos comprehensively outshone Red Bull running in fourth and sixth by the end of lap six.
Another highlight was Pascal Wehrlein launching forward to fourteenth, ahead of Ericsson, Bottas (who had started with a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change) and Nasr.
By the end of lap seven, Vettel held a 2.3 second lead over Raikkonen who in turn was just out of DRS reach from Rosberg. Daniel Ricciardo steadily marched ahead, taking sixth from Massa and benefiting from Sainz's early pitstop.
Sainz's teammate was doing Hamilton no favours, the Englishman telling his pit he couldn't pass.
Rosberg and Ricciardo pitted together and Vettel came in a lap later. Rosberg's out-lap brought him right into contention with Vettel at the pit exit, the Mercedes driver challenging the Ferrari through turn one. Hamilton moved to P2 as he stretched his stint longer than his German teammate.
The race was red-flagged after Alonso and Gutierrez came together coming into turn three. Alonso, DRS open, tried to go around the Haas driver's outside but the returning Gutierrez ever-so-slightly drifted to the outside.
Alonso clipped the Haas' rear wheel and slammed into the outside wall. The McLaren slid sideways into the gravel and dug in, the car spending a lot of time in the air in a barrel roll. The car ended up wedged against the fence, steam pouring out of the battered chassis.
Alonso was able to remove himself from the wreckage (he later said he did that to reassure his mother who would be watching at home), the tub completely intact, but the rest crushed, smashed and ruined. Gutierrez raced to his aid but the Spaniard was steady on his feet as he walked to the medical car.
The cars returned to pitlane to restart from behind the Safety Car once the debris was cleared.
The real loser was Vettel, who had built a lead over Rosberg and now had to contend with the Mercedes being right behind him on medium tyres. Vettel lined up at pit exit, with Ricciardo having made his way to fourth behind Raikkonen.
Vettel leapt away and Verstappen set to work on Ricciardo. Rosberg tried to stay with Vettel as Raikkonen took up the rear. Hamilton was bottled up behind Sainz, his pitwall presumably busy with the calculators.
Raikkonen pitted on lap 23 with a fire in the airbox, his race over. This put Ricciardo into third, Hamilton still boxed up behind the Toro Rosso of Sainz. Most surprising was Romain Grosjean running in eighth for the Haas team's debut, holding off Hulkenberg's Force India and Bottas' Williams.
Sainz pitted on lap 32, releasing Hamilton who was on a set of medium compound tyres. An unhappy Verstappen came in after him, copped a slow stop and fell behind the young Spaniard.
The young Dutchman complained bitterly about not being allowed to get by his teammate for the best part of 20 laps. The two battled until lap 53 when Verstappen clipped the rear of a locked-up Sainz, spinning his Toro Rosso.
Vettel pitted on lap 36 for medium tyres, the stop slowed by a sticky front left. As Rosberg was just over a second behind before the stop, he handed the lead to Rosberg. Hamilton, saved by the red flag, worked his way to second on lap 42, passing Ricciardo's Red Bull, the Australian pitting next lap around for super softs.
Further down the track the three way battle between newcomer Palmer, and the two Toro Rossos came to a head on lap 43, Sainz slipping past the Renault and Verstappen following through.
Vettel's soft tyres came to him and he got by Daniel Ricciardo, who himself sailed by Massa's Williams for fourth. The Ferrari driver was sprinting towards Hamilton's rear wing, the Briton's mediums starting to fade with seven laps to go.
Two laps later, Vettel was within DRS distance and attacking Hamilton hard. Vettel stalked the Mercedes, but Hamilton kept his head and kept the German back. Vettel dropped his bundle before embarking on the penultimate lap, locking up at turn fifteen and sliding on to the grass. He didn't lose his place, but the podium charge was over.
Rosberg crossed the line to head a one-two that didn't look even remotely on before the red flag. Daniel Ricciardo came across the line fourth, telling his team, "It was fun for most of the time. It's great to be back racing, that's for sure."
The story of the day, though, had to be the points debut for Romain Grosjean's Haas car, finishing sixth, a result that will spark a lot of soul searching among the sport's rule makers and team principals. Grosjean told his team, "This is like a win for us!"
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