The weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne was filled with mechanical dramas for Red Bull, McLaren and, curiously, Valtteri Bottas' back.
Daniel Ricciardo salvaged a good points finish from a peaky Renault-powered RB11 while his teammate sputtered to a halt before the race even began.
Just fourteen cars took the start, with Manor Marussia failing to get out in qualifying, along with the unfortunate demises of Kvyat and Magnussen. There would be only eleven by the end.
PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING
Ricciardo's race weekend started badly with a Friday spent dealing with a failed Renault engine. The team spent the rest of the weekend muttering darkly about Renault's incompetence.
The Mercedes breezed through the sessions at the front while Ferrari fought Williams and the Saubers (when they were legally allowed to run..) and Lotuses impressed.
Hamilton took pole, way ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg who looked disconsolate as a result.
Valtteri Bottas took sixth but hurt himself in the process, Ricciardo a surprise seventh. Manor tried but failed to get going so didn't race.
The prospect of a thrilling race began to unravel before it even started. William's Valtteri Bottas' Qualifying back injury prevented him from passing the extraction test, meaning he couldn't safely jump out of the car in an incident.
Kevin Magnussen's Honda V6 burst on his way to the grid, after the team revealed the engines are running in a detuned state to avoid just this kind of thing. Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat dribbled to a halt with a gearbox failure.
The fans at least had clear skies and what looked a very competitive bunch of cars remaining for an uneventful parade lap.
The calm didn't last long. Both Lotuses were gone by the time everyone had gone through turn two. Pastor Maldonado ended up in the wall between turn three and four, having been caught up in a melee involving Kimi Raikkonen and Sauber's Felipe Nasr.
Daniel Ricciardo, whose Red Bull had its customary terrible getaway got a grandstand view - his former teammate chopped in front of Raikkonen, triggering the carnage.
Grosjean reported having no power off the line (he was passed by Jenson Button, confirming this) and his race ended in the pits. It was a terrible blow for Lotus who had performed well under new Mercedes power.
Felipe Nasr did a great job on the restart and jumped Carlos Sainz who was then mugged by Kimi Raikkonen. Perez had to drop two places to redress overtaking Marcus Ericsson under the safety car and made sure of it by running off the road at turn one.
Naturally, Lewis Hamilton was miles ahead by the end of lap five while Daniel Ricciardo fought his way back to sixth. Felipe Massa was running well in third, having avoided the mess by sticking with the Mercs through turn one.
Raikkonen got into the groove and passed Sainz to chase down Ricciardo. Further up the road, Vettel's Ferrari was a handful as he tried to stay with Mercedes-powered Massa, the Ferrari unhappy in dirty air.
Ricciardo was meanwhile bottled up behind Felipe Nasr's Sauber. The young Brazilian was playing things very well, keeping just far enough ahead to stop the Red Bull from passing on the straights.
Perez thought he'd try and breeze by Jenson Button, a driver he'd crossed when at McLaren. Perez attempted to pass in an unorthodox spot at the nine and ten kink.
Button placed the car in all the right spots to hold the faster car behind him, all the while doing more laps than he'd ever completed in the new McLaren.
Perez's chase ended when he dive-bombed Button at turn three. It's highly unlikely Button saw him coming and they clashed sidepods. This threw Perez into a spin and he showered the track with carbon fibre. Both survived, Perez's car mildly wounded.
Raikkonen pressured Ricciardo who didn't look like he was struggling but just didn't have the engine power. Up front, Rosberg began to reel Hamilton back in, tenth after tenth. Theirs was always going to be a chess game as they conserved fuel.
Once Rosberg started to punch in fastest laps, Hamilton punched back with his own as they headed for their first stops.
Raikkonen putted on lap 17 and got stuck after a fluffed tyre change for the left rear, the Finn stranded for 8.7 seconds. Once they were all bolted on, he headed out on the soft tyres, dropping back to eleventh, behind Ericsson and in front of Button. This was bad news for a two-stop strategy.
Massa pitted at the end of lap 21 for a set of medium compounds. The Brazilian was on a one-stop strategy, resuming the track between Ricciardo and Sainz in sixth. Hulkenberg followed Massa in for the same strategy and he returned to the track in eleventh.
Massa had to get past Ricciardo as Williams were wrong-footed by Vettel, who stayed out longer than perhaps was anticipated. Massa had a go at the back of the circuit but didn't seem that committed.
Ricciardo gave him room but the Brazilian thought better of it. No harm done, Ricciardo immediately pitted for medium tyres.
Hamilton pitted for mediums on lap 26, missing his marks but only losing a second out of his 3.8 second gap back to Rosberg. Nasr came in behind and came out behind Ericsson by the smallest of margins.
Rosberg came in next time around and he was off again in just under three seconds.
A slightly surprising message went out to Raikkonen on lap 32 - his engineer was convinced that despite the two-stop strategy and a terrible first stop, that the Finn could be racing Felipe Massa one place ahead in fourth - over thirty seconds ahead.
Max Verstappen's first pit stop finally came on lap 33, his medium tyres done for the day. He came in from eighth and returned in ninth behind Hulkenberg. Sadly, not long after that stop, he reported smoke in the car and he slowed to a stop at the pit entry.
Carlos Sainz, in the still-running STR, kicked off a huge battle with Sergio Perez. The Force India was better in the corners but Sainz was in with a shout at turn one for several laps running.
The young Spaniard even had a go around the outside. Luckily for Sainz, Perez had to pit and for good measure had a slow stop.
Ricciardo was chipping away at Nasr, who drove brilliantly all afternoon. Ricciardo got within 0.8 seconds on lap 39, inside the DRS margin. The message from the pit wall was clear - "You're faster than Nasr, let's have him." It never happened.
The strategy game continued a league away at the front with the Mercedes still sizing each other up, the gap yo-yoing by a few tenths.
Raikkonen pitted again on lap 41 - he departed despite frantic signalling from his left rear wheelman. He came out ahead of Perez who he should shortly have lapped and ahead of the Nasr/Ricciardo battle.
The Ferrari suddenly slowed at turn four and he climbed out, straight on to the back of a scooter and he was off.
The replay showed that the notorious Ferrari pit system had allowed him to go without the left-rear fitted properly.
Perez and Button were together again not long after, but this time the Force India blew by. Marcus Ericsson's strong race almost came undone in the gravel at turn six, which turned into an in-lap for the Swede. He pitted without trouble and returned in ninth.
Felipe Nasr had by lap fifty pulled away from Ricciardo to the tune of nearly five seconds.
Lewis Hamilton started pushing again, dragging the gap back out to almost 2.5 seconds, baiting Rosberg to go after him and burn some extra fuel. Third-placed Vettel was lonely in third with another forty seconds back to Nasr.
With five laps to go, Rosberg picked up half a second and it became apparent the two Silver Arrows drivers were on almost identical fuel loads.
Sainz and Ericsson had an entertaining battle in the closing laps as Ericsson tried to nab a few extra points from the Toro Rosso. The Sauber's rears were in a bit of a state, making life difficult for him.
The Swede got by in a big move on lap 56, Sainz deciding discretion was safer.
Hamilton cruised home for the win, starting his title defence in style. Vettel's fine debut for Ferrari netted him third place, with Felipe Massa fourth.
Ricciardo brought it home sixth, an impressive result given the problems both he and Kvyat had endured over the weekend.
"We got to the end. We got 58 laps of data to look at and try to make something of it. But we got lapped, so we have got some pace to find," Ricciardo said.
"I was trying to whole race to make something happen. It was a little bit of a boring race. I’m sure that we will get there, but it could be a little while.”
Formula 1 returns in two weeks for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Australian F1 GP Results
- Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes - 1h31m54.067s
- Nico Rosberg - Mercedes +1.360s
- Sebastian Vettel - Ferrari +34.523s
- Felipe Massa - Williams/Mercedes +38.196s
- Felipe Nasr - Sauber/Ferrari +1m35.149s
- Daniel Ricciardo - Red Bull/Renault +1 Lap
- Nico Hulkenberg - Force India/Mercedes +1 Lap
- Marcus Ericsson - Sauber/Ferrari +1 Lap
- Carlos Sainz Jr. - Toro Rosso/Renault +1 Lap
- Sergio Perez - Force India/Mercedes +1 Lap
- Jenson Button - McLaren/Honda +2 Laps
- Kimi Raikkonen - Ferrari - Retirement
- Max Verstappen - Toro Rosso/Renault - Retirement
- Kevin Magnussen - McLaren/Honda - Not started
- Valtteri Bottas - Williams/Mercedes - Withdrawn
- Daniil Kvyat - Red Bull/Renault - Not started
- Romain Grosjean - Lotus/Mercedes - Retirement
- Pastor Maldonado - Lotus/Mercedes - Collision
- Will Stevens - Marussia/Ferrari - Withdrawn
- Roberto Merhi - Marussia/Ferrari - Withdrawn
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