Hamilton edges Rosberg to win in Australia

Hamilton edges Rosberg to win in Australia

MELBOURNE - Agence France-Presse
Hamilton edges Rosberg to win in Australia

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain comes into the pit lane for a tire change during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia, March 15, 2015. AP Photo.

Lewis Hamilton fought off teammate Nico Rosberg to give Mercedes a dominant victory in the season-opening Australian grand prix in Melbourne on March 15.

Reigning world champion Hamilton held the upper hand with his faster Mercedes car to beat last year’s race winner Rosberg by 1.3 seconds.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, in his first race drive for Ferrari since switching from Red Bull, finished on the podium in third place just ahead of Felipe Massa in a Williams.

It was all-conquering Mercedes’ eighth straight victory, with their last defeat coming in Belgium last August to Australian Daniel Ricciardo driving a Red Bull, and their 20th race in a row with at least one driver on the podium.

Hamilton, 30, has won seven of the last eight GPs, though this was his first in Australia for seven years. It was the Englishman’s 34th win in his 149th grand prix.

“This is my first win in Melbourne since 2008,” Hamilton said. “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.”

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,” Rosberg said.

“Lewis has done a fantastic job, he drove like a world champion all weekend. I’ll give my maximum and try to beat him all year.” It was a morale-boosting podium finish by Vettel for Ferrari, who were a well-beaten fourth behind Mercedes in last season’s constructors’ championship.

“We can be very proud. We have a great car, there is a lot of work ahead of us to beat these (Mercedes) guys,” Vettel said.

“We want to make sure that life is not easy for these two during the season.” Brazilian Felipe Nasr finished a plucky fifth ahead of home favorite Ricciardo in a boost to his Sauber team, entangled for much of the week in a distracting legal battle over their driver line-up.

Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen withdrew with mechanical problems during the reconnaissance lap and Valtteri Bottas of Williams had to sit out with a back injury meaning only 15 cars started, the lowest number of starters for a season-opener since 1963.

Hamilton got away quickly off the pole and was first into the right-hand hairpin but Pastor Maldonado in his Lotus was sideswiped into the barriers and crashed out of the race as the safety car came onto the track on the opening lap.

Hamilton opened a stunning 2.4sec gap over teammate Rosberg by the end of the first racing lap.         But Rosberg put in some fastest laps to reduce the gap to 1.2secs behind Hamilton after 10 laps with Massa and Vettel eight to nine seconds adrift.

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.

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.

Dutch teenager Max Verstappen’s race came to end on the 34th lap when his Toro Rosso had a power unit failure and came to a halt on the grass.

Verstappen, at 17 years and 166 days, became the youngest ever driver to compete in an F1 race.

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 pits, indicating that the wheel was not properly attached.

Ricciardo, bidding to become the first Australian in 35 years to win his home GP, could not run down Sauber’s Nasr for much of the second half of the race in a sign of the problems former constructors’ champions Red Bull are having with their Renault engines.

Three-time race winner Jenson Button battled on with his misfiring McLaren to finish in last place as only 11 cars were left by the time the chequered flag was unfurled.