Lewis Hamilton has claimed his second Australian Grand Prix victory, winning in lights-to-flag fashion by 1.3 seconds from teammate Nico Rosberg.
Sebastian Vettel finished third in his first race in Ferrari colours ahead of Felipe Massa, while Sauber debutant Felipe Nasr brought the Swiss team its first points’ finish in over a year by finishing in a fine fifth place. Local hero Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth in his Red Bull Racing Renault.
The build-up to the race had far more drama than the actual race itself, and the 58-lap race quite an anticlimax in the context of a week featuring court dramas for Sauber, software problems at Manor Marussia and media scrums surrounding visiting Hollywood celebrities.
Sunday morning dawned and there was still more mystery around the health of Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, who’d injured his back en route to qualifying sixth-fastest. The Finn had spent the night in hospital and was subsequently diagnosed with a small disc tear, ruling him out of participating in the race.
With the Manor Marussias having failed to complete any running at all while they continued to build and install software on their modified one-year-old cars, that left the starting grid at 17 cars.
Fate would have other ideas, with Kevin Magnussen parking his McLaren on his reconnaissance lap to the starting grid when his MP4-30’s Honda engine tightened and went pop.
Incredibly, just moments later, Daniil Kvyat would slither his Red Bull Racing RB11 into the Turn 3 gravel after being unable to downshift; the Russian tried to limp back to the pits, but his car ran out of drive just before the penultimate corner.
With fifteen cars making the start – which, ignoring the 2005 United States Grand Prix, was the smallest grid seen since the twelve-car 1982 San Marino GP – there was a genuine feel that anyone who made the finish would claim some championship points.
Certainly no one was expecting the second McLaren of Jenson Button to last the distance, while there were similar fears at Red Bull Racing. Team principal Christian Horner was continuing to turn the screws on Renault and admitted to a number of journalists that Daniel Ricciardo’s engine was likely to shake the car to pieces, such was the extent of a recurrent vibration issue the power unit was causing the RB11 chassis.
The start saw Hamilton convert pole position into the lead on the sprint to Turn 1, with Rosberg tucking in behind ahead of Felipe Massa in the Williams.
Fourth-fastest qualifier Sebastian Vettel was slow off the line and fell behind teammate Kimi Räikkönen, although the German made up ground under braking and ran side-by-side with the Finn through Turn 1, forcing the 2007 champion a little wide.
That pushed Räikkönen in the way of a fast-starting Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado, with the Sauber delivering a faint touch to the left-rear of the Lotus, and that was enough to send Maldonado into the tyres at Turn 2 and instant retirement.
There was double disaster for Lotus, as Romain Grosjean was out after limping to the pits at the end of the first lap. The Frenchman had suffered a terminal loss of power on the formation lap, which no amount of software resetting could cure.
The Safety Car was called while Maldonado’s wrecked Lotus was removed from the tyre With the field now trimmed to thirteen cars, Hamilton led the field from Rosberg, Massa, Vettel, Carlos Sainz, Nasr, Ricciardo, Räikkönen, the Force Indias of Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez, Jenson Button and Marcus Ericsson (who also pitted).
Racing resumed at the end of the third lap, with Hamilton quickly skipping away into a clear lead over Rosberg; the two Mercedes’ soon eased away from the Massa-Vettel scrap for third that would run for the entire race.
Sainz fell to seventh almost instantly, passed by an aggressive Nasr at the restart, before being similarly dispensed with by Ricciardo. Further behind, Sergio Pérez was ordered to drop to the tail of the field behind Ericsson, whom he had passed when the Safety Car was first called.
Ericsson overtook Button’s slow McLaren on the fifth lap to take eleventh place, and two laps later Räikkönen had fought his way past Sainz and quickly began to zero in on Ricciardo, who himself was showing no signs of getting by the brilliant fifth-placed Nasr.
Try as he might, Räikkönen could not find a way past Ricciardo, and so Ferrari opted to switch him to a two-stop strategy in the hope of forcing the Red Bull strategists’ hands. It was ultimately academic thanks to a painfully slow left-rear tyre change, and a frustrated Kimi emerged from the pits in eleventh place.
To his credit, Räikkönen did fight his way back up to fifth place by the time of his second stop, but it would appear that the issue with the left rear wheel would rear its head again. The pit stop went much quicker, but perhaps too quickly, for he left the pits with the wheel improperly attached and crawled to a halt, out of the race.
Up at the front, Hamilton would lead Rosberg for the entire race, keeping just enough in hand while his teammate juggled slightly higher fuel consumption in his attempts to keep up. In the end, Rosberg had no answer and had to settle for second place.
Vettel didn’t suffer his teammate’s pit stop dramas and managed to jump Massa during the tyre change phase, pitting four laps later than the Brazilian. Despite occasional advances by the Williams driver, Vettel had his measure and claimed his first podium finish in Ferrari colours.
He was still some 35 seconds behind the race-winner, and took full advantage of one of the best post-race press conferences we’ve witnessed to deliver a few not-so-subtle digs in the direction of the winning Mercedes drivers.
A hugely deserved fifth place went to Felipe Nasr, who ended a nightmare week for Sauber on a high with the team’s first points’ finish in over a year. The young Brazilian showed tremendous class and skill, overtaking aggressively early on and then defending against a quick Ricciardo in the closing laps.
Teammate Ericsson finished eighth in the second Sauber to give the team fourteen more championship points than it had scored in the whole of 2014, giving the Swiss outfit third place in the Constructors’ Championship standings. The Swede ran a two-stop strategy after pitting at the end of the first lap, and popped in a late-race passing move on Sainz to secure the first points’ finish of his career.
Sixth place went to local hero Ricciardo, whose Red Bull RB11 held together for the entire race to give him 8 championship points after a tough build-up to the race that saw him forced to have an entire power unit change on Friday afternoon.
The two Force Indias carried their pre-season reliability into the race to bring Nico Hülkenberg (7th) and Sergio Pérez (10th) a double-points’ result. While the VJM08 wasn’t particularly quick, Hülkenberg drove tidily throughout, although the same could not be said for Pérez. The Mexican had a positively amateurish coming-together with Jenson Button at Turn 3, but was later able to get ahead of the Englishman to seal the final point.
Carlos Sainz Jr finished ninth after a race which promised much but failed to deliver through absolutely no fault of his own. The Spaniard drove tidily in the opening stint of the race, only to suffer a disastrous pit stop when his left-rear wheel refused to come off. He dropped to the tail of the field, but overcooked his tyres trying to fight back and had no answer for Ericsson’s quicker Sauber in the closing laps.
The race would see all but one of its finishers scoring points, and that the sole non-scorer would be Button’s McLaren was both ironic and fitting. Incredibly, the MP4-30 somehow defied its usually appalling reliability to deliver its first race distance run, but it was also miles off the pace (the Force Indias were, in fairness, barely quicker) and there is clearly much work to do. A points’ finish would hardly have been a deserving result given the mountain the team has still to climb.
2015 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix – Race Result (58 laps):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team F1W06||58||1:31:54.067|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team F1W06||58||+ 1.360|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||58||+ 34.523|
|4.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||58||+ 38.196|
|5.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||58||+ 1:35.149|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||57||1 lap behind|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08||57||1 lap behind|
|8.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||57||1 lap behind|
|9.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||57||1 lap behind|
|10.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08||57||1 lap behind|
|11.||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda MP4-30||56||2 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Time|
|RET.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||40||Loose Wheel|
|RET.||Max Verstappen||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||32||Engine|
|RET.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||1||Mechanical|
|RET.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||0||Collision|
|NS.||Daniil Kvyat||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||Gearbox|
|NS.||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren Honda MP4-30||Engine|
|NS.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||Injured|
|DNQ.||Will Stevens||Marussia Manor F1 Team Ferrari MR03||Did not qualify|
|DNQ.||Roberto Merhi||Marussia Manor F1 Team Ferrari MR03||Did not qualify|
Images via RF1, Motorsport.com