Melbourne (dpa) – Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg opened the 2014 Formula One season with a comfortable victory in an otherwise turbulent Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Rosberg took over the lead at the very start and was never really challenged, taking the chequered flag 24.5 seconds ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in Red Bull at Albert Park in Melbourne.
“It’s been an amazing day. Everybody worked so hard over the winter and having such a fast Silver Arrow is great. It means a lot to be atop the podium,” said Rosberg, who collected his fourth Formula One victory of his career.
“Now we have to learn from everything we experienced here and improve. The competitors will not be sleeping.”
Local favourite Ricciardo took second place in his maiden run in Red Bull, becoming the first Australian to podium at the Australian Grand Prix.
“Two or three weeks ago, I would have bet almost everything I had that we would not be standing on the podium. I have to give some great credit to the team for turning it around. I don’t know how they did it but they did it,” said Ricciardo, who added that he was “completely overwhelmed” by the support from the Australian fans.
Third place went to Formula One debutant Kevin Magnussen in his McLaren – the first ever podium finish for a Danish driver.
“It’s hard to believe. It seems so surreal. What can I say? The car was so much better than it’s ever been. A big congratulations to the team,” said Magnussen, the son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen.
Jenson Button was fourth in the other McLaren ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas in Williams.
Four-time reigning champion Sebastian Vettel went out with power problems in his Red Bull in the fifth lap while pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton retired a lap earlier in his Mercedes. In total, 14 of the 22 starters classified in the end of the first of 19 races this season.
Rosberg had a strong start from the third spot, dipping to the right and passing both Hamilton and Ricciardo into the lead with Ricciardo also going by the pole sitter at the start. Hamilton would bow out of the race after just four laps due to a misfiring cylinder.
“We knew reliability could be an issue but of course it surprises you when it happens. But it’s early stages and there’s a long way to go so I will remain positive and focus on the next race,” Hamilton said.
“We looked so strong but to then have a hiccup is tough for everyone, but we will bounce back.”
Vettel had troubles from the very beginning, watching teams pass him from the start as his Red Bull lost power on the second formation lap, retiring on the fifth lap.
“We lost power for some reason, we don’t know why. It’s going to be a long season. At the beginning I thought it was okay, but I didn’t get any power from the battery and the engine failed,” Vettel said.
“We’ll fix the issues, the question is when. We’ve learned a lot about the car this weekend.”
Rosberg had built a significant lead on Ricciardo and Magnussen until a safety car break after 12 laps.
The safety car period helped the teams with their fuel consumption plans and once the green flag came out, Rosberg showed that his Mercedes is clearly faster than the second-placed Red Bull, continually expanding his lead.
The cushion grew to 17.9 seconds on the 36th lap when Ricciardo pitted. Magnussen followed a lap later and Rosberg came in one lap thereafter. Rosberg exited with the lead as the top three remained unchanged.
Rosberg continued to pull away further and further while Ricciardo was left having to fend off a charging Magnussen to keep second place.
The Formula One season continues on March 30 with the Malaysian Grand Prix.