Nico Rosberg has won the first Grand Prix of 2016, crossing the finish line 10 at Melbourne, Australia around 10 seconds ahead of his team mate Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel finished third after an battling race that was stopped after a major accident for Fernando Alonso, who escaped unhurt.
Before thet start of the race, Williams were lucky to see their explanation accepted by the FIA regarding the team's failure to hand in their suspension information sheet in time. Clearly that was unintentional, as not handing it in would be a lousy way to try cheating anyway. Bottas however was demoted 5 places due to a gearbox change.
The first start meanwhile was also called off as Kvyat stopped on track before making his place onto the grid, immediately ending his race.
After another installation lap, all went fine, at leat for the Ferrari drivers, as Vettel launched off to lead the pack through turn 1, with Raikkonen passing Rosberg there to settle into second place. Rosberg became 3rd, ahead of Verstappen, Massa and Hamilton. Sainz stayed 7th, followed by Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Alonso.
The unexpectedly bad start of some drivers may well have been the result of F1's new rules regarding clutched, which are now to be controlled by a single paddle at the start, contrary to two paddles that were previously allowed to trigger complex software for an automatic and optimal start.
On lap 4, Hamilton got past Massa through turn 6 to move up into 5th while Rosberg started challenging Raikkonen on a circuit that is not particularly easy to pass cars.
At the end of lap 8, Sainz is the first to make a stop, changing his super softs for a set of new softs. He rejoined the track in 18th. Massa followed two laps later, but the first of the front runners to pit was Rosberg on lap 13. Vettel did the same one lap later and took on super softs. They were certainly needed, as when he rejoined, Rosberg was extremely close, but the quick warmup of the super softs allowed Vettel to stay ahead of build up a gap again.
As Verstappen also pitted, Hamilton went on longer to try to cover the Toro Rosso, which he found he was unable to overtake on track. The worn super softs however were losing performace and he pitted to change to medium tyres after getting passed by Vettel for the lead.
Moments later, Alonso had an absolutely massive crash in the approach to turn 3. The Spaniard tried to pass Gutierrez in the Haas, but as he turned left to brake on the outside of the corner, Gutierrez turned slightly left and started braking as well, leading Alonso to hit the left rear wheel of the Haas car. That sent him off into the left barrier, followed by rolling sideways twice and leave a completely destroyed McLaren in the barriers.
The Spaniard fortunately escaped unhurt, just like Gutierrez, following which the race was red flagged after 19 laps.
As all cars stop in the pitlane, this also meant everybody could change tyres, ruining Hamilton's differing strategy. Ferrari continue on SS, Rosberg in second changed to medium. Ricciardo in 4th is on softs, ahead of both Toro Rosso's on soft and next Hamilton and Massa on medium as well.
The pitstops from Hamilton, Perez and Hulkenberg just ahead of the race stopped make them the biggest losers. Had they waited two laps for their stops, they would have made a terrific job and settle in 2nd, 5th and 6th, rather than 7th, 11th and 14th respectively.
The start behind the safety car didn't bring much change obviously, but Jenson Button became the main mover in the next laps as he ran on super softs among cars on medium tyres. That didn't last long however, as by lap 30 has was back on his position in which he restarted the race.
On lap 24, Raikkonen came into the pits with an obvious technical failure. As he stopped the car, flames came out of the airbox and smoke poured out of the rear of the sidepods. The retirements moved Ricciardo up onto a podium spot.
Overall, the medium tyres seemed to be working very well across the field. Rosberg for instance lost just 3 seconds to Vettel in 10 laps, even though the latter ran on super softs.
On lap 31, Sainz pitted to change his softs to mediums, enabling Hamilton to close the 2.8s gap to Verstappen in 4th place. Hamilton soon resolved that issue, eating out a second a lap out of that difference before Verstappen similarly pitted - slowly - to change for mediums. In fact, Hamilton's S1 time alone that next lap was a full second clear of Vettel.
Vettel eventually pitted on lap 35 and took on a brand new set of softs. At the time of his stop, he has 1.2s on Rosberg, 8.5s on Ricciardo and 13s to Hamilton. The German lost maybe a second or two in that stop as the frnt left failed to come off the car quickly.
The stops from Toro Rosso also moved Grosjean up into 6th, a massive effort for the debuting team. The Frenchman however was closely followed by Hulkenberg and Bottas. Palmer followed 6 seconds down the road, chased by Sainz and Verstappen.
6 laps later, Sainz makes it past Palmer, after repeated calls from Verstappen to his team to tell the Spaniard to let him get past and have a go at Palmer himself. Once done, Verstappen immediately followed suit at Turn 3, after Sainz nailed the Renault at Turn 1.
That same lap, Ricciardo pitted to change to new super softs, rejoining the track in 5th, 1.8 seconds down on Massa.
With 12 laps left, this put Rosberg n the lead, 10 seconds ahead of Hamilton, and another 5 on Vettel. Massa was a distant fourth, 34 seconds behind the leader.
2 laps later, Ricciardo moved past Massa, much to the enjoyment of the local crowd.
5 laps from the end, Vettel came within DRS range of Hamilton after the Mercedes driver lost little more than a second by making a mistake under braking. Two laps from the end, it's Vettel's turn to make a mistake, going well through the grass in the penultimate corner.
In the end, that ended up as a fairly easy victory for Nico Rosberg while Lewis Hamilton fought off Vettel in the closing stages to finish second. Sebastian Vettel finished third, and in his starting position, but it was far from that straightforward as one might think.
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull Racing||+24.330s|
|7||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India||+74.199s|
|9||Carlos Sainz||ESP||Toro Rosso||+75.680s|
|10||Max Verstappen||NED||Toro Rosso||+76.833s|
|13||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India||+91.699s|
|14||Jenson Button||GBR||McLaren||+1 lap|
|15||Felipe Nasr||BRA||Sauber||+1 lap|
|16||Pascal Wehrlein||GER||Manor||+1 lap|
|NC||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Red Bull Racing||DNS|