Sport

Hamilton storms to Australian Grand Prix win

SportBy Kevin Palmer
Hamilton confirmed his status as world title favourite
Hamilton confirmed his status as world title favourite

Lewis Hamilton began his reign as Formula One world champion with his 34th career victory by taking the chequered flag in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

A bizarre set of circumstances in the immediate build-up to the race at Melbourne's Albert Park resulted in just 15 cars taking to the grid, the lowest number to start the first grand prix of a year since 1963.

Come the conclusion to the 58 laps only 11 cars remained, with Hamilton a mere 1.3secs ahead of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg as the duo were in total control, with the Briton leading from start to finish.

On his debut for Ferrari after leaving Red Bull at the end of last year, the team that made him four times champion, Sebastian Vettel completed the podium, the team's first since Hungary last July.

Williams' Felipe Massa was fourth ahead of fellow Brazilian Felipe Nasr, the rookie scoring for a Sauber team that failed to collect a single point last year.

Home hero Daniel Ricciardo could do no better than sixth in his Red Bull, with Force India duo Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez seventh and 10th.

Sandwiched in between was the second Sauber of Marcus Ericsson, the Swede's first points of his F1 career, with another rookie in Carlos Sainz Jr ninth for Toro Rosso.

The lead up to the race had already been unusual given the legal battle that unfolded a few miles away from the track at the Supreme Court of Victoria between Sauber and former reserve driver Giedo van der Garde.

Then we had the field reduced to 18 cars come the end of qualifying due to Manor and drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi failing to take part.

The South Yorkshire-based marque made the effort to attend the race after only emerging from administration three weeks ago, but due to infrastructure issues were unable to turn a wheel at any stage.

Forty minutes prior to the start the field was reduced to 17 with the absence of Williams' Valtteri Bottas who spent Saturday night in nearby Alfred Hospital after complaining of back pain following qualifying.

It emerged Bottas suffered "a very small tear in the annular part of a disc in his lower back" according to the team, and is already a doubt for the Malaysian Grand Prix in a fortnight.

Come the formation lap we had the head-shaking sight of McLaren's Kevin Magnussen - standing in for the absent Fernando Alonso - first pulling over with smoke pouring from the back of his car.

Now powered by Honda, the Japanese manufacturing giant has endured a miserable start to its return to F1, with Magnussen's failure to even take to the grid a major embarrassment.

The farcical situation continued a minute later when Daniil Kvyat, on his debut for Red Bull after being promoted from Toro Rosso, lost all drive from his Renault power unit, ultimately stopping on track.

Red Bull have so far been highly critical of Renault's efforts this week, with Kvyat's woes adding fuel to the fire and the ire of team principal Christian Horner.

All the drama resulted in 15 cars lining up on the grid, the lowest number for a season-opening race since 1963.

For all the talk in recent times of the prospect of three-car teams in F1, we had the sight at the start of the race of three one-car teams in Williams, Red Bull and McLaren.

Once the race started, within seconds the field was reduced to 14 cars, with Lotus' Pastor Maldonado crashing into a barrier after being tagged by the Sauber of Nasr.

With Maldonado's stricken car sidelined in a dangerous place it led to the introduction of the safety car.

Unbelievably, as the small field filed past to complete the opening lap, the second Lotus of Romain Grosjean headed straight into the garage to retire, leaving a mere 13 cars still running.

Unsurprisingly, what followed was the sight of two races in one - the first between Hamilton and Rosberg for the victory, with the other 11 fighting over the points from third to 10th.

Sadly for Max Verstappen, after becoming the youngest driver in F1 at the age of 17, he failed to follow by becoming the youngest to claim a point as he retired his Toro Rosso on lap 34 when running eighth.

Seven laps later a failure to fit the left-rear tyre correctly at his second stop resulted in Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen pulling off track on lap 41, with the stewards to investigate post-race for an unsafe release.

For the lead, there was a bit of nip and tuck, but Hamilton was always in control to clinch a second win Down Under.

As for fellow Briton and world champion Jenson Button, the 35-year-old at least brought his McLaren home, just outside the points in 11th, albeit two laps down.