Nico Rosberg picked up right where he left off at the end of 2015 to take the top step of the podium in Melbourne.
Thanks to a red flag period just before halfway in the race, the driver of the No. 6 Mercedes AMG Petronas car used tire strategy to beat out teammate Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel to score his 15th career victory in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
“The strategy was crucial today,” said Rosberg. “So I’m really thankful. The team did a great job on that side as well. We are really strong in strategy amongst other things. I don’t want to single out one thing, we’re strong in nearly all areas, but that did it today.
“It was the tire choice also on the red flag. I was glad to see that they were on the supersoft. I wasn’t sure that was going to be the case. I was happy that I was able to follow quite well with the medium. I was a bit concerned about the restart with the medium, that that tire would be too cold, but it worked out OK.”
Despite winning the race, it wasn’t the typical Mercedes dominant clinics we’ve become accustomed to in the last two years. Despite winning his 50th career pole, the driver of the No. 44 Mercedes car stumbled on the start and failed to lead a single lap. It was the No. 5 Scuderia Ferrari of Vettel that dominated the race from the get-go.
At first, it appeared the four-time world champion would put on a vintage clinic of his own. It all changed on the 19th lap of the race when Fernando Alonso, who was running ninth at the time, was making a pass on Esteban Gutiérrez. He mis-timed the move, clipped the left-rear tire of the No. 21 Haas F1 Team Ferrari and sent both of them crashing in turn 3. Gutiérrez’s car came to a halt in the sand trap, but Alonso’s No. 14 McLaren Honda turned sideways, dug into the sand and barrel-rolled into the tire barrier.
Thankfully, despite the damage sustained to his car, the two-time world champion extracted himself from the cockpit and walked away uninjured. He said afterwards that he felt lucky to be alive.
“It’s frustrating on one side because we lost an opportunity and probably we lost a power unit and the whole car because of the damage,” Alonso told NBC Sports. “The second point is that I’m super happy I’m alive. I’m talking to you and I’m so, so thankful to the FIA and the safety of the cars that we have right now. Try to learn from today and try not to repeat it.”
The race was red-flagged to allow for extensive cleanup. During this time, most teams opted to change onto the medium tire compound. Vettel was the exception. He opted to change onto a new set of the super soft tires.
When the race restarted, he was significantly faster than Rosberg, but taking the super softs also meant he would need to make one more stop to get fresher tires and to meet the race regulations. When he made his stop on lap 35, his team had a miscue that caused the stop to go longer. That ultimately cost Vettel the victory.
With no real challenge, Rosberg drove on to win the race.
Hamilton finished second. Vettel rounded out the podium in third. Australian native Daniel Ricciardo brought his No. 3 Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer car home fourth. Felipe Massa rounded out the top-five in his No. 19 Williams Mercedes.
Despite a lousy qualifying run the day before, Romain Grosjean brought his No. 8 Haas F1 Ferrari home to a sixth-place finish. This was the best debut result by a startup team since Panasonic Toyota Racing in 2002.
“We did it. A bit lucky in the race with the red flag but nonetheless we had a good car,” Grosjean told NBC Sports after the race. We threw it on track with no setup work, no chance to do anything during the weekend and here we are, P6 at the end. I told the guys that this is a win for you, this is a win for the whole team, for the work that has been done in the last few weeks, few months. They haven’t slept much. They made it possible and this is incredible.”
Nico Hülkenberg finished seventh in his No. 27 Sahara Force India Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas finished eighth in his No. 77 Williams Mercedes. Carlos Sainz Jr. finished ninth in his No. 55 Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari. Max Verstappen rounded out the top-10 in his No. 33 Toro Rosso.
The next race will be in two weeks in Bahrain.