Nico Rosberg snatched a hard-fought win ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton in yesterday's crash-interrupted Australian Grand Prix, after a strategic misstep by rivals Ferrari handed Mercedes a one-two finish in the season-opening race.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg celebrates his victory as Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel (C) and former British driver Sir Jackie Stewart (R) applaud on the podium at the end of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Pic/AFP
Rosberg crossed the line eight seconds ahead of team-mate Hamilton, who had to fight his way back up the order after a poor start dropped the pole-sitting Briton to sixth.
Sebastian Vettel, who had rocketed off the line into the lead and looked on course to win for a majority of the 57-lap race, confirmed his Ferrari team's challenge by crossing the line third.
Yesteray's win was the 15th of Rosberg's career. It was his fourth consecutive triumph after the German closed out last season with a run of three straight victories.
"It's been a great weekend. Thank you to the team. They've done an unbelievable job by giving us this incredible car," Rosberg said on the podium immediately after the race.
"The car's been unreal today. To beat the Ferraris was great. We absolutely loved it and I'm super excited."
Rosberg leaves Australia in the lead of the drivers' championship. Hamilton is second, seven points behind, while Vettel is a further three points adrift in third.
Mercedes had secured their seventh straight front-row lockout in qualifying yesterday. But Vettel rocketed off the line and squeezed past the two Silver Arrows at the start to seize the lead.
Behind him, teammate Kimi Raikkonen also muscled past both Mercedes and the two scarlet cars established an early lead.
It turned out to be a race of two halves for the Maranello-based squad, however.
Their fortunes turned after the race was briefly stopped due to a collision between Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez and McLaren's Fernando Alonso that resulted in a massive crash for the Spaniard.
Alonso was chasing Gutierrez down a straight stretch of the track when he made contact with the Mexican's car at high speed and was launched into a series of barrel rolls that ended with the McLaren crumpled and upside down in the barriers.
Alonso walked away unscathed and the race resumed after a 20-minute delay.
Raikkonen was forced to retire soon after the restart with his Ferrari expiring in a flash of smoke and fire in the pits.
Vettel was also forced to concede his lead. Ferrari had fitted the German with a set of the fragile super-soft tyres during the race stoppage while Mercedes had fixed their two cars with the much
more durable mediums.
As a result, he needed to make an extra pitstop which allowed Rosberg and Hamilton to jump him.
"We went for the aggressive route, maybe with hindsight we could have done something else but I'm not willing to blame anything or anyone," Vettel told reporters at the post-race press conference.
Ferrari were Mercedes' closest challengers last year and the team's form in testing had sparked optimism that the former champions could make major inroads into the dominant German team's
advantage this season.
Those hopes appeared dashed after qualifying with Mercedes locking out the front row by a handy margin.
But Vettel said Ferrari's form in the race proved they can take the fight to their German rivals.
"Definitely I think we were a lot closer. Last year this was one of our worst tracks so there are plenty of positives.
"The team seems to be in good shape, we know that we can up our game and we want to put pressure on these guys," Vettel, sitting alongside Hamilton and Rosberg, said.
Behind the top three, Daniel Ricciardo finished a fine fourth in front of his home crowd.
Williams driver Felipe Massa was fifth ahead of Romain Grosjean, who scored points for new team Haas on their debut.
Force India's Nico Hulkenberg was seventh ahead of the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas.
Behind them, tensions flared between Toro Rosso pair Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen, who collided with each other on their way to ninth and tenth.