AFTERMATH: McLaren driver Fernando Alonso walks away from a crash.
AFTERMATH: McLaren driver Fernando Alonso walks away from a crash. Theo Karanikosaap

Rosberg wins F1 opener in Melbourne

It seemed unlikely for most of the race, but Mercedes began the 2016 F1 season where it left off last year, taking a 1-2 finish at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Champion Lewis Hamilton had to play second fiddle to teammate Nico Rosberg, however, the German finishing more than eight seconds ahead of his all-conquering teammate who elected not to challenge near the end of the race.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who spun off the track late in the race when trying to push Hamilton, settled for third, with Aussie Daniel Ricciardo exceeding expectations to cross the line in fourth spot, ahead of Felipe Massa in his Williams.

New American team Haas would have been thrilled with its debut, Romain Grosjean finishing a creditable sixth.

Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, Williams' Valtteri Bottas, and the Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen completed the top 10, with Renault's Jolyon Palmer narrowly missing out on a point in his maiden Grand Prix.

Rosberg paid tribute to the Mercedes team for his victory, which was surprisingly easy after the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, whose day ended early when his car caught fire as he came into the pits, ran into trouble.

"It's been a great weekend. Thank you to the team. They've done an unbelievable job giving us this incredible car," Rosberg said on the winner's podium.

"The car has been unreal today. To beat the Ferraris was great.'

Vettel had taken an early lead in the race after finding a narrow gap between Hamilton and Rosberg at the start.

He had built a significant lead by lap 17, but was brought back to the field when the race was stopped following a spectacular crash involving Fernando Alonso. Alonso had tried to overtake Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez, but Gutierrez's sudden braking caught the Spaniard off guard as he ploughed into the Mexican's rear left wheel.

It sent the former world champion into the barrier, before flipping his car at pace, spinning in mid-air before spectacularly grinding to a halt in the sand trap. Both drivers were lucky to escape unscathed, although Alonso's car was completely written off.

Ricciardo received great support from the home crowd during the race, and told Channel Ten afterwards he was happy to finish in the top five.

"I thought if we could crack the top five today that would be probably overachieving, so to be inside that with fourth, I'm really happy," he said.

"We had genuine pace. I'm really happy. As expected, we're not up to Mercedes or Ferrari's pace yet, but I think we're closer than we thought we were."

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