Lewis Hamilton hailed Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s Australian Grand Prix victory as “a massive positive” despite his own “costly hiccup” that robbed him of the chance of a win.
Despite clinching the 32nd pole position of his Formula One career on Saturday, Hamilton was forced to retire from the race at Melbourne’s Albert Park after just three laps. Already suspicious of an issue he could sense on his way to the grid, Hamilton slipped to third by the first corner and was fourth at the end of the opening lap. Although told by the team to retire on lap two, he was then swiftly informed to continue as there was hope the issue would resolve itself. However, on the next lap it become apparent it was a terminal fault as a cylinder failed.
As Hamilton then looked on for the remainder of the race, Rosberg completed a faultless march to the fourth win of his career. “I wanted to keep going, but we had to play safe and save the engine,” said Hamilton. “I’m disappointed when I think about all the work that has gone on back at our factories, it’s tough to have a costly hiccup.”
The positive for Hamilton is that Rosberg’s car ran faultlessly all weekend, proving what Mercedes are capable of.
“I am generally quite relaxed,” added Hamilton. “I know I did everything I could, did everything right. I couldn’t have been any more focused and I couldn’t have done any better.
“It is what it is. The really positive thing is the car is fantastic and we’ve still got a long way to go [in the championship]. There’s a massive positive as we won the race, and by a long way which is a cool thing, so for the team it’s a really strong position to be in, and the car looks great.
“So we will recover from this. We have achieved an incredible amount to get here, to be at the front and to be so competitive. We will bounce back and learn from this.”
Hamilton confirmed his retirement after losing a cylinder, and said: “I think I was down to five cylinders. It’s a bit unfortunate, but that’s racing.”
Rosberg is the first driver other than Sebastian Vettel to win a race since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the German dominating the last nine events of the 2013 season. He was followed home by Vettel’s new Red Bull team-mate, Australian Daniel Ricciardo, with Dane Kevin Magnussen third for McLaren.
However, five hours after the race ended Ricciardo was disqualified over a technical fuel infringement, elevating Magnussen to second and Briton Jenson Button, who originally finished fourth, to a podium placing for McLaren.
“It has been an amazing day,” said Rosberg. “I’m over the moon right now and to have such an amazing Silver Arrow, this thing was unbelievably quick and the reliability was good.
“For now all our hard work has paid off, but we still have to improve because our competitors are not going to go to sleep.”
There were always going to be thrills and spills at the start of this latest version of F1, and so it proved. The sport had grown stale on the back of Vettel’s dominance and with no change to the engine regulations for eight years. But in a bid to become greener and more relevant to today’s road car technology, in have come the new 1.6-litre V6 turbo-charged power units.
Given their complexity, and the vastness of the rules changes, they have caused countless problems over the past two months for all the teams. However, you would have received remarkable odds on naming Hamilton and Vettel as the first two technical retirees.
By the first turn the field was down from 22 to 20 due to Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi braking too deeply, colliding with Williams’ Felipe Massa and sending both into the gravel. By that stage pole-sitter Hamilton had dropped from first to third, initially by team-mate Rosberg and then by Ricciardo.
When Magnussen also sailed past Hamilton on lap one, it was clear at that stage the Briton had a problem. After being told to retire on lap two, but then urged soon after to “stay out, stay out, keep rolling”, come the end of lap three the 29 -year-old’s race was over due to the engine losing one of its six cylinders.
Three laps later and Vettel joined Hamilton as a spectator due to a loss of power with his Red Bull. The 26-year-old German complained on the formation lap of a lack of boost pressure, and on the opening lap he swiftly dropped down the pecking order, even being passed by Marussia’s Max Chilton.
By the end of lap six, Vettel trundled down the pit lane and into his box, where the car was turned around and wheeled back into the garage. “At the start of the race we had no power, cars kept on passing me, and although I was down we tried to recover,” said Vettel. “At some stage I thought there was an improvement, but then we realised we had lost power from the engine.”
Although it was a miserable start to the defence of his championship, Vettel added: “We are working hard back at the factory in Milton Keynes and at Viry [base of power unit supplier Renault].
“Although we have started on the back foot we have learned an awful lot, and when the package comes together we will be competitive.”
Three other less surprising retirees followed later in the race as Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson fell foul of an oil pressure problem, with Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado dropping out due to a turbo failure.
Lotus, who had embarrassingly qualified at the back of the grid just a year after winning this race, then had both cars out after 44 laps. Although Romain Grosjean suffered a KERS failure, given the lack of running in testing and in practice in the build-up to this race, the team will consider the distance covered by the Frenchman as a success.
Behind Button was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen seventh. It was another Finn in fifth as Valtteri Bottas scored ten points for Williams, five more than they managed throughout the whole of last season.
Nico Hulkenberg brought home his Force India in sixth, with Toro Rosso duo Jean-Eric Vergne eighth and Daniil Kvyat - also on his F1 debut - claiming two points for ninth. Come the conclusion there were only 13 classified finishers, with Chilton the last of those home, continuing his astonishing record of so far completing every one of his F1 races.