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Nico Rosberg has marched to victory in the 2016 Australian Grand Prix as Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel saw its victory hopes scuppered by a strategic blunder that came as a result of a mid-race stoppage prompted by a horrifying crash for Fernando Alonso.

In a dramatic start to the 2016 Formula 1 season that began as a battle of raw pace before becoming a strategic tussle, it was Ferrari that sprung a surprise from the lights as both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen moved ahead of the front row Mercedes' straight away.

With Rosberg running wide in his failed attempt to defend the inside line from Vettel, his subsequent wide exit would see his rear clip the front of Lewis Hamilton's car, scrubbing off speed that would demote the Briton to sixth position by the end of the opening lap.

By contrast, Vettel was stretching clear of Raikkonen, who in turn was keeping a comfortable distance over Rosberg in the opening laps, while Max Verstappen held a fine fourth from a frustrated Hamilton, the defending champion having leapfrogged Felipe Massa on lap four.

Soon, however, a soft-shod Rosberg would begin to make his pace tell at the first stops, leapfrogging Kimi Raikkonen through the first stop and finding himself on the edge of Vettel, on the super-softs. However, just as Vettel appeared to be taking control again, the race would be turned on its head on lap 18 when it was stopped for a shocking accident involving Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez.

Caused by Alonso striking the back of the Haas at turn three, the McLaren first impacted the outside wall and was then pitched sideways towards the gravel trap, where it dug in and flipped over at speed, coming to rest cockpit-side lodged up against the far barrier.

Despite the spectacular accident, Alonso was able to extricate himself out of the car and walked away unharmed, while Gutierrez - who was struck hard from behind - was also seemingly unhurt.

As a result of the debris across a large stretch, the race was red flagged to allow a clear-up operation, Vettel classified ahead of Rosberg, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Sainz. Hamilton, having pitted for the mediums just two laps earlier, would restart behind the safety car from seventh.

With drivers able to change tyres at the stoppage, Vettel somewhat surprisingly was given super-soft to start on, a contrast to Rosberg who would take the opportunity to fit medium rubber. It meant Vettel would have to stop one more time, whereas Rosberg could go to the end.

It would ultimately prove a savvier move by Mercedes because though Vettel indeed stretched clear at the safety car restart, he couldn't build enough of a buffer by lap 34 when he made another stop. Promoting Rosberg into the lead, it would also play Hamilton into some contention as the path cleared for him to steadily move up into second place.

Indeed, the Briton's shot at victory appeared to be dashed at the start as he became bottled up behind Verstappen, prompting a long first stint in the hope a one-stop would suffice. Restarting the race in seventh, a blundered pit-stop for Verstappen earned him one spot, before a fiery end to the race for third place Raikkonen removed him from the equation.

As such, Mercedes entered into the final portion of the race having ascended into 1-2, albeit with Vettel now giving chase on better tyres.

However, though Vettel would catch Hamilton at the end, his hopes of passing would be scuppered when he ran wide at the penultimate corner with two laps remaining, releasing Hamilton to a somewhat fortuitous second place in a race he otherwise struggled to sparkle.

By contrast, Rosberg up front was forging clear with a measured drive, Mercedes' crucial strategic call essentially playing him back into contention as Ferrari fluffed its hopes.

Off the podium, Daniel Ricciardo put in a plucky drive with some rapid soft-tyre stints at various points in the race, enough to see him running as high of third place at one stage. Eventually, a late stop would prevent him from battling for the podium, but the result marks an impressive start to the year for the Red Bull team. Similarly, Felipe Massa enjoyed a stealthy afternoon in a largely lonely fifth place for Williams.

Behind him, in arguably the drive of the day, Romain Grosjean produced a stunning performance for the new Haas team as it scored an incredible sixth place finish on its debut following an inspired strategic call. Already running long in the first stint, the red flag stop meant the Frenchman could make its single stop for medium tyres. Restarting ninth and going to the chequered flag, Grosjean maintained pace and benefited from problems up ahead to rise to sixth, Haas becoming the first new team to score on its debut in 14 years.

Nico Hulkenberg completed a modest seventh place finish for Force India, while Valtteri Bottas put in a strong charge from 16th to secure eighth.

Toro Rosso, meanwhile, had a day of missed opportunities, as pit-stop blunders and poor timing to leave the drivers in traffic dropping Carlos Sainz to ninth and Max Verstappen to tenth. With Verstappen audibly frustrated to be pitted later than his team-mate late on - dropping him behind Spaniard and then complainng he was the faster of the two -, the pair made light contact late in the race at the penultimate corner, with the Dutchman suffering a spin without loss of position.

Elsewhere, Jenson Button finished a lap down on a destructive day for McLaren, Renault failed to score after Jolyon Palmer lost late position and Kevin Magnussen never quite recovered from a lap one puncture.

Daniil Kvyat didn't even start after his Red Bull stopped on the formation lap.



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