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Sunday March 16, 2014 MYT 10:52:38 PM
Sunday March 16, 2014 MYT 10:52:38 PM
by ian ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Nico Rosberg celebrated a dominant win for Mercedes in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday while Red Bull's home hero Daniel Ricciardo suffered the heartbreak of being stripped of his first podium hours after the finish.
Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and world champion Sebastian Vettel retired early on with reliability problems, the German's exit ending his record run of nine successive victories racked up for Red Bull since last August.
Rosberg, Hamilton's German team mate, capitalised on a brilliant start from third on the grid to snatch the lead before the first turn and roar to the fourth win of his career.
"Brilliant stuff, what a car you've given me! What a car!" the German shouted over the team radio after crossing the line.
Ricciardo crossed the finish 24.5 seconds behind but his joy at becoming Australia's first driver to stand on the home podium was shattered more than five hours later when stewards disqualified the 24-year-old for a fuel flow irregularity.
That promoted McLaren's Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen to second place, making the 21-year-old Formula One's most successful debutant since Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in Melbourne in 1996.
Magnussen's podium was also the first by a Dane in F1.
Team mate and 2009 world champion Jenson Button moved up to third with McLaren, who failed to finish in the top three all last season, leading the constructors' standings.
Rosberg, tipped to duel with team mate Hamilton for the championship, celebrated his first win since last year's British Grand Prix - when he was also the beneficiary of technical mishaps to Hamilton and Red Bull's Vettel.
"The car was just really, really quick today," he told reporters, looking forward with relish to the next race in Malaysia in two weeks.
"A really good engine, not much problem with fuel consumption. It just all worked perfectly."
The gaping margin of victory underscored Mercedes' superior preparations for F1's technical revolution, which saw all teams struggle during winter testing with the new V6 turbocharged hybrid engines.
The glitches continued as only 14 of the 22 cars finished on a gusty day at the bumpy street circuit which was doused by a brief rain-shower early in the race.
Hamilton, who snatched pole position at the end of a wet qualifying session on Saturday, noticeably lacked power on his start and was called in by his team to retire on the third lap.
Mercedes later clarified his car had suffered a misfiring cylinder. "We will recover from this, it's only a small hiccup. There's a long way to go still," Hamilton told Sky television.
"At the moment I'm not concerned about anything."
Twelfth off the grid, Vettel also struggled at the start and retired only a few laps after Hamilton, complaining of engine performance problems.
Ricciardo, who replaced compatriot Mark Webber at Red Bull after crossing from sister team Toro Rosso, had thrilled home fans after seeing off Magnussen's late challenge.
Two hours after the race, FIA officials said they were investigating Ricciardo for "consistently" exceeding permitted fuel consumption during the race.
After deliberating late into the night, the FIA announced Ricciardo had been disqualified. Red Bull said they would appeal.
"Inconsistencies with the FIA fuel flow meter have been prevalent all weekend up and down the pit lane," the team said.
Ferrari's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was fourth with Williams driver Valtteri Bottas moving up to fifth after Ricciardo's exclusion for his best F1 result.
The Finn raced from 15th on the grid and might have been on the podium but for a brush with the barrier that left him limping back to the pits on a rim. His 10-point haul was still double what his team scored in all of last season.
Bottas's new Brazilian new team mate Felipe Massa was unable to add to the tally, however, having been taken out of the race at the first turn by Caterham's Kamui Kobayashi, who suffered a brake failure.
Kimi Raikkonen's eventual seventh-placed finish behind Force India's Nico Hulkenberg capped a frustrating return to Maranello for the 2007 world champion, who started 11th on the grid after a crash during qualifying.
Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat was promoted to ninth on his debut for Toro Rosso, becoming at 19 years old the sport's youngest points scorer, behind team mate Jean-Eric Vergne.
Lotus's insipid race weekend finished with both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado unable to complete the race due to reliability problems.
The race stumbled at the start, with Marussia driver Max Chilton stalling on the grid before the pre-start installation lap and his team mate Jules Bianchi then repeating the mishap.
Bianchi, along with both Caterhams, was unable to finish.
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