Mercedes go 1-2 to open Formula One season but Australian GP is positive omen for 2016 campaign

Nico Rosberg started 2016 with an exciting win in Melbourne over teammate Lewis Hamilton but Graham Caygill says good racing, overtaking, and different strategies made for an unpredictability.

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes-GP celebrates in Parc Ferme after winning the F1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday. Lars Baron / Getty Images / March 20, 2016
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This was the race that Formula One badly needed.

After the farce of qualifying and a flawed new system, which thankfully is going to be ditched after just one appearance, and a largely dull 2015 season, the Australian Grand Prix delivered in style on Sunday in Melbourne.

Good racing, overtaking, different strategies making for an unpredictability. This is what F1 needs more of and it is certainly a positive omen for the 2016 campaign.

Two things helped produce the entertainment.

Firstly the poor starts of both Mercedes-GP cars, the fastest in the field, that dropped them down the order and made them have to work to get back to the front.

The second was the high-speed accident on Lap 19 on the straight leading to Turn 3 that saw Fernando Alonso's McLaren clip the back of Esteban Gutierrez's Haas, crash into the wall and then somersault into the gravel trap, leaving debris strewn across the track.

Photo gallery: Mercedes' Nico Rosberg wins F1 opening Australian GP

Thankfully Alonso walked away from the remains of his heavily damaged monocoque, but the incident had major ramifications on the rest of the race once it resumed.

Sebastian Vettel had led the opening laps in his Ferrari after a great getaway from third had catapulted him into the lead at the start.

He remained on a two-stop strategy after the race had got back underway, but Mercedes-GP played a tactical masterstroke by moving Nico Rosberg to a one-stop strategy.

Read more: New F1 qualifying is already an unqualified failure, writes Graham Caygill

Also see: Max Verstappen scores podium, Kimi Raikkonen retires and other F1 2016 bold predictions

Under the regulations teams are allowed to change the tyres on a car when it has been stopped mid-race, and Mercedes fitted the hard Pirelli compound to Rosberg’s car, ensuring he would not have to pit again, having already made an early stop before the red flag incident.

Vettel lost the lead when he had to make his second stop, and Rosberg was able to cruise home to the 15th victory of his career, and his fourth in a row, having won the final three races of 2015.

Mercedes had also given world champion Lewis Hamilton the same strategy of not having to stop again after the race restart, and he recovered from being down as low as sixth after getting an abysmal start from pole position, to salvage second place, finishing a second ahead of Vettel.

So, on paper, it was more of the same with another Mercedes one-two, but this was not the domination of 2014 and 2015 on show here. They had to work for this, and were fortunate with the race stoppage, although they did make their own luck to an extent by making the right decisions, unlike Ferrari.

But while they ended up losing, Vettel and Ferrari could rightly take encouragement from their performance in Melbourne.

They did appear a reasonable match for the Mercedes cars on race pace, with Rosberg never looking like overtaking in the first stint when he had fallen behind Vettel and the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, whose race would later be ended early by a power unit failure.

Albert Park has never been an easy venue to overtake on, even in the era of the Drag Reduction System (DRS), but it was encouraging to see the Mercedes cars have to work hard to get past midfield cars such as Williams and Toro Rosso.

There does not appear to be an overwhelming pace advantage for Mercedes at present and they are fallible, especially if they cede position to a rival and have to get it back on the road.

If Hamilton and Rosberg had got away well at the start this might have been a more conventional race, and it will be interesting to see in the coming races if Vettel and Raikkonen can fight with the German cars when it is the German marque’s machines who have the advantage on the track.

After the negative headlines of Saturday’s qualifying, this was an entertaining event that should bring some positivity back to proceedings.

There was some close racing further down the order, the duel between the Toro Rosso drivers of Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen a particular highlight, and there was the feel-good story of Haas scoring championship points in their first race in F1 as Romain Grosjean finished sixth.

Hopefully the tinkering with qualifying formats is done with for now, with the method used in recent seasons set to be reintroduced at the next race in Bahrain on April 3.

But, if the sports chiefs want a guaranteed way of livening up the show then all they need to do is persuade the Mercedes drivers to continue botching their starts, and there should be plenty of fun between now and the season's climax at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 27.

Australian Grand Prix report card

Star performer Romain Grosjean (Haas) – Excellent performance to take sixth place for Haas in their first F1 race. Did not put a wheel wrong in late stages despite being under heavy pressure from faster cars behind.

Underperformer Sauber – A bit harsh possibly as they continue to struggle for funds, but after overachieving in last year's Melbourne race in which they scored 14 points, yesterday was reality biting back as neither Felipe Nasr or Marcus Ericsson ever looked competitive in Melbourne.

Key moment The race stoppage after the Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez crash shook up the order and gave Nico Rosberg the strategic edge over to win at Albert Park for the second time in three years.

Our verdict The best Australian Grand Prix for a long time. A good tussle at the front, intrigue on the pit wall and plenty of overtaking throughout the race. The only hope is this is not a one-off and we are in for more of the same over the next eight months of action.

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