F1 champ Hamilton wins season-opening Australian GP

Melbourne, Australia (SportsNetwork.com) - Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes launched his Formula One title defense with a solid performance in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who claimed his second F1 world championship in 2014, led from start to finish in this 58-lap race at Albert Park Circuit. He crossed the finish line 1.36 seconds ahead of his teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg, who won this event one year ago.

It was the 34th career win for Hamilton in F1, including his first in the Australian GP. In last year's race here, he started on pole but completed only two laps before retiring due to engine failure.

During the post-race podium ceremony, Hamilton was delighted to see Hollywood icon and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did the podium interviews.

"My team did an amazing job today, and it's an incredible feeling to continue on from last year, but also to be up here with you, man. I thought you would be taller," Hamilton said to Schwarzenegger.

Mercedes dominated the '14 season, with Hamilton winning 11 grand prix and Rosberg five of them. The team claimed its first constructors' championship. Rosberg finished the season 67 points behind Hamilton.

"It's a nice feeling to be second today, and it's an awesome start," Rosberg said. "Lewis did a fantastic job this weekend and drove like a world champion. I couldn't quite beat him, but for sure I was trying every single lap all the way to the maximum, and I will be all year. I'll give him a big run for his money."

Sebastian Vettel, the four-time world champion, finished third in his first grand prix with Ferrari. Vettel crossed the line a distant 34.5 seconds behind Hamilton.

"It was a great start to the season for us," Vettel said. "We had a very good winter, and the team has worked phenomenally hard. I'm very proud ... There is a lot of work ahead of us, trying to beat these two (Hamilton and Rosberg) and beat Mercedes, but I'm sure we will."

Felipe Massa from Williams placed fourth, while Felipe Nasr drove his Sauber to a fifth-place finish in his F1 debut.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull finished one lap behind in sixth in his home race.

Also finishing a lap down were: Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), Carlos Sainz (making F1 debut with Toro Rosso) and Sergio Perez (Force India), placing seventh through 10th, respectively.

Jenson Button from McLaren finished 11th, two laps behind.

Just 15 drivers started this event, and only 11 of them finished it. Daniil Kvyat, making his debut with Red Bull, and Kevin Magnussen, who drove a McLaren in place of the injured Fernando Alonso, did not start after both drivers suffered engine failure during their pre-race warm-up laps. Earlier in the day, F1's governing body, the FIA, determined that Valtteri Bottas from Williams was unfit to drive after suffering a back injury during Saturday's qualifying.

Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens from the Manor Marussia team did not participate in qualifying as well as any one of the three practice sessions, therefore excluding them from the grid.

Pastor Maldonado spun out and crashed his Lotus into the barrier in turn 2 on the opening lap when he was bumped around in a tight pack of cars. It forced the deployment of the safety car for three laps.

Romain Grosjean, who is Maldonado's teammate, also retired on the first lap when he experienced a mechanical problem.

Max Verstappen from Toro Rosso and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen were forced to retire during the mid-stages. Verstappen, who became the youngest driver ever to start a F1 grand prix at age 17 years, 166 days, pulled off track on lap 35 when his car started smoking.

"I'm disappointed," Verstappen said. "I could see some smoke in the car, so I said to the (team) that something is not right, and they told me to stop the car."

Raikkonen had to pull over as well on lap 42 when his left-rear tire was not properly attached during a pit stop.