March 20, 2016

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Nico Rosberg beat Lewis Hamilton in yet another Mercedes 1-2 finish at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, but the predictable result disguised what was an exciting Formula One season opener, punctuated by a frightening accident that suspended the race.

The red flags came out after a high-speed collision between McLaren's Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez of Haas about a third of the way through the race. While in the pits awaiting a restart, Mercedes made a call that proved decisive - the team switched to the hardest available tire, enabling the silver cars to run to the finish, while early leader Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari was fitted with the soft rubber, and he had to pit again, dropping him to third.

''It's the perfect start,'' Rosberg said. ''The strategy was crucial today. It was the tire choice after the red flag. I was glad to see they (Ferrari) were on the super-soft (compound) and happy that I could keep up on the medium.''

Local favorite Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull was fourth, falling just short in his bid to become the first Australian on the podium at his home race.

Williams driver Felipe Massa was fifth and Romain Grosjean sixth to give American team Haas an impressive points finish in its first race. An emotional Grosjean told the team over the radio that ''this is a win, unbelievable.''

The crash between Alonso and Gutierrez occurred when the Spaniard's McLaren clipped the rear left tire of Gutierrez, who was breaking to make the corner at Turn 3. The McLaren was launched into the concrete barrier and flipped over twice.

The car was a crumpled wreck but Alonso was able to climb out, and though clearly sore as he limped away, he shook hands with Gutierrez, who had walked over quickly to see if he was injured. The race was stopped for 22 minutes before resuming.

Force India's Nico Hulkenberg finished seventh and Valtteri Bottas of Williams was eighth. The Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen finished ninth and 10th after the frustrated Dutchman collided with his teammate with four laps to go in a misjudged attempt to overtake him.

Hamilton was pleased to have finished second after a slow start dropped him down to seventh on the opening lap. He was behind Rosberg in the run to the first corner after Vettel had speared in between them with much better acceleration off the line.

Rosberg ran onto the curb at the first bend, forcing Hamilton to break heavily on the grass verge into Turn 2 and other cars made their way around the outside.

''I did the best I could after a difficult start - damage limitation really,'' Hamilton said. ''I've had much worse in the first race and l'd take this as a bonus after being as low as seventh.''

Vettel was left to rue the decision to fit the softest tire at the restart. After pitting late in the race, he had fresher tires and got back onto the tail of Hamilton, but his chance to take second ended when he ran wide at the penultimate corner with two laps remaining.

''We tried to be aggressive but it didn't work,'' Vettel said. ''In hindsight, maybe we could have done something else but I don't want to blame anyone.''

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene was pumping his fists with excitement as Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the field on the opening lap, but the Finn was forced to retire midway through the race with flames coming out of the car's airbox.

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