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F1: Nico Rosberg draws first blood

The new Formula One season opened with a dominant Australian Grand Prix victory.

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany (C) holds up his award in celebration next to second-placed Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia (L) and third-placed McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen of Denmark (R) on the podium after the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 16, 2014. Picture: AFP.

MELBOURNE - Nico Rosberg drew first blood for Mercedes in the new Formula One season with a dominant Australian Grand Prix victory on Sunday after pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and world champion Sebastian Vettel retired with reliability problems.

The 28-year-old German capitalised on a brilliant start from third on the grid, snatching the lead before the first turn and roaring to a 24.5-second victory ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo under a cloudy sky at Albert Park.

Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen finished third on his race debut for McLaren.

Rosberg, tipped to duel with team mate Hamilton for the championship, celebrated his fourth race victory and first since last year's British Grand Prix, when he was also the beneficiary of technical mishaps to Hamilton and Vettel.

"Brilliant stuff, what a car you've given me! What a car!" Rosberg said over the team radio after crossing the line.

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.

Twelfth off the grid, Vettel also struggled at the start and retired only a few laps after Hamilton, complaining of engine performance problems.

That snapped a nine-race winning streak for the German dating back to the Belgian Grand Prix in August.

Ricciardo thrilled home fans by taking his maiden podium spot in his first race weekend with Red Bull and drove with admirable composure after being challenged by Magnussen over the closing laps.

Magnussen's podium, the first by a Dane in Formula One and the team's first since 2012, was an exact match of Hamilton's first F1 race for McLaren in 2007 when the Briton qualified fourth and finished third.

McLaren's Jenson Button finished fourth, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso fifth.

Williams driver Valtteri Bottas finished sixth for his best F1 result after an outstanding race from 15th on the grid. His eight point haul was more than his team scored in all of last season.

The race began farcically, 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, forcing a second formation lap.

Both Marussias started from pit-lane behind Lotus's Romain Grosjean, who was also dealt a drive-through penalty for leaving his garage prior to the 15-minute signal before the race.

Japan's Kamui Kobayashi lived up to his reputation as a combustible racer by ploughing into the back of Felipe Massa's Williams at the start, taking both drivers out of the race at the first corner and prompting an FIA investigation.

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