Lewis Hamilton appears poised to ‘terminate’ the opposition again this Formula One season if his dominant performance in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is anything to go by.
The reigning world champion conjured a crushing victory around Melbourne’s Albert Park, spearheading a Mercedes one-two, with team-mate Nico Rosberg just 1.3secs adrift,
Rosberg, however, never realistically had a chance of success, with the duo’s rivals trailing in their wake as their nearest challenger was Sebastian Vettel on his debut for Ferrari, but 34.5secs down.
Come the podium ceremony there was a surprise for the leading trio as Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger took centre stage by conducting the interviews.
Hamilton, for one, was starstruck as wide-eyed he said: “How are you doing? What an honour to meet you. Arnold Schwarzenegger, man! Wow!”
It could certainly be a case of ‘hasta la vista baby’ for anyone with a hope of challenging Hamilton’s bid for a third world title and a place amongst the all-time greats.
As launchpads go, Hamilton could not have asked for a better start by claiming F1’s equivalent of the hat-trick - pole position, race win and fastest lap.
“It’s an incredible feeling to continue on from last year,” said Hamilton, before turning to Schwarzenegger and adding “but also to be up here with you man.”
Turning back to his win and the fact he was able to keep Rosberg at arm’s length, Hamilton said: “When Nico turned up the heat I was able to react, which was good.
“Otherwise it was a phenomenal race for both of us. Nico drove really well and obviously Sebastian must have done a great job to be where he is.”
The concern for those chasing Hamilton and Mercedes is there is room for improvement as the 30-year-old remarked: “We definitely cannot back off because I’m sure people are going to be pushing.”
“Hopefully we’ll keep finding ways to improve. Just because we had that gap it doesn’t mean we’ll be cruising. There’s still a long way to go.”
It was Hamilton’s 34th career victory and his second in Australia, with Rosberg giving credit where it was due after being on the receiving end of a hiding over the weekend.
“Lewis did a fantastic job,” said Rosberg.
“He drove like a world champion all weekend so I couldn’t quite beat him, but for sure I was trying every single lap, all the way to the maximum, and I will do all year.”
A defiant Rosberg added: “I will give him a big run for his money and hopefully beat him.”
As for Vettel, he appears to have made the right decision in quitting Red Bull - the team that made him a four-time champion - for Ferrari.
“It feels great to be at Ferrari,” smiled Vettel.
“It’s a very, very big honour. I’m very happy. Obviously it’s a great start to the season for us.
“We had a very good winter, the team has worked phenomenally hard and we can be very proud.
“I said to the guys ‘thank you very much’. We have a great car, not only in qualifying but for the race as well.
“It’s great to join them (the Mercedes duo on the podium) and I’m really proud. There’s a lot of work ahead of us to try to beat them, but I’m sure we will.”
It was a race that began with just 15 cars on the grid, sparked by Manor’s absence after they failed to even turn a wheel all weekend due to their uphill battle against infrastructure problems.
Forty minutes prior to the start the field was reduced to 17 with the absence of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who failed to recover from a back injury sustained in qualifying.
Come the formation lap first McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen - standing in for the absent Fernando Alonso - pulled over with smoke pouring from his car before Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat ground to a halt via a gearbox issue.
Once the race started Lotus’ day was done inside a lap as Pastor Maldonado crashed out after being clipped by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr whilst Romain Grosjean retired with a power-unit problem.
By the chequered flag there were just 11 finishers as F1’s youngest driver in 17-year-old Max Verstappen also retired, whilst Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was forced to pull over after his second pit stop as his pit crew failed to fit the left-rear tyre correctly.
At least McLaren’s Jenson Button saw the chequered flag, albeit 11th and last, and two laps down on Hamilton, but claiming to be “happy” as progress had been made from a woeful pre-season.