Formula One: Hamilton edges teammate Rosberg to win Australian GP

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton fought off teammate Nico Rosberg to give Mercedes a dominant victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.

Reigning world champion Hamilton held the upper hand with his faster Mercedes car to beat last year's race winner Rosberg by 1.3 seconds.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, in his first race drive for Ferrari since switching from Red Bull, finished on the podium in third place just ahead of Felipe Massa in a Williams.

It was all-conquering Mercedes' eighth straight victory, with their last defeat coming in Belgium last August to Australian Daniel Ricciardo driving a Red Bull, and the 20th race in a row with at least one driver on the podium.

Hamilton, 30, has won seven of the last eight GPs though this was his first in Australia since 2008. It was Hamilton's 34th win in his 149th GP.

Brazilian Felipe Nasr finished a plucky fifth ahead of home favourite Ricciardo in a boost to his Sauber team, entangled for much of the week in a distracting legal battle over their driver lineup.

With the withdrawal of Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat and McLaren's Kevin Magnussen in the reconnaissance lap only 15 cars started the race, which represented the lowest number of starters for a season-opening race since 1963.

Hamilton got away quickly off the pole and was first into the right-hand hairpin but Pastor Maldonado in his Lotus was sideswiped into the barriers and crashed out of the race as the safety car came onto the track on the opening lap.

Hamilton opened a stunning 2.4sec gap over teammate Rosberg by the end of the first racing lap.

But Rosberg put in some fastest laps to reduce the gap to 1.2secs behind Hamilton after 10 laps with Massa and Vettel eight to nine seconds adrift.

At one-third distance, Hamilton led Rosberg by 2.4sec, with Massa 1.5sec clear of Vettel in the battle to join the Mercedes on the podium.

Both Mercedes cars had a one-stop strategy but Rosberg got the faster pit stop by 2.9sec but

Hamilton was able to retake the lead with ease in the race to the chequered flag. Vettel extended his lead over Massa to more than four seconds after jumping him during the pitstops.

Dutch teenager Max Verstappen's race came to end on the 34th lap with his Toro Rosso had a power unit failure and came to a halt on the grass.

Verstappen, at 17 years and 166 days, became the youngest ever driver to compete in an F1 race.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen retired on his out-lap on lap 42 after his second pit stop.

Replays showed one of his team's mechanics on the left-rear corner of the car waving as Raikkonen left the pits, indicating that the wheel was not properly attached.

It was a morale-boosting podium finish by Vettel for Ferrari, who were a well-beaten fourth behind Mercedes in last season's constructors' championship.

Ricciardo, bidding to become the first Australian in 35 years to win his home GP, could not run down Sauber's Nasr for much of the second half of the race in a sign of the problems former constructors champions Red Bull are having with their Renault engines.

Three-time race winner Jenson Button battled on with his misfiring McLaren to finish in last place as only 11 cars were left at the finish.