Germany's Nico Rosberg led from start to finish to win an eventful season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Photo by: Brandon Malone/Reuters

Melbourne – Germany's Nico Rosberg led from start to finish to win an eventful season-opening Australian Grand Prix as world champion Sebastian Vettel and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton were both early casualties.

Mercedes' Rosberg beat Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who placed second in his first drive for Red Bull, with McLaren debutant Kevin Magnussen impressively taking third in an exhilarating race in Melbourne.

However, Ricciardo's joy was short lived and he was later stripped of his first F1 podium finish after his car was found to have broken fuel regulations, the governing FIA said. The decision meant Magnussen moved up from third to second, with team mate Jenson Button taking third place.

But there was no joy for Vettel, the four-time defending world champion, and Mercedes' Hamilton who both dropped out early with mechanical problems.

At the start, Rosberg swept to the front from third on the grid and he safely held Ricciardo at bay by 24.5 seconds to give Mercedes, who are already looking dominant, the first win of the season.

It was Rosberg's fourth GP win and his first since Silverstone last year.

But while Mercedes were celebrating Rosberg's triumph, they lost Hamilton on the fourth lap with mechanical problems. Vettel also went out early, his first retirement since last year's British GP.

McLaren's Jenson Button was third (after finishing fourth) with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso fourth and Valtteri Bottas fifth for Williams.

Fourteen cars of the 22 finished the race, which had its hair-raising moments on the opening lap.

Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi came off together at the first bend and were out of the race, while Vettel struck trouble at the rear of the field.

Stewards said they would be launching an investigation into the Massa-Kobayashi collision.

The Mercedes team told Hamilton he needed to retire on the second lap, but quickly amended the message to “stay out” on the track.

But Hamilton only lasted another lap before he came into the pits and his under-powered car was taken into the team garage.

Vettel followed Hamilton out of the race, retiring on lap six with mechanical problems.

Finland's Bottas scraped the wall and lost his right rear wheel on the 10th lap and forced the safety car out on to the track.

Bottas pitted for new tyres and rejoined the race and finished sixth (later promoted to fifth). – Sapa-AFP