Michael Schumacher coasts to victory in Formula One opener

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Michael Schumacher admitted he was surprised by just how dominant Ferrari had been at the Australian Grand Prix after opening his campaign for a seventh world title with a commanding victory in Melbourne today.

The most successful driver in the history of the sport secured the 71st victory of his career by 13.6seconds from team-mate Rubens Barrichello.

It was the 16th occasion Schumacher and Barrichello have claimed a one-two placing since they came together at Ferrari in 2000 and was just the dominant display the pair had threatened all week.

Each repeatedly bettered the Albert Park lap record during free practice and qualifying and Schumacher's fastest lap today smashed the race record by over three and a half seconds.

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone had described Ferrari's practice form as "a disaster" for the sport and their display today made a mockery of claims that Schumacher will face more competition this year than in any other.

Spain's Fernando Alonso finished third for Renault, some 34.6secs behind Schumacher and 21secs behind Barrichello.

"I knew that we would be very, very competitive, I knew we would be very strong - but that strong I didn't anticipate," said Schumacher.

The German had the luxury of easing off on the engine in the closing stages with Barrichello suffering brake problems which limited his competitiveness.

Up until that point the Ferrari pair, although some distance clear of the field, had been engaged in an intriguing battle, but once Barrichello was forced to ease off, Schumacher's race became one long victory parade.

"It was tough in the first half of the race because, before he had some problems, Rubens was pushing me very, very hard and it was a close fight. I couldn't afford any mistakes and it was very exciting," said Schumacher.

"But we knew the cars were going well all weekend and the good thing for me is that I go home with two more points after this race than I had after the first three races last year.

"I don't think it is hard from my point of view to be motivated. I'm in the best team, I just love the sport and I just love fighting on the circuit."

Barrichello knew he could not keep pace with Schumacher, but he was equally comfortable in second as long as the car lasted the distance.

"We were doing some fantastic times but then I had some problems with my break pads going down, down, down; Michael opened up a bit of a gap and I just couldn't compete with him," he said.

Alonso made a blistering start, flying down the outside to leap from fifth to third on the outside of Juan Pablo Montoya, but that was the first and last real opportunity he had to pull a manoeuvre.

"For the first lap it was impossible to get past Rubens and I had no-one in the mirror. I just did 58 laps like that," said Alonso.

"I slowed a little bit because I had a 30-second gap with Rubens and a 30-second gap behind me. I slowed because there was no point in risking third place.

"Now to be on podium in front of Williams and McLaren is a bit of a surprise for us, but it was a tough race."

Montoya had gone wide on the first corner, hit the grass and dropped back to seventh, but he hit back to reel in first Jarno Trulli and then Jenson Button in the BAR.

Despite closing the gap on Ralf Schumacher, the Colombian had to settle for fifth, one spot behind his team-mate.

Button, racing in the BAR test car after damaging the chassis of his own in the last free practice session yesterday, had started from fourth on the grid and enjoyed what team principal David Richards described as a "solid" day to claim three points, his first at Albert Park.

"The aim was to get in the points so that was a satisfying result," said Button.

"I've never scored here before so we've got to be pleased with that."

Last year's winner, David Coulthard, could not repeat his performance of storming to victory from the sixth row and finished the race in eighth.

"We weren't quick enough in any of the sessions and a point is all we deserve," said the Scot, whose McLaren teammate Kimi Raikkonen retired after nine laps.

"At some points we have the pace, but it's not there on the first lap and we're not consistent so it makes it very difficult to drive."