Vettel untroubled in Australian victory
Sunday 27 March 2011
Sebastian Vettel started the new Formula One season as he finished last year, with a crushing victory.
It was the drive of a world champion as the sport's youngest title holder did not put a wheel out of place before taking the chequered flag at the Australian Grand Prix.
Unlike last year at Melbourne's Albert Park when Vettel was forced to retire whilst in the lead and after starting from pole, on this occasion nothing untoward barred his path to success.
From the moment the five red lights disappeared to finally raise the curtain on the new campaign, the 23-year-old German was never troubled.
Vettel's margin of victory was a yawning 22 seconds to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who had earlier damaged his car in running wide at turn one.
In only his second season with Renault, Vitaly Petrov finished on the podium for the first time in his F1 career.
On three-stop strategies, Fernando Alonso was fourth for Ferrari, followed by Mark Webber in his Red Bull, the Australian on home turf again unable to finish any higher than fifth, this being his third occasion, with Jenson Button sixth in his McLaren.
Post-qualifying, when Vettel had blitzed the field to take pole ahead of Hamilton by almost 0.8secs, and in the build-up to this race, a considerable amount of discussion had centred on why Red Bull did not use the KERS power-boost system yesterday.
That was one of the startling facts about Vettel's lap because if he had deployed KERS he would have finished a staggering second clear of Hamilton.
The suggestion was that Red Bull were using a 'start-only' KERS, a claim dismissed out of hand by FIA race director Charlie Whiting who said it was "a ridiculous story".
That then switched attention to whether any issue meant Red Bull would not use KERS at all in the race, or whether yesterday was all a smokescreen.
Vettel certainly showed no signs of loss of power at the start as he made one of the best of his career, leaving Hamilton trailing.
Instead, it was Hamilton who was forced to fend off a charge from Webber going into turn one.
Once the Briton safely kept his nose ahead of the Australian, it was a simple run to the finish for the duo, bar Hamilton's error late on that damaged the undertray of his car.
Behind, however, was a different story, in particular for Button who dropped from fourth to sixth by the second corner as he found himself baulked through the first two turns.
The same went for Alonso, with Petrov and Felipe Massa the main beneficiaries as they moved up to fourth and fifth behind the leading trio.
Over the following laps Button then endured a battle royale with Massa, pulling alongside the Brazilian on a number of occasions down the start-finish straight as he deployed the new overtaking device for 2011, the adjustable rear wing.
But with the straight here a short one, Button never managed to quite get his nose in front, although he believed he did at one stage on lap 11 as the duo approached turn 11.
With nowhere to go, the 2009 world champion cut the corner, but did not cede back the place.
That incurred the wrath of the stewards who handed him a drive-through penalty, guaranteeing no third successive win at this track.
Button did gain a measure of revenge on lap 49 when he again came up behind Massa into turn one, making the move stick to grab his sixth place.
His earlier indiscretion, however, potentially cost him a podium place as Petrov finished 24 seconds clear.
Rubens Barrichello was another handed a drive-through penalty for causing a collision, rightly so as he attempted a ridiculous move up the inside of Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes.
Rosberg retired within a lap with engine failure, seemingly caused by the collision, leaving glum faces all round within Mercedes as Michael Schumacher had retired three laps earlier.
The seven-time champion had endured a bitter start to the race as he was forced to pit at the end of lap one due to a puncture after being caught from behind.
As for Barrichello he retired much later in the race, following in the footsteps of rookie team-mate Pastor Maldonado who had a debut to forget as he was the first to exit.
Behind Button, Sauber's rookie Sergio Perez produced the drive of the race to claim seventh.
The Mexican stopped just once to confound critics of the new Pirelli tyres as many had expected a multiple-stop grand prix.
Perez's team-mate Kamui Kobayashi was eighth, followed by Massa in ninth and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi 10th, with Paul di Resta on his F1 debut with Force India 12th behind team-mate Adrian Sutil.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner revealed after the race his team did not use KERS all weekend due to technical issues, underlining the depth and ease of Vettel's victory.
Following his 11th career triumph, Vettel said: "It was a good race.
"In the end things calmed down, Lewis didn't push, but it was not an easy race.
"The start was crucial, I was on the clean side, but didn't know if it was enough until we got through the first corner.
"With Lewis dropping off later in the race, there was no pressure, so I was able to control it."
Assessing the season ahead, Vettel added: "It's a long season, so we have to keep on doing what we are doing now, enjoying, but working hard."
Given McLaren's pre-season woes, Hamilton was naturally delighted with his runner-up spot as he said: "We can take this and be very proud of ourselves.
"A week or two ago we weren't expecting to be in the top five, so to come to second is a great achievement."
Describing the achievement in getting his car to the finish, Hamilton added: "The plank and part of the floor are massively damaged.
"I was losing quite a lot of downforce, so I just tried to nurse the car home and get the points."
Petrov was arguably the happiest of the podium trio, admitting: "To be honest I can't believe I'm sitting with these guys.
"We didn't know where we were coming into the season, but in practice and qualifying we were good.
"In the race the team did everything perfectly. We can be very proud of what we have achieved."
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