• Australian Grand Prix

Assured Vettel lays down his marker

Chris Medland
March 27, 2011

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix with a comfortable lights-to-flag victory in Melbourne. He led home Lewis Hamilton, who took a solid second place, while an excellent drive from Vitaly Petrov secured third. Petrov was just 1.5 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso, with Mark Webber fifth having lost out to Alonso in the final round of pit stops.

Jenson Button came home sixth, an impressive recovery after a drive-through penalty. The Sauber's finished seventh and eighth on the track but were later disqualified after a technical infringement on the rear wing. Sergio Perez delivered an outstanding debut performance on a one-stop strategy, but it will not be recorded in the history books and nor will Kamui Kobayashi's eighth place.

As a result Felipe Massa was promoted to seventh after a difficult weekend and Sebastien Buemi was ninth. Force India filled the final two points positions in ninth and tenth place, with Paul di Resta taking a point on his debut behind Adrian Sutil.

The 2010 world champion got off the line cleanly and pulled clear in the opening laps, until Hamilton began to match his lap times and closed to within two seconds by the time Vettel made his first pit stop. The drop off in tyre performance was clear though, and when Hamilton pitted two laps later he returned to the track five seconds behind. Crucial to Vettel's charge was a pass around the outside of Button in turn four, who had yet to pit but had the potential to ruin Red Bull's afternoon.

From that point Vettel pulled away, opening up a comfortable 12 second lead and managing the gap to the end of the race with a performance made all the more impressive following Christian Horner's post-race admission that Red Bull had not run KERS all weekend. Hamilton was unable to mount any serious challenge, hampered by what he described as a "massively damaged" undertray that rubbed along the floor and could prove costly if it has caused his plank to wear away below the required amount.

Behind the front two, Petrov drove a composed two-stop race to seal his maiden podium, with the three-stopping Alonso taking fourth place from Webber after managing to get ahead after the final round of pit stops. With Webber on soft tyres to Alonso's hard compound, the Australian was soon on the back of the Ferrari, but he slowly dropped away and brought his car to a halt just yards after crossing the finish line.

Button was caught behind Massa in the early stages and struggled to pass, eventually trying to go round the outside of turn 11 but running wide and cutting turn 12 to take the position. With Massa soon pitting, Button was handed a drive-through penalty despite protesting that he was already ahead going in to the corner, but recovered to take an impressive sixth, re-passing Massa in the process. Massa eventually finished seventh after a late pit stop, making use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) to get past Buemi in to turn one.

With Vettel getting away at the start, the early action was further back as Alonso got shuffled backwards on the outside of turn one and Petrov made a strong start up to fourth. In the midfield, Michael Schumacher was tapped by Jaime Alguersuari and received a right rear puncture, along with some further suspension damage that would eventually force him to retire.

Rubens Barrichello ran wide on the opening lap at turn three, and as he tried to fight his way back through the pack he attempted an overambitious move on Nico Rosberg, making contact with the side of the Mercedes and spinning. Rosberg was forced out of the race soon after with crash damage on a bad day for the team, while Barrichello also dropped out later in the race.

The Pirelli tyres held up surprisingly well, seeing the front runners complete only two stops during the race, while the DRS did see some moves take place in to turn one, but didn't appear to create the speed differential expected.