Sebastian Vettel begins defence with flawless win in Melbourne
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel made an ideal start to his Formula 1 title defence, driving a flawless race to outpace McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and win the season- opening Australian Grand Prix yesterday.
Starting from pole position, Vettel kept his lead off the start, sped away and was never threatened. "The car was quick but also reliable and that is the key," said Vettel. "It's the first time I have finished the Australian GP as well, so I am very, very happy."
Hamilton's chances of launching a pursuit were hampered by a damaged floor on his car and he had to settle for second, 22 seconds behind the German.
Renault's Vitaly Petrov was third, claiming his first podium finish with a strong drive. "To be honest I can't believe I'm sitting with these guys," Petrov said at the post-race media conference.
Vettel, who drove a two-stop strategy on the new Pirelli tires, made his first pit to change to fresh rubber on the 14th lap, emerging in third ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button. Vettel was back in the lead after Hamilton and Petrov pitted two laps later, and he retained a comfortable buffer from then on.
"With Lewis dropping off later in the race, there was no pressure, so I was able to control it," Vettel said.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso finished fourth, while Australian Mark Webber was fifth, as both used three-stop strategies - one more than the podium finishers.
"Here at Albert Park it seems I have a season ticket for fourth place," Alonso said. "It's the third time in four years I've finished the race in this position."
Button was sixth, falling short in his bid to win the race for a third straight year. He had to do a drive-through penalty after using a slip road to pass Ferrari's Felipe Massa after a dogfight between the pair in the early part of the race, and that cost him a shot at third.
"I tried to overtake him around the outside of turn 11. I was in front before we turned in, but he went really deep into the corner and pushed me wide so that I couldn't take my normal line," Button said.
"After my drive-through penalty I had to fight my way back, which was fun but also frustrating."
• Paul Di Resta hails point on F1 debut as a 'mega result'
Mexican rookie Sergio Perez's debut was spoiled when he and teammate Kamui Kobayashi were disqualified after post-race scrutineering found their Sauber cars breached technical regulations.
Race stewards found the Saubers breached articles 3.10.1 and 3.10.2 relating to the shape and curvature of the cars' wings.
Sauber announced its intention to appeal that decision to the FIA, motor sport's governing body.
Perez had finished an impressive seventh in his first grand prix after pitting just once, while Kobayashi had come eighth.
Their exclusion moved Massa to seventh place - lifting Ferrari above Renault in the teams' standings - Toro Rosso's Sebastian Buemi to eighth, while Adrian Sutil and Scotland's Paul Di Resta of Force India - who enjoyed a solid debut race - found themselves in the points at ninth and tenth.
There were mixed emotions in the Red Bull garage, with Vettel's euphoria offset by Webber's ongoing failure to show his best at his home race. It is the third time he has finished fifth, never improving on the remarkable performance in the struggling Minardi car at his first attempt in 2002.
"I wish it was already tomorrow, it was frustrating," Webber said. "I wanted to get more out of it and we could have got more out of it."
It was a bad day for the Mercedes team, with both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg forced to retire.
"I had a good start, made up quite a few positions, then had a good run into turn three, but as I turned in someone (Jaime Alguersuari] knocked on to my right rear," Schumacher said. "The consequence was I had a puncture which destroyed the right tyre, and driving back to the pits basically destroyed the right floor. In the end the team decided for safety it wasn't worth staying out."
Hamilton also damaged the floor of his car when he went wide on turn one of his 32nd lap. He continued on even though he said after the race the floor was "massively damaged" and occasionally touching the ground.
"When it touches the ground it stalls the underneath of the car and disturbs a lot of the flow," he said. "I was having some oversteer moments, some stalling through corners and underbraking particularly."It was a creditable performance by McLaren, who were expected to be off the pace early in the season after a difficult offseason. "We can take this and be very proud of ourselves," Hamilton said. "A week or two ago we weren't expecting to be anywhere near the top five, so to come to second is a great achievement."
Petrov's performance was impressive and would give a boost to a Renault team who lost number one driver Robert Kubica to injury after a rally crash during the offseason.
"In the race the team did everything perfectly," Petrov said. "We can be very proud of what we have achieved."
Rosberg was forced to retire shortly after colliding with Williams' Rubens Barrichello on the 24th lap. Barrichello was handed a drive-through penalty for causing the crash.
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