Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel kicked off his 2011 season with a perfect start by winning the Australian Grand Prix in his ‘Kinky Kylie’.
It was a comfortable victory for the German, his eleventh career Grand Prix win and Red Bull Racing’s first in Melbourne. Vettel’s victory was more than 20 seconds from Lewis Hamilton, underlining the speed advantage with the RB7.
The season-opening Australian Grand Prix proved intriguing but to be honest, did not deliver the level of drama many predicted especially with the new Drag Reduction System and the Pirelli tyres.
Lewis Hamilton finished in second position for McLaren despite a damaged underfloor, while the star of the race was Renault’s Vitaly Petrov. The Russian made the most of his excellent start and thanks to a clean, consistent driving Petrov achieved his maiden podium in third.
While the top trio made it to the finish on a two-stop strategy, the idea of stopping three times were consigned to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber. This gamble didn’t work out and the pair finished in fourth and fifth respectively.
For Alonso, he was able to recover following a bad start in which he was pushed down to ninth at Turn 1. As for Webber, the home crowd favourite, he was unable to match the pace compared to his team-mate and fifth was the result. Equalling his finishing position the Australian scored for Minardi in 2002 and for Williams in 2005.
As for Jenson Button, the McLaren driver was only sixth after being penalised with a drive-through penalty for an incident with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.
Vettel broke away from the 22-car field in the opening stages of the Australian Grand Prix, leading by three seconds after just two laps, with Hamilton and Webber holding second and third.
Petrov had made an excellent start to blast through to fourth, with Button and Alonso going wide at Turn 1 as they went three-abreast with the Renault, allowing Massa to slip ahead of Button and leaving Alonso right down in ninth by the time he got off the kerbs and grass.
Alonso made very swift progress past Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber and the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, and was soon catching Massa and Button – whose battle for fifth place was frantic. With his Drag Reduction System making little difference, Button tried all kinds of creative racing lines to get ahead the Ferrari, with no success until lap 10, when he went around the outside into the fast left-right Turn 11/12 at the end of the back straight, but had to take to the escape road and cut the second part of the corner to complete it.
That would lead to a drive-through penalty, while Alonso immediately pounced and passed his Ferrari team-mate into Turn 13 as the Brazilian regained momentum after his near-miss with Button.
Before he took his penalty, Button had a brief battle with Vettel, who had made a relatively early pit stop on lap 14 and emerged behind the McLaren. Hamilton had reduced the flying Red Bull lead down to 1.5 seconds by then, but staying out two laps later before his first tyre stop cost the McLaren time to the leader rather than being an advantage – as even after having to battle past Button around the outside of Turn 4, Vettel was 6.5 seconds clear of Hamilton once both were back up to speed.
That time gap rapidly grew to 12 seconds over the next stint – and the reason became clear when sparks started shooting out from under the McLaren, the front part of its floor having become detached and started rubbing on the ground. Aside from a trip over the Turn 1 grass, Hamilton did a remarkable job to keep his MP4-26 both on the road and near the lead pace – though his chances of pressuring Vettel were over and the German cruised to an ultimately comfortable victory in the RB7.
Webber was unable to keep up with the leading two and by half-distance was 26 seconds adrift and only just ahead of Petrov and Alonso. Both the Red Bull and Ferrari chose to make three pit stops, while Petrov – like Vettel and Hamilton – changed tyres just twice.
Alonso got ahead of Webber at the third stops, helped by the Red Bull running wide at Turn 3 on its out-lap. With Webber on the softer ‘Option’ tyres for the final stint, he was able to attack Alonso at first, before the Ferrari pulled out some breathing space. Both charged up behind Petrov in the final laps, but the Russian had just enough in hand to hold on and take a brilliant third. Fifth-placed Webber parked his Red Bull on the grass immediately after crossing the line.
Button fell to P12 following his penalty but recovered to sixth, finally making it past Massa again with 12 laps to the flag. The Ferrari then made a late tyre stop, leaving Massa ninth behind the Saubers.
Sergio Perez took an impressive seventh on his debut, having managed to get through the full race distance with just a single tyre change on lap 23. That left the Mexican not far adrift of Button, and clear of Sauber team-mate Kobayashi.
Sebastien Buemi took the remaining point for Toro Rosso, edging out the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta.
For Paul di Resta, to finish in his maiden Grand Prix in P12 was a solid performance from the DTM champion. His drive was consistent and if he keeps this performance up, the Scot will be scoring championship points soon.
In fact, Paul di Resta was rewarded his first championship point following the disqualification of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi over a technical infringement post-race. See comments below for further details.
Rubens Barrichello provided plenty of entertainment in the first half of the Grand Prix, as he recovered from a first-lap trip over the Turn 3 gravel and scorched through the field with a series of overtaking moves.
But a wild dive down the inside of Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes at Turn 3 on lap 23 was just too bold, and left Barrichello spinning, needing a new front wing and earning a drive-through penalty. Rosberg had to retire in a cloud of smoke, his cooling system seemingly damaged in the impact, while Barrichello eventually parked his car too.
His Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher sustained a puncture when hit by Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari on the first lap, and eventually retired due to the after-effects after 19 laps trailing around at the back. Alguersuari needed a new front wing and finished P13.
Petrov’s Renault team-mate Nick Heidfeld made little progress from his poor grid position and was only P14 ahead of final finishers Jarno Trulli in the Lotus and Virgin Racing’s Jerome D’Ambrosio. Timo Glock’s Virgin, Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus and Pastor Maldonado’s Williams all retired with mechanical issues.
It wasn’t a classic Australian Grand Prix despite the pre-season hype and the new rules introduced this season to make overtaking that bit easier. Still, it was a great result for the world champions Down Under. Can the others catch Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing in the next Grand Prix in Malaysia? Lewis Hamilton and McLaren hope so, in order to challenge for the world title.
Australian Grand Prix, 58 laps:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h29:30.259
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +22.297
3. Petrov Renault +30.560
4. Alonso Ferrari +31.772
5. Webber Red Bull-Renault +38.171
6. Button McLaren-Mercedes +54.300
7. Massa Ferrari +1:25.100
8. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
10. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
12. Heidfeld Renault +1 lap
13. Trulli Lotus-Renault +2 laps
14. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth +3 laps
DSQ. Perez Sauber-Ferrari +1:05.800*
DSQ. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +1:16.800*
*Disqualified from the Australian Grand Prix over a technical infringement. Rules: 3.10.1 and 3.10.2.
Fastest lap: Massa, 1:28.947
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 50 laps
Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 49 laps
Rosberg Mercedes 22 laps
Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 19 laps
Schumacher Mercedes 19 laps
Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 10 laps
Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1 lap
Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1 lap
World Championship standings, round 1:
1. Vettel 25
2. Hamilton 18
3. Petrov 15
4. Alonso 12
5. Webber 10
6. Button 8
7. Massa 6
8. Buemi 4
9. Sutil 2
10. di Resta 1
1. Red Bull-Renault 35
2. McLaren-Mercedes 26
3. Ferrari 18
4. Renault 15
5. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 4
6. Force India 3
Next race: Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang. April 8-10.