Australian Grand Prix 2011: Vettel storms to victory
Red Bull driver seals crushing victory as Renault's Vitaly Petrov secures his first podium finish
World champion Sebastian Vettel cruised to victory at the Australian Grand Prix to get his title defence off to the perfect start in Melbourne.
The Red Bull driver, who had dominated the weekend, led from pole and opened up a comfortable lead over McLaren rival Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap at the season’s curtain-raiser Down Under.
Vettel’s margin of victory was 22 seconds to Hamilton, who had earlier damaged his car in running wide at turn one.
“I’m very pleased, it was a very good weekend and I had a very nice car to sit in this afternoon,” Vettel said.
“It was a good race-towards the end things calmed down a bit. Lewis didn’t push as hard, so we tried to control the last part of the race. I don’t think it was easy today.
“The start was crucial and being on the clean side I had a very good getaway.
“I got a cushion on lap one and we tried to hold the gap for the first stint. When the tyres went off, Lewis caught up and we came in. I think it was the right time, as I couldn’t have done more laps.
“After my first stop it was crucial to get past Jenson, which I did. That was important. In the second part of the race I didn’t know what was going on behind Lewis, if he was under pressure or not, but towards the end of the race I could control it more.”
The 23-year-old added: “We learned a lot of things today. It’s good coming here after a long winter and setting the pace.”
Hamilton was able to keep within sight of Vettel despite a problem with a detached undertray, and second place is a huge boost for the McLaren driver and his Woking-based team after their pre-season problems which forced an unscheduled upgrade to the car for the first race.
Vitaly Petrov showed Renault that he can lead a team as he secured a surprising third place to become the first Russian driver to finish on the podium in just his 20th race.
It marks the highlight of an excellent weekend for the 26-year-old following his best qualifying performance and an excellent getaway at the start of the race to move up to fourth.
While there was little action at the front, a combination of pit stops and tyre wear made for some exciting racing and Petrov was able to jump Red Bull’s Mark Webber with a two-stop strategy to move up to third.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was the highest-placed three-stopper, but a poor start which saw him drop back four places on the opening lap meant he was always trailing his championship rivals.
The Spaniard stayed out one lap longer before his final pit stop which saw him jump Webber for fourth, but there was no real effort to challenge Petrov for third.
Webber’s run of underperforming in his home race continued as a decision to switch to hard tyres at his first pit stop failed to pay off.
He was jumped by both Petrov and Alonso, however the Australian settled for fifth place, equalling his best finish in Melbourne.
McLaren’s Jenson Button, who started fourth on the grid, received a drive-through penalty for cutting Turn 12 as Felipe Massa pitted preventing Button from giving the place back.
Button was another of the two-stop drivers, with some excellent use of the drag reduction system to get past Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, before securing sixth place.
Sauber rookie Sergio Perez had the race of his life on a one-stop strategy, with his soft tyres lasting 35 laps after changing from the hard to soft compound on lap 23.
The young Mexican, making his F1 debut finished the race in a superb seventh place ahead of team-mate Kobayashi as Sauber once again showed they have made progress in 2011.
“I will never forget this race, that is certain,” Perez said. “After we changed from the hard to the soft tyres, I thought at first I had to push. But then I realised I could manage the tyres quite well and we decided to go to the end with them.
“I lost some time behind Sebastian Vettel, but I was then able to overtake him. I used the rear wing and he also left room. I am very proud of my team, the strategy worked and it was a nice surprise the tyres lasted so long.”
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa also had a disappointing afternoon and could only manage ninth ahead of Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi who survived a collision with team-mate Jaime Alguersuari.