By: Max Davies, F1 Correspondent
- Vettel happy but cautious with first win of the season
- Pirelli tyres lasted longer than expected
- Petrov the surprise of the day
- Serio Perez scores points during F1 debut
- Retirement for Schumacher and Rosberg
Defending champion takes opening race of 2011 season in style
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel opened his 2011 challenge in perfect style with an emphatic win in the Australian Grand Prix for Red Bull. The race itself, complete with the re-introduction of KERS, the debut of the DRS overtaking system and high-wearing Pirelli tyres, failed to produce the intended mixture of passing opportunities but heralded a new era of Formula One.
"It was not an easy race," said Vettel. "The start was crucial. I had a good getaway but didn't know if it was enough until I saw Lewis and Mark battling for position. On the first stint I trying to hold a gap and then at some point you reach a cliff and the tyres see some degradation.
"Lewis caught up and we came in. I could not have done more laps and after my stop it was crucial to get past Jenson, which I could do immediately so that was very, very important. After that the second part of the race I didn't know what was going on behind Lewis and with him dropping off in terms of amount of pressure I could control the situation a bit better.”
"I tried to keep saying to the team that we need to keep our feet on the floor," he continued. "We got a lot of points which is very important and we enjoyed ourselves, which is even more important. It is a long year and a lot of things can happen. The guys sitting next to me, plus Ferrari is always very strong, Mercedes did not have a great start but they will come back stronger than last year.”
"It will be very close but it is important to finish, so big, big compliments to the people back at the factory. The car was quick but also reliable and that is the key. It's the first time I have finished the Australian GP as well so I am very, very happy."
We got a lot of points which is very important and we enjoyed ourselves
When questioned about the effectiveness of the new rules package introduced for this year in a bid to enhance overtaking opportunities, the victor was full off praise and for the work Pirelli had undergone with their tyres.
“We have to make give compliments to Pirelli,” he declared. “After the tests we were all a bit scared and we came here and in the end we did not see as many stops as expected and all in all it was a smooth race. "The rear wing is very fresh. Turn 1 is not the best place for overtaking in the whole year, but it helps to come closer. So far it worked as expected and I can only judge what happened with me, not behind."
Lewis Hamilton finished an impressive second in the improved McLaren Mercedes despite a heavily damaged floor tray. Having started second on the grid, the 2008 world champion was delighted with the progress made by his team following a poor winter testing programme which initially looked to resign the team to a poor start to the year.
"I think we can definitely take this and be very proud of ourselves," Hamilton declared. "The guys did a great job coming into this weekend. A week or two ago we were not expecting to be anywhere near top five, to come away with second and the car more reliable, I think it is a great achievement for us guys. "We were clearly catching Seb [Vettel] earlier in the race. Strategy is one for sure we can work on but we have a good pace and I am looking forward to the next race."
Despite the damage to the underside of his car, Hamilton explained that caution was the order of the day ion the closing stages.
"The plank and the part of the floor is massively damaged," he said. "I don't know when it happened. I was losing quite a lot of downforce with that, so was trying to nurse the car home for points as we need them for later in the year."
Unquestionably, the drive of the day came from Renault’s Vitaly Petrov who transformed a strong start away from the grid, into a decent points score to claim a maiden podium finish. It was a welcome result for the under-fire Russian who was fortunate to be kept on by the team following a lackluster debut season in 2010.
I am happy to be here sitting with these guys
"I am happy to be here sitting with these guys," said Petrov after joining Vettel and Hamilton in the post race press conference. "All weekend was pretty good but after that we didn't know where we are. Coming here we had some new parts and from Friday practice our car looked very strong, and qualifying was not too bad. Then we focused on our race, and today did everything perfectly and we must be proud of our place today."
With the top three stopping twice for new rubber, tyre wear was an issue for all drivers but for Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, fourth and fifth for Ferrari and Red Bull respectively, an extra stop was required. For Alonso, the end result was a positive outcome after a poor start saw the double world champion drop to ninth at one point.
Sixth for McLaren, Jenson Button endured a tough race after being forced to take a drive through penalty for passing Felipe Massa illegally during an intense battle which saw the Ferrari driver holding up the 2009 world champion for over five laps.
"I got an okay start and I was surprised to see Petrov on the inside. He forced me wide and then I got stuck behind Massa," Button said. "And that was the worse move of the race, because he was so slow, and he's the most difficult person to overtake.”
"He blocked very well but it just slowed us down massively. Then I tried to overtake him I think at Turn 11 or 12 and he went so deep into the corner. He pushed me wide. I couldn't go around the corner anymore, so I cut it. I was in front before I entered the corner and then I didn't know what to do,“ Button explained.
"The team said 'stay where you are, we'll see what the stewards say', but as soon as Ferrari saw that happen they pitted Massa and as soon as that happens you get a drive-through.’I don't know if that was done on purpose or not, but I got a drive-through and I had to find my way through, which was quite fun but being that far back is very frustrating because the pace was much better than that."
The 2009 world champion was frustrated he was unable to capitalize on the benefits of McLaren’s KERS system.
"I just wish I could have got the best out of it, but Lewis did a good job today,” he declared. “Still it wasn't the perfect race for him, as he had a bit of an off and damaged the floor. Red Bull's pace is very good but it was nice to see that he could hold on."
Making a fine debut for Sauber, Sergio Perez claimed an impressive seventh, one place ahead of his team mate Kamui Kobasyashi. With tyre wear being questioned throughout the race build up and through practice and qualifying, both drivers bucked the trend of multiple pit stops by stopping for new rubber only once.
“I will never forget this race, that is certain,” a delighted Perez confirmed. “After we changed from the hard to the soft tyres, I thought at first I had to push. But then I realized I could manage the tyres quite well and we decided to go to the end with them. I am very proud of my team, the strategy worked and it was a nice surprise the tyres lasted so long. I want to thank everybody, especially in Mexico, who helped me to get into Formula One.“
Kobayashi confirmed that his race was aided by the collision that occurred between the Williams of Rubens Barrichello and the Mercedes GP of Nico Rosberg.
“I’m very happy we have managed to score points with both cars,” Kobayashi said. “I had a good start and got by Alonso, who overtook me later. With the first set of soft tyres I was struggling to warm them up. With the second set of the soft ones I think the pace was good, and also the third stint on the harder tyres was okay. I had a big moment when Rubens and Nico crashed in front of me, but no more excitement after that. It is a good start and makes me feel happy looking forward to the season.”
Massa failed to impress for Ferrari in ninth followed by the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi in tenth who collided with his team mate Jaime Alguersuari at the first turn just after the start.
"It's not too bad finishing tenth, after making it to Q3 yesterday, but maybe an eighth or ninth place was possible,” Buemi declared. “It's a shame that my team-mate and I made contact at the first corner. It's not the first time it has happened, so I think we will be having a chat about it after I've watched a recording of the incident! Towards the end, I was not able to hold off Massa, who was much quicker than me at that point, but I am still pleased with the result.”
It's a shame that my team-mate and I made contact at the first corner
Force India enjoyed a productive race despite failing to score any points with Adrian Sutil and rookie Paul Di Resta finishing in eleventh and twelfth respectively. Only team tactics during the middle of the race prevented Di Resta finishing ahead of his team mate after running as high as eighth at one point.
“We had good performance on the track and in the end it was a good race for the first one of the season,” said Sutil. “It is a shame that we were just outside the top ten, but we hope to have improved our pace and be in the points in Malaysia.
Di Resta was content with his debut performance after spending the first part of the race ahead of his team mate who was running a different strategy.
“Adrian and I were on different strategies and we had to fuel conserve toward the end that's why the gap opened up. I am going into Malaysia to try to do a better job than I did here today, but overall I am relatively happy.
Thirteenth went to Alguersuari in the Toro Rosso ahead of an un-impressive drive from Renault’s Nick Heidfeld. Jarno Trulli and Jerome D’Ambrosio were the last finishers for Team Lotus and Marussia Virgin.
Of the retirees, Michael Schumacher was perhaps the most high profile after a first lap skirmish saw the seven-time world champion pit with a right rear puncture and dropping to the back of the field.
"Well I had a good start, I made up quite a few positions I was already past Kobayashi," the seven-times Champion explained to reporters after retiring on Lap 22. "At the first corner everything got a bit tight and I had to slow down. As I turned into Turn 3, somebody knocked my right-rear. I don’t know why or who it was but the consequence was that I got a puncture and that destroyed the rear floor, breaking off bits and pieces around the tyre.”
"I’m pretty sure we had bent suspension because I had funny behavior, it wasn’t equal – so it was pretty entertaining for the laps I did and I think the team rightly decided for me to come in and not risk anything," the German said.
Team mate Nico Rosberg was eliminated following a do-or-die attempt to pass by Formula One’s most experienced driver Rubens Barrichello in the Williams. Coming from a long way back, the Brazilian veteran attempted to pass the German under braking into Turn 3 before running out of room and clouting the right hand side of the Mercedes.
A disappointing first weekend of the season
"It was a tough race for us," said Barrichello. "I was doing quite a lot of overtaking until the incident with Rosberg. I wasn't planning on overtaking him at that point, I was defending from Kobayashi. I think we have one tyre with grip and one with less and so we have different braking points. Rosberg braked earlier, and was already in the middle of the corner before I could stop the car.”
"That was a disappointing first weekend of the season,” a disgruntled Rosberg declared. “It was a tough race until my retirement with the cars behind me pushing hard. I saw Rubens in my mirror and he was quite far away so I was surprised that he hit me. I immediately thought that was it and I had to pull over to stop the car. It's very sad for the team as they have worked so hard this weekend and throughout the winter. However we focus on the positive and it will be interesting to see how we perform in Malaysia. Melbourne is a very unique track and we will only know where we really are after the next couple of races."