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Vettel in total control in season opener in Melbourne

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Vettel in total control in season opener in Melbourne
Mar 27, 2011, 9:16 AM

Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne from pole position, leading home Lewis Hamilton and Vitaly Petrov, who became the first...

Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne from pole position, leading home Lewis Hamilton and Vitaly Petrov, who became the first Russian to stand on the podium in only his 20th Grand Prix start.

It was an eventful, if not spectacular race. There was plenty of overtaking, not much of it due to the new adjustable rear wing, but rather to good driving and different levels of grip from the tyres from car to car.

The weather was the best of the weekend, sunny with track temperatures of 27 degrees at the start of the race.

At the start Vettel held his position, Hamilton battled with Webber and held his second place. Behind them Vitaly Petrov went from 6th to 4th in the Renault, while Felipe Massa had a great start, moving from 8th to 5th and ahead of Alonso in the process. Alonso dropped down to 8th but started moving back through the field, passing Rosberg and by lap 6 was up to 7th place.

Michael Schumacher got a puncture and had to pit, dropping him to the back of the field.

There was no sign of Webber using any kind of KERS at the start although the system was armed.

Button was all over Felipe Massa in the early stages and tried to pass him on the pit straight using the adjustable rear wing. Massa was told that his brakes were getting too hot. As Massa held Button up, Alonso joined them.

Button used an escape road to pass Massa and was unable to give the place back as Alonso had passed Massa straight after.

Meanwhile on lap 10 Hamilton was closing down on Vettel, and he had the tactical advantage of being able to pit first.

Webber's tyres started going off on lap 11, his pace dropping by two seconds a lap. He pitted first on lap 12, switching to hard tyres and rejoining in traffic behind Kobayashi.

Alonso pitted on lap 13, with Massa in a lap later. Both Ferraris went for soft tyres, as did Vettel on lap 15.

This meant Button had to serve a drive thru penalty for the illegal overtake. This added an extra 23 secs to his race time and then he had to make a stop for tyres straight after.

Hamilton pitted on lap 16, while Vettel set the fastest lap of the race to that point in a 1m 31s. He passed Button very determinedly, around the outside.

Vettel had doubled his lead through the first round of stops, Alonso was up to P5 behind his old friend Vitaly Petrov.

Several drivers tried the adjustable rear wing on the pit straight, but without it making it lead to an overtake. Button managed it on Kobayashi on lap 26.

Rubens Barrichello scythed past Kobayashi for P9, then tried a very ambitious pass on Rosberg, leading to a collision. Rosberg's car was damaged in the radiator area. Barrichello was given a drive through penalty for the incident.

Schumacher had also retired from the race, making it a miserable start to the season for Mercedes.

In the second stint Webber had no pace on the hard tyres, he was a second a lap slower than the leaders and fell to 20 second behind by the time of his second stop on lap 27. He took soft tyres as did Alonso a lap later, both drivers clearly choosing a three stop strategy, where their rivals went for two stops. Alonso was much faster than Webber and started catching him at over a second a lap.

By half distance, Vettel was 9 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who had broken the undertray of the McLaren.

On lap 37 Vettel, Hamilton and Petrov all pitted for hard tyres that they would take to the end of the race. Petrov had a slow release.

On lap 40 Sergio Perez set the fastest lap to that time having only pitted once. Webber and Alonso the three stoppers were ahead of Petrov at this stage. Webber pitted on lap 41. He made a mistake on his out lap and when Alonso pitted a lap later, the Spaniard took the place. Petrov meanwhile moved back into 3rd place.

Webber and Alonso now went on the attack on new tyres, Webber on softs, Alonso on hards.

Button passed Massa for P6 on lap 48. Perez was lapping faster than the leader on lap 50 as he closed in on the back of Massa, despite the fact that the Mexican had only stopped once, a remarkable achievement. Massa had to pit with nine laps to go.

"The sun came out today and the car was perfect," said Vettel. "It was crucial to get past Jenson at the first stop, I was on new tyres, he was on old ones. I was able to control the gap to Lewis. I'm very happy. Compliments to Pirelli. I was giving them a hard time over winter, it looked quite frightening over winter but we did less stops (than expected)."

Vettel was coy on the use of the rumoured "start only" KERS. "I was pressing some buttons, yes," he said. There were no TV graphics of his start, but a replay of Webber's start showed that he did not use KERS, although it showed that the system was armed. Later Vettel said that the team had suffered some problems with KERS reliability through the weekend and that he wants them to get a reliable system they can use throughout the race as soon as possible. It seems that many teams have had problems with cooling the KERS batteries and many were not able to use it throughout the weekend.

Hamilton was delighted with second place. "Everyone says I have an aggressive driving style and today I was able to prove that's not the case, I looked after the tyres better than the guy next to me (Vettel)," said Hamilton.

Sauber's perfect Sunday was spoiled when the scrutineers found that their rear wing was not in conformity with the rules and they were excluded. They are appealing the decision. It meant that Paul di Resta got a point on his F1 debut, something his former team mate Vettel also managed.

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, Melbourne, 58 laps

1. Vettel Red Bull 1h29:30.259

2. Hamilton McLaren + 22.297

3. Petrov Renault + 30.560

4. Alonso Ferrari + 31.772

5. Webber Red Bull + 38.171

6. Button McLaren + 54.300

( 7. Perez Sauber + 1:05.800) *excluded

(8. Kobayashi Sauber + 1:16.800) * excluded

9. Massa Ferrari + 1:25.100

10. Buemi Toro Rosso + 1 lap

11. Sutil Force India + 1 lap

12. Di Resta Force India + 1 lap

13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso + 1 lap

14. Heidfeld Renault + 1 lap

15. Trulli Lotus + 2 laps

16. D'Ambrosio Virgin + 3 laps

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