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REINING Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) got his title defence off to a perfect start by winning the opening race of this season at a canter.

The German won the 58-lap Australian Grand Prix, held at Albert Park in Melbourne, in a time of 1:29:30.259 at an average speed of 128.119-mph. Vettel led all but two laps of the race, which were led by second placed Lewis Hamilton (McLaren). Renault’s Vitaly Petrov became the first Russian ever to score a podium finish at a Grand Prix by coming home in third, and for the second race in a row managed to hold off Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who finished just behind him in fourth. It really does make you think what might have been for Renault had Robert Kubica not nearly killed himself rallying earlier in the year doesn’t it?

Alonso’s Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa set the fastest lap of the race on lap 55 with a 1:28.947 (133.360-mph) tour.

Before the race started, all the drivers held a minute’s silence in memory of all those who lost their lives in the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

When the race (and the season) finally got underway, Vettel shot off into the lead. Mark Webber (Red Bull) also got off to a cracking start in his home race pulling ahead of Hamilton, but couldn’t hold the position because the Englishman had the inside line into Turn 1.

HERE WE GO!

Petrov also had a storming start and forced himself past Massa’s Ferrari at Turn 3. Further action took place at this point in the race, most notably Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) and Jamie Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) coming together and damaging each other’s cars, while Rubens Barrichello (Williams) took a trip into the gravel trap. Meanwhile Jenson Button (McLaren) was swarming all over the back of Massa and only just failed to pass the Brazilian around the outside of Turn 11.

Button continued to try and pass Massa, but even with the Draft Reduction System (DRS) he just couldn’t get by. To make matters worse for the 2009 world champion, the 2005 and 2006 world champion (and Massa’s team-mate), Fernando Alonso, was getting closer and closer with every passing lap.

Things came to a head on lap 11 at Turn 11. Button had succeeded in pulling alongside Massa around the outside of the corner, but had to win the position by diving onto the escape road. Button had to let Massa through, but he had slowed down so as his team-mate could get by. This now meant Button had to let both Ferrari’s pass him. This didn’t happen for one reason or another and the winner of the last two Aussie Grand Prixs was hit with a Drive-Through Penalty for cutting the course a few laps latter.

Elsewhere on the track both Red Bulls had pitted before Hamilton, but the status quo of the race was re-established after the 2008 world champion pitted.

Barrichello’s poor weekend got even worse on lap 23 when he dived up the inside of Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) at Turn 3 and hit him. Barrichello spun but kept going, but Rosberg ended up joining his team-mate Schumacher in the Mercedes garage. Not a fantastic first race of 2011 for Mercedes I must say.

This collision helped Button gain a couple of places and by the end of lap 24 he was right up behind Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber. The McLaren driver made full use of his DRS and passed Kobayashi up the inside at Turn 1.

Eight laps later, while still well in the lead, Vettel told his Red Bull pit crew that the: “Tyres [are] starting to go off.” He pitted at the end of the lap and exited still in the lead. Second-placed Hamilton also pitted, who was having to drive carefully because the bargeboard on his McLaren had come loose and was in danger of coming off.

Webber pitted again at the end of lap 41 and released Alonso into clear air and third place. Webber knew he needed to put in a fast out-lap in order to re-pass Alonso in the pits, but slid onto the Astroturf at Turn 3 and lost time. When Alonso rejoined the track from the pits at the end of the next lap he was in fourth place behind Petrov’s Renault but ahead of Webber’s Red Bull. This is how these three would finish.

The race continued without much incident meaning that at the end of lap 58, Vettel took the checkered flag for the 11th time in his career and for the third time in as many races (the first time this has been achieved since Button did it in 2009). This was also Red Bull’s first Australian Grand Prix win.

Get used to the view Vitaly; I sense there may be many more podiums to come.

When the second (fifth placed) Red Bull of Mark Webber crossed the finish-line it was immediately parked. I still don’t know why. Jenson Button finished sixth.

The two Saubers of debutant Sergio Pérez and Kamui Kobayashi came home in seventh and eighth place respectively the team was delighted. The further fact that Pérez only stopped once for tyres and was fast enough to finish seventh must mean we have a driver with a great deal of potential on our hands again. Unfortunately Sauber’s celebrations didn’t last long. Both cars were disqualified because of a very slight technical infringement to do with the uppermost part of the rear wing. This elevated Massa to seventh, Sébastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) to eighth, and the Force India’s of Adrian Sutil and Scotland’s Paul di Resta to ninth and tenth respectively. This isn’t how di Resta probably would’ve imagined scoring a point on his F1 debut, but that is how it goes sometimes.

All in all, I was impressed with the surprising pace of the McLarens, horrified by the speed of Vettel, and very happy for Vitaly Petrov. Next stop is Malaysia and its always unpredictable climate.

Sorry this is so late, but I’ve been working on other things lately and this had to wait.

DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP – After 1/19 Races.

Pos

Driver

Constructor(s)

Points

Gap From 1st

1

Sebastian VETTEL (GER)

Red Bull

25

2

Lewis HAMILTON (ENG)

McLaren

18

7

3

Vitaly PETROV (RUS)

Renault

15

10

4

Fernando ALONSO (ESP)

Ferrari

12

13

5

Mark WEBBER (AUS)

Red Bull

10

15

6

Jenson BUTTON (ENG)

McLaren

8

17

7

Felipe MASSA (BRA)

Ferrari

6

19

8

Sébastien BUEMI (SUI)

Toro Rosso

4

21

9

Adrian Sutil (GER)

Force India

2

23

10

Paul DI RESTA (SCO)

Force India

1

24

 

CONSTRUCTORS’ CHAMPIONSHIP – After 1/19 Races.

Pos

Constructor

Engine

Points

Gap From 1st

1 

RED BULL (AUT)

Renault

35

2

MCLAREN (ENG)

Mercedes

26

9

3

FERRARI (ITA)

Ferrari

18

17

4

RENAULT (ENG)

Renault

15

20

5

TORO ROSSO (ITA)

Ferrari

4

31

6

FORCE INDIA (IND)

Mercedes

3

32

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