Vettel Opens Formula One Title Defense With ‘Faultless’ Win in Australia
Sebastian Vettel began his Formula One world championship defense where he left off last season by leading all the way from a pole-position start.
Vettel got away cleanly in his Red Bull at the start of yesterday’s Australian Grand Prix and finished 22.2 seconds ahead of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton for his first victory in Melbourne. Vitaly Petrov of Lotus Renault sealed the first podium place of his career in third.
Vettel, 23, who last year became the youngest driver to take the title with a pole-to-flag triumph in Abu Dhabi, secured his 11th career victory to become the first defending champion to start the season with a win since Fernando Alonso at the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix.
“Sebastian’s been dominant all weekend and to turn up and win the first race with a faultless drive was fantastic,” Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner said in a statement. “To have book-ended the two championships by winning the last race in Abu Dhabi and the first race here is a fantastic achievement.”
Vettel, who hadn’t managed to score a point in his previous three starts in Melbourne, took pole position after recording the fastest-ever lap around the 5.3-kilometer (3.2-mile) Albert Park circuit of 1 minute 23.529 seconds. Hamilton was almost eight tenths of a second slower in qualifying second.
‘Very Good Race’
“I try to keep saying to the team that we have to keep our feet on the floor,” Vettel said in a televised post-race news conference. “It was a very good race. A lot of points and I think we enjoyed ourselves, which is even more important. But it is a long year, a lot of things can happen.”
Ferrari’s Alonso finished fourth, ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, who was again unable to finish higher than fifth in his home race.
Jenson Button, seeking a third straight win in Melbourne, was sixth in the second McLaren after being penalized for an illegal passing move. Sauber’s Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi ran seventh and eighth though were later disqualified by the race stewards for technical infringements on their cars.
Michael Schumacher was among six of 22 drivers to retire from the 58-lap race. The seven-time champion quit on lap 23 as a precaution after a puncture and damage to the floor of the car.
Vettel, who said before the weekend that he’s targeting Schumacher’s record tally of titles, pulled clear at the start and built a 2.6-second lead by the end of lap one. He made two pit-stops and ran most of the race on his own out front.
“The car was quick from the first moment on, which we know now, but also very reliable,” Vettel said. “That is the key. It is the first time I have finished the Australian Grand Prix as well, so I am really, really happy.”
The other drivers were left fighting out the minor podium positions. Petrov, who started from sixth place on the grid, held off two-time world champion Alonso to secure his first top- three finish in 20 starts.
“I’m delighted to be on the podium, especially after the winter that we had as a team, which was very tough,” said Petrov, whose teammate Robert Kubica is out for the season after being seriously injured in an offseason rally crash. “Even during testing we didn’t really know where we were compared with the others, but we continued adding new parts to the car this weekend and they worked pretty well.”
Hamilton, who won the series in 2008, guided his McLaren across the finish line in second place even after being warned via radio that his car was damaged. Teammate Button had to make a drive-through penalty after using a slip road to pass Massa early in the race.
“A week or two ago we were not expecting to be anywhere near the top five,” Hamilton said. “Generally we’ve got good pace and I’m looking forward to the next race. At the end I was trying to nurse the car home and bring in those points.”
With teams focusing on tire strategy and management after new supplier Pirelli & C. SpA designed its tires to degrade more quickly than its Bridgestone predecessor, most of the field made two stops. Alonso and Webber used three-stop strategies, while Mexican rookie Perez stopped once on his way to seventh place before his disqualification.
Nico Rosberg in the other Mercedes retired after a collision with Williams’s Rubens Barrichello, whose teammate Pastor Maldonado was the first to quit. Virgin’s Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen of Lotus Renault also didn’t finish.
The original season-opening race, due in Bahrain on March 13, was postponed because of civil disorder. The next race is scheduled April 10 in Malaysia.
“We learned a lot of things,” Vettel added. “It’s good coming here after a long winter and setting the pace.”
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