MELBOURNE, Australia — Sebastian Vettel started off the 2011 season just as he ended 2010 with a dominant victory in his Red Bull Renault.
“I don’t really like the word dominant at this stage,” he said. “It is a long, long way to go. I am very happy because I think all of us, the whole team and myself, we had a lot of fun today and we won the Australian Grand Prix.”
There were more similarities. Lewis Hamilton again finished second in his McLaren Mercedes. And Vitaly Petrov in a Renault finished ahead of ahead of Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari. The difference this time around is that the latter two finished third and fourth rather than sixth and seventh. And so, for the first time in the history of Formula One World Championship, a Russian driver celebrated a podium finish.
Vettel sprayed champagne from the top step. He powered into the lead from pole position without the boost from a Kinetic Energy Recovery System as Red Bull was not confident enough in its KERS and thus neither driver used it.
Hamilton started second and Mark Webber third. Webber managed to pull alongside the McLaren but Hamilton held on to second place. Vettel controlled things perfectly out in front. The only time he really could have lost the race, other than making a silly mistake, happened just after his first pit stop.
“There was one crucial stage where after the first stop Sebastian emerged behind Jenson [Button] who was due for a drive through the pits penalty anyway,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner explained. “Tactically if they [Button and McLaren] could have held Sebastian up it would have put him behind Lewis at the stop. But Seb made a fast and fair move on Jenson, and that was decisive for the rest of the race.”
Webber’s woes and strategy and a brief slide off the track dropped him behind Petrov and Alonso.
Hamilton held onto second for most of the race and led the three laps that Vettel did not. It was a stunning performance for a McLaren that was slow in preseason testing and had a broken undertray in the race.
Petrov jumped from sixth to fourth at the start, and then took third from Webber during the course of the pit stops. Button ended up sixth after serving his drive through the pits penalty for going off the track when he passed Felipe Massa.