Vettel dominant in Melbourne

Vettel dominant in Melbourne

German takes first Australian Grand Prix title in style as others play catch-up

German Vettel blasted off the grid in bright Melbourne sunshine and never looked troubled over the 58 laps as he notched up his 11th career victory and third in a row going back to last season by a formidable 22.2 seconds from Hamilton.

“Thank you boys, fantastic race. Really controlled, thank you very much. Very cool. Excellent car, excellent stops. We learned a lot today,” the 23-year-old said on his team radio after crossing the line.

Hamilton said it was a “great achievement” that his team had given him a car good enough for second place after McLaren’s troubles in pre-season testing but his joy was eclipsed by that of Vitaly Petrov, who grabbed third place for Renault.

The 26-year-old -- “at zero” last year according to Renault team boss Eric Boullier -- swept past McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari at the start on the way to his and Russia’s first podium finish in Formula One.  “I can’t really believe I’m sitting here with these guys,” Petrov said, grinning alongside Vettel and Hamilton at the post-race news conference. “I’m ecstatic.”

Alonso was a battling fourth for Ferrari, while Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber had another disappointing home race for Red Bull in fifth ahead of the equally disgruntled Button in the second McLaren.

While all the paddock talk at the start of the day had been about how the new Pirelli tyres would affect the race, it was the rear wing of the Sauber that dominated discussions late into the Melbourne night.  Mexican Sergio Perez had made a fairytale Formula One debut, relying on a one-stop strategy to cross the line seventh ahead of Japanese team mate Kamui Kobayashi and become the 59th driver to win points in his first race.

The 21-year-old barely had time to digest the many plaudits lavished on him, however, before he and his team-mate were disqualified for a breach of technical regulations in the design of the back of their car. “This is a very surprising and disappointing result,” said Sauber's technical director James Key, adding that the alleged infringement would not deliver a performance advantage.

“We intend to appeal the decision made by the stewards.” The disqualifications moved Ferrari’s Felipe Massa up to seventh, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi to eighth and Force India’s Adrian Sutil into ninth and allowed Briton Paul Di Resta to claim a point on his debut in 10th, also for Force India.

Massa, under pressure at Ferrari after a disappointing 2010, had an eventful afternoon featuring two nip-and-tuck battles with Button. Button had lost two places from fourth on the grid at the start, which effectively ended his chance of winning the race for the third year in a row. In his desperation to get past Massa, he cut a corner. The Brazilian went into the pits and Button got a drive-through penalty.

Mercedes had a miserable afternoon with German pair Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg lasting only a third of the race after being involved in collisions. Williams’ Rubens Barrichello also served a drive-through penalty for crashing into Rosberg, while Schumacher said his car had been too badly damaged after his smash on the third corner of the race to allow him to continue.