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27 Mar 2011

F1: Vettel invincible in Australian sun

Sebastian Vettel claimed the first victory of 2011, and he did it with a display of perfect driving in a near-perfect weekend for the reigning champion.

After blowing the field away in qualifying Vettel capitalized on a poor start by Lewis Hamilton in 2nd to pull out a huge lead in the opening lap. By the end of the second lap, Vettel was 2.3 seconds ahead of the Brit in his redesigned McLaren. Button and Alonso were both pushed back by a fast-starting Vitaly Petrov who guided his Renault down the inside of turn one and past the pair of former-champions.

Alonso was frozen out on the outside of turn one and lost 5 places as he slid back to as low as 10th on the opening lap. Massa climbed to 5th from 8th and Scottish rookie Paul Di Resta was another man with a handy start, up from 14th to 10th on lap one. The only casualties of first-lap shenanigans were 7-time champion Michael Schumacher who got a puncture from some contact with another car, and Buemi who pitted for repairs to his car after contact with team-mate Algersuari.

For a number of laps, Jenson Button sat staring at the rear of Massa's Ferrari, making use of the new adjustable rear-wing to get alongside the red car but could not make a move stick, becoming increasingly frustrated with his inability to make his superior pace count against a spirited defensive display from Felipe. All the while Alonso crept back up to the fighting duo. When he did manage to get the better of Massa, he was forced into cutting across the turn 13-14 chicane and should have given the place back to the Brazilian, but chose not to. Ferrari then made use of the lifted ban on team orders to switch their drivers so that Button would lose out to both Ferrari cars when he conceded position to Massa. Button never did, and received a drive-through penalty for his troubles.

With a relatively quiet start, Mark Webber quickly fell into a lonely race in 4th as he couldn't keep the pace of  the leading pair and ended up driving a solid race to 4th place with no real problems until he parked the car immediately after crossing the line. Lewis Hamilton was also lucky to finish as his car's floor came loose and began dragging on the track surface sending sparks flying at times. How much this affected the car's performance is unknown but Hamilton dealt with it well as he lost little time to the Red Bull in front or the Renault behind.

The upper part of the wing was found to be
breaching a rule on minimum size.
A resurgent Sauber pairing of Kobayashi and Sergio Perez overtook their way into the top 10, with Perez being the only man to complete the race with just one pit stop needed, an impressive feat after all the talk about 2, 3 or even 4 pit stops being necessary for an optimized race pace. However, pain was just around the corner for the team as they were both disqualified post-race due to a part of the rear-wing being smaller than the minimum size allowed by the rules. The piece in question was the moving part of the adjustable wing which resulted in a bigger size whole in the wing on the Sauber and therefore a higher top speed.
The DSQs were good news for some including Massa who was moved up from 9th to 7th, and the two Force India's of Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta, moved into ninth and tenth respectively, earning the young Brit a points finish on his debut.

Next up, a trip to South-East Asia and the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur. Will we see rain? Will we see blazing hot sunshine? Will Ferrari rediscover that pre-season form they were trumpeting as they arrived in Australia on Friday morning? So many questions that remain unanswered.


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