Vettel makes statement in Australia

April, 1, 2011
04/01/11
9:17
PM ET

Sebastian Vettel has clearly fired the initial warning shot this season.

The first 30 laps at Bahrain last year looked very similar, with Vettel establishing a significant lead, but unlike 2010, Red Bull's newest car stood the test of a full race and Vettel took the checkered flag first after capturing yet another pole in Australia.

Vettel's victory was rarely in doubt, as Lewis Hamilton appeared to be his only challenger. But Hamilton's McLaren suffered damage after an off-track excursion, and following that, Hamilton was merely in damage-control mode.

In the end, the young German won by more than 22 seconds, the second-largest margin of victory in an F1 race at Albert Park behind only Damon Hill's 38-second win in the inaugural event back in 1996.

That year, Hill was challenged only by newcomer and teammate Jacques Villeneuve en route to the title.

That could very well be the same story for Vettel this season. Fernando Alonso, who finished one step off the podium, quite possibly summed it up best to reporters postrace, "Once again today, Vettel seemed to be on another planet."

Hamilton's runner-up result displayed the effectiveness of McLaren's last-minute upgrades, and the team looks poised for a strong run in 2011.

But Vettel and Hamilton's teammates did not fair particularly well, thanks in part to Mark Webber's three-stop strategy for Red Bull as well as a penalty imposed on McLaren's Jenson Button for cutting a corner.

It has to be particularly hard to swallow for Webber, who in front of his hometown crowd was seeking his first podium finish at the track. After all, this is the track where Webber made his Formula One debut, and he even managed to score points in that event while driving for Minardi. The Australian checked in fifth while Button finished sixth.

The pair found themselves chasing Vitaly Petrov throughout the day, who quickly jumped into fourth after starting sixth on the grid.

The Lotus Renault driver ran an incredible race, finishing third, his best career result. It's the second straight year that Lotus Renault finished on the podium at Albert Park, and Petrov never lapped worse than fifth, which happened to be his highest finish last season (Hungary). He could very well be looked upon to be the leader of that team in the absence of Robert Kubica, a tall order for a sophomore driver.

The speculation before the season was that races this year would feature a considerable number of pit stops due to the high degradation rate of the new Pirelli tires, and that became evident quickly in the race. Last year, the frontrunners typically utilized a one-stop strategy, but that has now become two stops.

A year ago in this race, there were 28 pit stops made. This year, there were a total of 46.

Remarkably, Sergio Perez, in his maiden F1 race, was the only finisher that visited the pits only once Sunday. He crossed the line an impressive seventh, one place ahead of teammate Kamui Kobayashi. But it was all washed away when Sauber was disqualified following the event after it was discovered that the rear end violated specified dimensions. Both young drivers can take much from their impressive performances, however.

The same cannot be said for several other teams. Williams and Mercedes both had disastrous showings, with all four cars failing to finish. Both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were victims of collisions for Mercedes, while Rubens Barrichello's retirement was considerably more self-inflicted; he ran wide at the start and then collided into Rosberg later in the race.

The black eye of the weekend was undoubtedly HRT, which relied on Australia as the testing grounds for its new car. After missing the first two practice sessions completely, the team failed to qualify for the race, posting times outside the allotted 107 percent of the polesitter's.

Red Bull's competitors will likely not be happy to see Malaysia on the calendar next.

Red Bull cruised to a 1-2 finish there last year, with Vettel taking home the victory. This year, Red Bull should be equipped with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems), which should really benefit drivers on the long straights by the start/finish line.

But wild weather is a central theme of the track, and monsoon-like conditions can threaten to shake up the grid completely.

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