UPDATE: F1 Australia Race Results & Report: Vettel On Top Again, Petrov on 1st Podium


What Happens When It’s a Lovely Start to a Season, For Many

3:45am EST — Sebastian Vettel continued the Red Bull domination of the beginning of the 2011 season with a controlling win of the Australia Grand Prix. He gave up the lead only to change tires and ended with a twenty-two second gap over Lewis Hamilton, whose McLaren’s undercarriage was no longer attached at the front. Vitaly Petrov scored his first podium, holding off a late-race charge from Fernando Alonso, who finished fourth. Mark Webber completed the top five, pulling off onto pit exit immediately after the flag. Despite providing some of the best racing early on, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa finished sixth and ninth, respectively. There were no major crashes, though six drivers did not complete race distance.

After the post-race technical inspection, the Saubers of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi were disqualified from the results after infringing technical rules 3.10.1 and 3.10.2. As technical director James Key said when announcing the team’s intention to appeal, “It appears that there is a question over the top surface of the uppermost rear wing element, this area is not the working surface of the component and therefore relatively unimportant to its function. Certainly this has not led to any performance advantage. We are checking the design of the parts now to better understand the situation and we intend to appeal the decision made by the stewards.”

Vettel started on pole (1:23.529) after a dominating performance during Saturday’s qualifying and with a lap time nearly a full second faster than second place starter Hamilton. He managed second on quick last lap flyer, overtaking Webber for the front row start. Button, Alonso, and Petrov competed the first three rows. There were no major incidents during qualifying, though Rubens Barrichello missed out on Q3 at least in part because he beached his Williams in the gravel at Turn 3. In Q2, Sutil had a massive series of spins on the front straight, only to miss everything and continue on despite a likely need for a new firesuit. Neither Tonio Liuzzi nor Narain Karthikeyan for HRT was allowed to start, as they were the only drivers to fall afoul of the reintroduced 107% qualifying rule.

For the first time of the weekend, race day dawned bright and sunny in Melbourne. It was still cooler than usual, but warmer and a clear day for the season-opening race. The top eleven drivers started on the softer tire compound, with teams still unsure if they would need two or three stops through the fifty-eight lap race. Vettel got a good start, with Webber looking to keep his second position, but Hamilton dove to the inside to take second. It was Turn 3 with a bit of a melee, as Barrichello took yet another trip into the gravel. Massa dove is way forward, taking sixth. At the end of the first lap, Vettel led Hamilton, Webber, Petrov, Massa, Button, with Alonso down to eighth and fighting with Kobayashi. Alonso got a bit balked at the start by Webber, and was forced behind Petrov and Kobayashi while Massa went around the outside.

Alguersuari and Schumacher both pitted for new tires as L1 ended, and a new nose for Alguersuari. Meanwhile, Button harried Massa, until the DRS was enabled. He nearly took Massa, but the Ferrari continually held him off, turn after turn. Even the DRS from Button did not get him around the Brazilian, who did not use the system. Radioing back to McLaren, Button complained that Massa must stop moving around on the straight, though replays showed that he squeezed the Briton pretty hard into Turn 1, too. Massa was also receiving instructions to dial back on the brakes, as his were running too hot. This close racing also served another purpose for Ferrari (beyond the obvious of keeping the fifth position), in that Alonso continued to gain ground on the two.

Ten laps into the race, Vettel still led Hamilton by 2.7s, Webber (who had informed the team that his tires were beginning to go), Petrov, with Massa and Button still fighting, and Alonso closing in. Vettel’s tires were also going, as he radioed in as well. On L11, Maldonado stopped at Turn 9. Button managed to pass Massa by using an escape road, and will have to give back the position. Except Alonso also got around Massa a couple of turns later, which would require Button give up two positions.

Webber was the first frontrunner to pit on L12, switching to the harder tire. On the next lap, Alonso also pitted. He, however, remained on the softer tire. On the radio, Button told his team that his front tire was ahead of Massa’s while entering the turn, and that the Brazialian forced him off the track. Soon thereafter, the incident came under investigation by the stewards. Then Massa also stopped for tires, muddling the issue further. Vettel pitted first on L15, leaving Hamilton in possession of the race lead.

Vettel rejoined in fourth, behind Button, who was given a drive-through penalty for his use of Mr. Ecclestone’s shortcut-passing idea. Alonso posted a new race fastest lap on L15, from ninth. Hamilton and Petrov both pitted on the next lap. Much of the rest of the mid-field also stopped then. Button finally came in for his penalty on L18, also needing some fresh tires.

Twenty laps into the race, Vettel had returned to the lead, with a nearly seven second lead on Hamilton. Webber, Petrov, Alonso, Massa, Perez, Rosberg, Button, and Kobayashi completed the top ten. Kovalainen was the second retirement, with a water leak ending his race, according to Mike Gascoyne on Twitter. Later, Tony Fernandes tweeted, “we know what’s the problem with radiator. Renault engine vibrates different. New ones coming hopefullly for malaysia.” Schumacher was the next out, after Timo Glock, going to the pits and directly into the garage. Rosberg and Barrichello came together while fighting over eighth, with Barrichello impacting Rosberg’s sidepod, then spinning. Rosberg soon pulled off with steam issuing from his Mercedes, and Barrichello pitted for a new nose. Race direction announced that the stewards would investigate the incident.

Button used the DRS properly to overtake Kobayashi for seventh. Webber pitted again on L27, switching back to the soft tires. That stop moved Petrov to third, more than twenty-three seconds behind Hamilton in second. Alonso was the next to pit, switching to soft tires from fifth position. He would have to stop again to switch to the harder tire compound.

At the halfway point, the Vettel led Hamilton by 8.5s, with Petrov, Massa, and Webber the top five. Alonso rejoined in sixth, well clear of Button in seventh, with Kobayashi, Buemi, and Sutil rounding out the top ten. No one was closer on the track than Sutil and di Resta, the German leading his rookie teammate by just under two second. Barrichello was the second driver with a drive-through penalty, for the incident with Rosberg. Massa pitted for his switch to the hard tires on L32 as teammate Alonso posted to race fast laps in succession.

Meanwhile, Hamilton had a minor trip through the grass, likely caused by some damage to the front splitter. The strut holding the splitter to the car was gone, leaving the undertray to flap and scrape along the circuit. Further back, Alonso had begun to catch up Webber, who was well behind Petrov. Alonso continued to close as Webbers tires began to go off again. Vettel pitted, as did Hamilton and Petrov, on L36. The McLaren mechanics seemingly paid no mind to Hamilton’s undercarriage. He was told on the radio, that there were 21 laps left and they “did not want to make another stop.”

With twenty laps left and pit stops doing nothing to change the order, Vettel still led Hamilton, and Webber, with Alonso around Petrov after the Russian’s stop. Button slid down to seventh after his most recent stop, though Alonso also had to stop for hard tires yet. Soon Perez showed some speed for Sauber, posting a race fast lap on L38, though he was back in eighth. Just as Alonso was a half second behind Webber, the Australian pitted again with a slightly slow tire change. The top five had tightened up from Vettel’s early, massive lead, though they were all pretty spread out. On his return to the track on the hard tires, Webber went through the dirt and dust, but continued on.

Alonso stopped on L43, and came out ahead of Webber by enough of a margin to feel something like safe. That did not last long, as Webber was quickly right behind the former champion. Though Webber clearly was looking to pass Alonso, he was not quite close enough to do so, especially as Alonso kept setting race fast laps, even on the hard tire. Both were also catching up Petrov, who was third, but likely not quick enough to both catch and pass him.

As the race wound down, it looked like it did at the start, with Button shoving his way past Massa for sixth on the front straight, leaving Perez to have a go at the Brazilian with ten laps left. Massa pitted to switch back to the softer tires and left seventh place for rookie Perez in the Sauber. The rookie stopped only once, compared to Alonso, Webber, and Massa’s three stops. Webber had dropped back from Alonso somewhat, lapping nearly two seconds behind Alonso. Barrichello retired on L52.

With just five laps left, Vettel continued to lead Hamilton, by over thirteen seconds. Petrov was another nearly twenty seconds back, with Alonso catching him up (just under three seconds back) but likely to have an excellent and somewhat surprising podium finish. Alonso and Webber completed the top five. Further back, Massa was attempting to push past Buemi for ninth but unable to do so. Massa finally took him on the inside and began to pull away, with a race fast lap.

As Alonso caught up Petrov, Webber was falling back, but both events were occurring incrementally. Alonso could finally see the Russian ahead of him with two laps to go but had a second and a half to simply catch him, let along pass him. At the end, Vettel was well ahead of the injured McLaren of Hamilton, leading into the last lap by very nearly twenty seconds. Petrov completed the podium, with Alonso close behind. Webber immediately pulled off across the pit exit after the checkered flag to round out the top five.

Results* from the 2011 Australian Grand Prix:

Driver Team Gap
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 22.2
3. Vitaly Petrov Renault 30.5
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 31.7
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 38.1
6. Jenson Button McLaren 54.3
7. Sergio Perez Sauber 65.8
8. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 76.8
9. Felipe Massa Ferrari 76.8
10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 85.1
11. Adrian Sutil Force India 1 Lap
12. Paul di Resta Force India 1 Lap
13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1 Lap
14. Nick Hedifeld Renault 1 Lap
15. Jarno Trulli Lotus 2 Laps
16. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin Racing 4 Laps
Timo Glock Virgin Racing 9 Laps
Rubens Barrichello Williams 10 Laps
Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 36 Laps
Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 39 Laps
Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 39 Laps
Pastor Maldonado Williams 49 Laps

*Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi were disqualified after the race for infringing technical rules relating to the rear wing. Though the team is appealing this decision, this disqualification moves Felipe Massa into seventh position and the rest of the field behind him up two positions in the running order. Both Force India drivers have now scored points in the season opener.

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