• Mar 27, 2011
2011 Australian Grand Prix – Click above for high-res image gallery

And they're off, ladies and gentlemen. After a tumultuous offseason that saw Robert Kubica sidelined from a rally crash, two Lotus-Renault teams embroiled in a naming rights dispute, the arrival of Pirelli tires to replace Bridgestone and the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix due to political unrest, the 2011 Formula One World Championship has kicked off in earnest with the Australian Grand Prix.

Heading down under to Albert Park, both titles are Red Bull's to defend. But preseason testing showed strong competition coming from the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes GP. Would reigning champion Vettel and company be able to hold them back to start off their defense as strong as last year? Follow the jump to find out.

[Images: Clive Mason, Paul Gilham, Vladimir Rys/Getty | Rob Griffith, Andrew Brownbill, Vincent Thian, David Callow, Daniel Munoz/AP]

Saturday's qualifying session could have just as well been pulled out of last season's calendar, with Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari as usual dominating the front of the grid. Vettel showed strongest of all, claiming pole position by nearly a full second. His wingman and hometown favorite Mark Webber landed third, McLaren's pairing of world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button following in second and fourth, respectively. Fernando Alonso qualified fifth, his teammate Felipe Massa relegated to eighth with Renault's Vitaly Petrov impressively placing sixth on the starting grid ahead of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, while his senior counterpart Michael Schumacher landed only eleventh behind Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber and Sebastien Buemi's Toro Rosso. Sauber's Sergio Perez, newcomers Paul di Resta (Force India) and Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Adrian Sutil (Force India), Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Nick Heidfeld (filling in for Robert Kubica at Renault), Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, and Virgin's Timo Glock and Jerome d'Ambrisio rounded out the rest of the grid, while HRT failed to qualify at all under the re-instituted 107% rule.

2011 Formula One drivers

With the stage set, the formation lap completed, and all parties eager to prove their mettle, the race got underway with Sebastian Vettel taking a commanding lead right off the line. Mark Webber narrowly missed the window to squeeze past Lewis Hamilton into the first corner as Renault's Vitaly Petrov came into his own, jumping up to fourth position on the first lap of the season, while Alonso, Massa and Button fell in line behind. Come the second lap STR's Jaime Alguersuari was already in the pits, Schumacher following suit in what would emerge as a disastrous race for the seven-time world champion.

2011 Australian Grand PrixSebastian Vettel opens up his lead

Come lap 11, Williams' newcomer Pastor Maldonado was retired trackside and Button, having stayed glued to the Italian flag on the back of Felipe Massa's Ferrari F150º Italia in the opening laps, clipped the corner to pass his rival in an illegal move that would cost him a pit-lane drive-through penalty that he'd take on lap 18.

Webber, Alonso and Vettel were the next to pit on laps 12 through 15, shaking up the order that left Hamilton in the lead, followed by Petrov and Button, all of which had yet to pit. Vettel was running fourth and team-mate Webber sixth after pitting, sandwiching Rosberg and leading Kobayashi and Sutil, both of which had yet to stop as post-pit Alonso and Massa trailed in ninth and tenth places, respectively.

When Hamilton finally emerged from his first stop, he rejoined again in second behind Vettel who had reclaimed the lead. Button dropped to sixth after his penalty, further relegated to 12th after returning for his first tire-swap only to come under pressure from the Force India's precocious Paul di Resta. Schumacher went into the pits again on lap 19, dropping him down to a lapped last place behind even the back-marking new teams.

2011 Australian Grand Prix

Multiple race-winner Rubens Barrichello performed a gutsy late-braking pass on Sauber's Kobayashi on lap 20 as Kovalainen retired his green Lotus trackside, joining Maldonado on the sidelines, but they wouldn't be the last retirements of the day. Lap 23 saw Schumacher climb out of his Silver Arrow in the Mercedes garage, after which Barrichello slammed into Rosberg defending his line in the other Merc to see the team taken out of the race entirely in a matter of mere seconds.

Barrichello spun, recovered, returned to the pits to replace his damaged front wing and was subsequently handed a drive-through penalty for the Rosberg collision. Meanwhile Button demonstrated how the new moveable rear wing can come into play as he passed Kobayashi for 7th place.

Around the halfway mark some drivers had begun pitting for the second time. At lap 30 of 58, Vettel still held the lead ahead of Hamilton, Petrov and Massa (all on one stop so far), followed by Webber, Alonso and Button (two stops each), then Kobayashi, Sutil, di Resta, Heidfeld and Perez (one stop), STR's Buemi and Alguersuari (on two stops apiece), Barrichello (on three including the penalty) with Trulli and d'Ambrosio picking up the rear and five drivers (Rosberg, Glock, Kovalainen, Schumacher and Maldonado) retired.

Pirelli tires at the Ferrari pitRed Bull pit box

Lap 33 saw Hamilton run perilously wide into the grass, causing damage to his McLaren's under-tray, but that didn't stop him from retaining his second place position when he headed into the pits, following Vettel who held on to his lead returning from his second pit stop as well. The biggest surprise of the day, however, came when Sauber's rookie Sergio Perez, who opted for only one stop the entire race instead of the two or three taken by other drivers, set the fastest lap (up to that point) on his Formula One race debut.

Come lap 42 Vettel still lead Hamilton as Alonso trailed in third. Webber was just ahead of Petrov before the Aussie went for his third pit stop, Massa and Button in sixth and seventh until the Brit passed the Brazilian who pitted a few laps later, Sauber's Perez and Kobayashi were showing strong in eighth and ninth and Buemi was in position for the last point.

After a tumultuous day Barrichello parked his Williams next to his newcomer team-mate Maldonado's in the garage, while his troubled countryman Massa labored to finally squeeze by Buemi for P9.

Sebastian Vettel on the podium

Across the line after 58 laps, Vettel took the checkered flag at a substantial lead – without the benefit of the KERS boost system mind you – ahead of Hamilton. Finally emerging from Kubica's shadow while casting his own over Heidfeld and proving his mettle in his own right, Vitaly Petrov rounded out the podium for his best result to date. Alonso had to settle for fourth, while Webber barely made it across the finish line in fifth place to park his smoking Red Bull at the pit lane exit. Button followed in sixth, followed impressively by the Sauber pairing of Perez and Kobayashi, Massa taking ninth and Buemi rounding out the top ten.

Sutil, di Resta, Alguersuari, Heidfeld, Trulli, d'Ambrosio and Glock all finished but earned no points. And so concludes the 2011 Australian Grand Prix, the end of the beginning, as we head to Malaysia on April 10 for the round two. Stay tuned.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      So happy to see that precious Alonso didn't make it to the podium!

      It was a good race! Tires held up much better than the drivers and teams were letting on!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Webber certainly looked off the pace. He was really pissed judging by that move he did at the end of the race.

      I really hope the Red Bulls get their KERS in place for the next race cause I think McLaren might catch up to them
      • 3 Years Ago
      SO glad Vitaly got on the podium and finished ahead of Alonso too. Both Sauber drivers had great races and it was a damn shame they got DQ'd. One thing I was rather surprised by was how fast the cars are without the double diffuser.
        • 3 Years Ago
        What a joke Heidfeld was. The car is obviously good (see Petrov's drive) but Heidfeld couldn't get out of Q1 and do better than 17th on the grid? What a shame. Now I just wish Renaukt had given Bruno Senna a chance. Would love to see what the kid can do in a good car, really...
        • 3 Years Ago
        Seriously though, so many people say this same thing. I'm glad to see Petrov win, I think he's got the potential to be on the podium on skill alone, nevermind if he had a better car. That said, I think so many of were just glad to see Alonso and Felipe get squashed. Does anyone like Ferrari anymore? I grew up loving Ferrari, my all time favorite car is the F40, and I used to like Ferrari F1. That is until I realized what jerks they are. Nothing but old school thinking and elitist entitled attitude at Ferrari. Enzo said he hated road cars, his passion was racing, so I wonder how he'd feel about the way Ferrari racing is the laughing stock of F1 these days. Felipe and Alonso would sooner wreck themselves then let a faster car pass. I know part of racing is protecting your position, but they take it to unsporting levels I feel. Massa has always lacked the talent IMHO, and Alonso while he may have the talent, is such a huge crybaby he doesn't deserve to win IMHO. He will blame everyone but himself, including his hard working team.

        All that said, I love that the "young" teams are taking over F1. It's not that young drivers are better these days, it's just that in the F1 of past, you had to put in your time before moving up to F1, and at a slower pace. Teams are willing to try new drivers, and look at what it brought us. People freaked out about Lewis, and now it's no big deal because you have Vettel and lots of other young drivers. Makes F1 more exciting, so bring it on. I like Vettel, but I sure would love to see Mclaren get competitive at the same level, so that we can see Lewis, Button, and a few others duking it out up front for the race wins. Even with Lewis car damage, I don't know if his car is there yet, but we'll see. Vettel is just so good at putting in back to back to back qualifying quality laps, you can not afford to let him get even 1 second ahead of you.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Came hear to say What a drive by Petrov and Perez. ONE stop with Perez compared to Massa's 4. HUGE difference. What a guy....
      • 3 Years Ago
      Vettel just sling shot off into the sunset! A great win for Seb and Red Bull. Surprised to see Vitaly on the podium. Alonso can't find a way to get around Petrov.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Sure seems that way... Petrov has been a surprising thorn in Fred's side since his arrival, giving the bullfighter a lot more trouble when they've been together than you would ever expect from somebody presumed by many to be a sponsor-prince, rather than a legit driver on his own merits.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ferrari, Ferrari, what are you doing? I was glad with Red Bull becoming competitive so there would be some battle in the first 6 positions, but this is disappointing :(
      • 3 Years Ago
      I fear that Webber will never be able to string it together in Melbourne. Him not being able to even get a podium there is disappointing and won't be helped by the fact that Vettel looks untouchable.
      • 3 Years Ago
      An update is needed for this. Perez and Kobayashi were both disqualified for rear wing infringements. That put Massa in 7th and Buemi in 8th while moving
      Sutil and Resta into 9th and 10th respectively.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Podium feeenish.....I has it".
      • 3 Years Ago
      take it to ebay fool
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