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The Star Online: Sports


Vettel wins F1 Australian Grand Prix (Updated)

Posted: 27 Mar 2011 02:44 AM PDT

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP): Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel made an ideal start to his Formula One title defense, driving a flawless race to outpace McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Starting from pole position, Vettel maintained his lead off the start, sped away and was never seriously threatened.

Hamilton's chances of launching a pursuit were hampered by a damaged floor on his car and he had to settle for second, 22 seconds behind the German.

"The car was quick but also reliable and that is the key," Vettel said. "Its the first time I have finished the Australian GP as well, so I am very, very happy."

Renault's Vitaly Petrov was a surprise third, claiming his first ever podium finish with a strong drive.

"To be honest I can't believe I'm sitting with these guys," Petrov said at the post-race media conference.

Vettel, who drove a two-stop strategy on the new Pirelli tires, made his first pit to change to fresh rubber on the 14th lap, importantly emerging in third ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button. Vettel was back in the lead after Hamilton and Petrov pitted two laps later, and he retained a comfortable buffer from then on.

"With Lewis dropping off later in the race, there was no pressure, so I was able to control it," Vettel said.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso finished fourth, while Australian Mark Webber was fifth, as both used three-stop strategies - one more than the podium finishers.

Button was sixth, falling short in his bid to win the race for a third straight year. He had to do a drive-through penalty after using a slip road to pass Ferrari's Felipe Massa after a dogfight between the pair in the early part of the race, and that cost him a shot at third.

"I tried to overtake him around the outside of Turn 11," Button said. "I was in front before we turned in, but he went really deep into the corner and pushed me wide so that I couldn't take my normal line," Button said. "After my drive-through penalty I had to fight my way back, which was fun but also frustrating."

Sauber's Sergio Perez was an impressive seventh in his first grand prix; remarkably only pitting once. Going into the race there were expectations that each car would have to pit at least three times, but the Mexican rookie's successful nursing of his worn rubber showed that fears about quick degradation of the Pirelli tires were exaggerated.

He finished ahead of teammate Kamui Kobayashi, while Massa was ninth and Toro Rosso's Sebastian Buemi took the last point in tenth.

There were mixed emotions in the Red Bull garage, with Vettel's euphoria offset by Webber's ongoing failure to show his best at his home race. It is the third time he has finished fifth, never improving on the remarkable performance in the struggling Minardi car at his first attempt in 2002.

"I wish it was already tomorrow, it was frustrating," Webber said. "I wanted to get more out of it and we could have got more out of it."

It was a bad day for Mercedes, with both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg forced to retire.

"I had a good start, made up quite a few positions, then had a good run into turn three, but as I turned in someone (Jaime Alguersuari) knocked on to my right rear," Schumacher said. "The consequence was I had a puncture which destroyed the right tire, and driving back to the pits basically destroyed the right floor. In the end the team decided for safety it wasn't worth staying out."

Hamilton also damaged the floor of his car when he went wide on turn one of his 32nd lap, or perhaps shortly beforehand. He continued on even though he said after the race the floor was "massively damaged" and occasionally touching the ground.

"When it touches the ground it stalls the underneath of the car and disturbs a lot of the flow," he said. "I was having some oversteer moments, some stalling through corners and underbraking particularly."

It was a creditable performance by McLaren, who were expected to be off the pace early in the season after a difficult offseason.

"We can take this and be very proud of ourselves," Hamilton said. "A week or two ago we weren't expecting to be anywhere near the top five, so to come to second is a great achievement."

Petrov's mature performance was impressive and would give a boost to a Renault team who lost No.1 driver Robert Kubica to serious injury after a rally crash during the offseason.

"In the race the team did everything perfectly," Petrov said. "We can be very proud of what we have achieved."

Rosberg was forced to retire shortly after colliding with Williams' Rubens Barrichello on the 24th lap. Barrichello was handed a drive-through penalty for causing the crash.

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Webber to be spurred by Red Bull pay gap

Posted: 26 Mar 2011 09:55 PM PDT

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Alan Jones, the 1980 Formula One world champion, says his Australian compatriot Mark Webber will be spurred to outperform teammate Sebastian Vettel this season by reports that the German is getting paid twice as much.

Vettel recently signed a lucrative contract extension with Red Bull that lasts to the end of the 2014 season and which enhanced status since claiming the 2010 drivers' championship.

Webber is now a distinct No.2 in the team, and Jones said that should ignite the Australian's fighting spirit in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix and for the remainder of the season.

"I believe Mark's brutally realistic attitude to racing can put all that aside and that he will throw everything at Vettel and be a championship contender," Jones said in Melbourne newspaper The Age.

"If Mark needs any more incentive, what better than Vettel's new multiyear contract, which I'm told is about double what Mark is getting. If it was me, I'd take great delight in beating the driver who the team bosses thought was worth twice as much."

Jones said Webber must assert himself early in the season by outperforming Vettel, after the German got the upper hand toward the end of 2010 after a close tussle in the first half of the campaign.

"One of Mark's strengths is his ability to surround himself with a strong engineering support group focused totally on him," Jones said.

"He has had the best preseason preparation of his career and I reckon he has both the car and the self-belief to do it."

ADIOS HISPANIA: Hispania became the first team to fall victim to Formula One's reintroduced '107 percent' rule and did not take its place in Sunday's race.

The rule dictates that in the first session of Saturday qualifying, any car that is not within seven percent of the best time will not be able to enter the race.

With the cut-off time set at 1:31.266, Vitantonio Liuzzi could manage only 1:32.978 and Narain Karthikeyan had 1:34.293. There was some expectation that Hispania would be allowed to race with the permission of rival teams, as it was the first race of the season, and appealed to stewards along those lines, but were turned down.

"If you're out, you're out," FIA chief technical delegate Charlie Whiting was quoted to say by Speed TV. "However, there is provision in the rule for the stewards to allow a car in under exceptional circumstances, which could include setting a good time in a previous session, or if there were changeable weather conditions that clearly disadvantaged some cars that couldn't get out at the beginning when it was dry.

"Those sorts of things, or generally speaking if a car's done a good time in (free practice) 3, for example, and has a mechanical problem and can't do a clear lap; we've seen it all before. Then the stewards are probably likely to allow the car to start. I personally don't believe that's the case with HRT (Hispania)."

Hispania team principal Colin Kolles was accepting of the decision, saying "in the end it just couldn't be, still I'm incredibly proud of my whole team."

"Our drivers produced the maximum in the least amount of time possible. We managed to get both cars ready in time for qualifying and proved that the car is capable of running a lot quicker than today.

"The circumstances in which we arrived were not as desired. We created a miracle again, but it wasn't enough. We'll be back stronger than ever in Malaysia. There we will have more time to test the car and show where the F111 really belongs."

Hispania came to Australia unprepared to compete, with neither car able to complete a lap in Friday's practice sessions as the crew worked long hours on Thursday night and through Friday to piece the cars together.

That eleventh-hour work raised the question of what state the team would have been in had the scheduled opening race of the season gone ahead in Bahrain two weeks' previously.

The team has received some sponsorship from Indian car manufacturer Tata this year, following the hiring of Karthikeyan, but the problems in Australia cast further questions upon its viability.

On the positive side, Kolles has widespread admiration among rival teams for his ability to keep the team going, technical director Geoff Willis too is also a respected name in F1 design, and the hiring of the experienced Liuzzi rather than a sponsor-laden rookie indicated a commitment to ontrack performance rather than purely money.

NO KERS, NO WORRIES FOR RED BULL: The most surprising thing about Red Bull's speed advantage at the Australian Grand Prix is that it was achieved without the use of the KERS power-boost system.

Sebastian Vettel's pole position time was three-quarters of a second ahead of the best McLaren and 1.4 seconds better than the best Ferrari - huge margins in F1 terms - and to rub salt into their rivals' wounds, it was done without a KERS system that is estimated to cut about four tenths of a second per lap.

This prompted intense speculation in the paddock about the source of Red Bull's advantage, with the consensus opinion being that the team was using a 'start-only' KERS system; one that can be used to launch the car off the grid in the race but then not used again.

The KERS technology takes the energy from braking and stores it in batteries, which can then be used to provide a turbo-like power boost at the press of a button. The disadvantage is that the batteries are heavy; the entire device weighs about 25 kilograms.

A 'start-only' KERS system can be pre-charged in the garage before the race and, because it is not used again, does not require batteries, greatly reducing the weight in the car and thereby improving acceleration.

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