x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Commanding Sebastian Vettel wins Australian Grand Prix opener

The F1 world champion comfortably guides his Red Bull around Melbourne's Albert Park to win ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Vitaly Petrov.

Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull Racing driver, celebrates his Australian Grand Prix victory.
Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull Racing driver, celebrates his Australian Grand Prix victory.

MELBOURNE // Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing's reigning Formula One world champion, comfortably held his lead from pole position to sweep to victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park and secure his third successive race win.

Lewis Hamilton finished second for McLaren-Mercedes, while Renault's Vitaly Petrov fought his way through traffic and held off Ferrari's Fernando Alonso to clinch third.

The 23-year-old Vettel, who had shown phenomenal pace for Red Bull in Saturday's qualifying session, continued in a similar vein to extend his 0.8 second lead over Lewis Hamilton to a massive 2.4 secs by the end of the first lap and never looked troubled as he went top of the drivers championship - a feat that, last year, he never managed until the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

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Petrov, who has frustrated the two-time world champion Alonso at Yas Marina Circuit in November as the Spaniard chased the drivers' title, found himself having to defend a charging Alonso once again.

Mark Webber, Vettel's Australian teammate, finished fifth for the third time at his home race.

Jenson Button, who had won here the previous two seasons, finished sixth after incurring a drive through penalty for cutting the corner when overtaking Felipe Massa, while Sergio Perez, on his F1 Debut, and teammate Kamui Kobayashi came seventh and eighth.

Massa and Sebastien Buemi in the Toro Rosso completed the points places.

It was a day to forget for Mercedes-GP, who saw both their drivers fail to finish a for the first time since Monaco in 1955.

Michael Schumacher suffered a puncture early in the race after a collision with Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari and was forced to pit, before later retiring.

Schumacher's teammate Nico Rosberg was also forced to retire after the Brazilian Rubens Barrichello struck his car while trying to pass in the Williams.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae