What do we know after Melbourne Grand Prix?

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The 2011 Australian Grand Prix has been run and won by reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel in dominant fashion. Vettel continued from where he left off at the end of last year, leading from the first lap, and never looked like being beaten.

This year’s edition is not going to go down as a classic, but it provided plenty to think about and leaves me with the impression that we are in for another great year.

Yep… Red Bull are fast
Vettel put on a clinic, with a near perfect drive.

He looked every bit the reigning world champion all weekend. No one else was going to get near him, and this pace was achieved without KERS.

Webber struggled with tyre-wear and was the first of the leading drivers to blink at each stop which put him on the back foot. He never really recovered.

Is it a set-up issue? Perhaps a driving style? Or is it just the curse of the home GP?

We should know more about Webber’s true pace in two weeks after Malaysia. If Webber struggles to manage his tyres again, he can kiss his title hopes goodbye.

Who is the team leader at Renault?
Vitaly Petrov was another who finished where he had left off. After his superb display of defensive driving in Abu Dhabi last year, he drove an outstanding race from sixth to third, collecting his first ever podium in the process.

Meanwhile Nick Heidfeld, the experienced driver drafted in to fill the team leadership void after Robert Kubica’s accident, endured a torrid weekend.

A KERS system fault and bad luck with traffic saw him knocked out of qualifying in Q1, then on lap one he suffered heavy contact with Jaime Alguersuari and carried a damaged sidepod throughout the remainder of the race.

Considering how heavy the damage was he did well to finish at all. He was however outpaced by his team mate all weekend, it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Sauber, fast but illegal
A productive day for Sauber ended in dismay. Sergio Perez amazed pretty much everyone by stopping once on his way to seventh position with his two stopping team mate Kamui Kobyashi hot on his tail in eighth.

Unfortunately, the celebrations were short-lived after the FIA scrutineers announced that they had found an irregularity in the rear wing, and as a result both cars would be excluded from the race results.

Sauber have denied that they gained any performance advantage from the wing, and will appeal the decision.

Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, both drivers can be very happy with their day’s work.

Mclaren and Ferrari – role reversal
Coming into this race, Ferrari were thought to be number two on pace, with McLaren a distant third and possibly fourth.

Lewis Hamilton thoroughly disproved that assessment by finishing second.

While Jenson Button was clearly faster than Felipe Massa before, in a very un-Button like moment, the red mist came down and he passed Massa by cutting the corner and then refused to hand the position back.

As expected, he received a drive-through penalty.

He feels hard done by, claiming that he was in front before the corner, but realistically he should have learnt the lessons of Alsono’s drive-through penalty at Silverstone last year for exactly the same thing.

Speaking of Alonso, he put in a solid, if not sparkling, drive to fourth.

He had a terrible start: he was pushed wide on the exit of T1 and fell down to 10th. Fighting his way back to fourth is probably a good result.

Expect him to be much stronger in two weeks’ time.

Williams and Mercedes
We still don’t really know where either are.

Williams showed signs of strong pace at times and Mercedes seemed to be a little off where they had hoped to be.

Unfortunately, both Williams and Mercedes failed to finish the race. The Mercedes were taken out by brain fades of others (Schumacher hit by Alguersuari and Rosberg by Barrichello), while the Williams team suffered from driver error and unreliability.

Barrichello, who had a terrible weekend, made a series of rookie mistakes at Turn 3.

He out-braked himself in qualifying, ruling out any chance of making it to Q3. Then he repeated the feat on lap one of the race. But fortunately, he was able to recover, only to take out Rosberg with an insanely optimistic dive down the inside of T3.

Pastor Maldonado did not fare much better in his F1 debut, retiring with a gearbox failure early in the race.

So what do we know after the first race of the season?

Not a lot.

Red Bull are definitely fast, everyone else is catching up, and we are going to watch a fascinating battle amongst the midfield teams.

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