Australian GP 2011: as it happened

6.45am Hello and welcome to Forumula1.com’s live coverage of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia.

The drivers have just observed a minute’s silence for the disaster victims in recent times, with particular relevance to Japan.

In F1 news, though, the paddock is whispering about Red Bull and their awesome speed. Whispering about their KERS system, which the rumour mill is doing its best to discredit. I wonder who starts these rumours. It’s all irrelevant anyway, since neither of the drivers have used their system this weekend up to now.

“Absolutely not,” Christian Horner tells the BBC when asked if there is anything dodgy about his team’s KERS. “KERS has advantages and disadvantages… it is an interesting technology…as ever, our car complies with the regs.”

He goes on to pay tribute to Vettel’s amazing lap yesterday, which, when you watch it back, seems even more incredible in terms of where he finds the grip.

“Sebastian was in awesome form, he produced two laps that were phenomenal.”

Meanwhile it’s a glorious sunny late afternoon in Melbourne in contrast to a bleary cloudy morning in South London.

It’s anyone’s guess who will win this race, but with the Red Bulls on the pace that they are, you’d have to put money on them. I’ve got a feeling the variables are going to come into play, though, just because there are so many.

They’re off on the formation lap. They are mostly all on old soft tyres, except for Michael Schumacher, who has a brand new pair of boots. Could be a good shout there. No one knows how quickly the Pirelli rubber is going to disintegrate at race pace.

Lap 1 And they’re off! Down to the first corner they go, and Vettel leads! Hamilton lost out off the line, but he seems to have recovered. Yes, he is in second.

As they sweep over the line it’s Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Petrov (!), Massa (who made a great getaway) and a hounding Button. There’s a Williams in the gravel trap.

Michael Schumacher is just in the pits now with a right rear puncture, so so much for his tyre choice! There may have been some contact though.

Lap 3 The Drag Reduction System has been enabled, meaning the drivers can now use their rear wing technology.

Button uses his KERS to try to take Massa over the line, but it’s not enough! Massa stays ahead, driving excellently defensively.

That was Rubens Barrichello in the gravel after a coming-together with Sergio Perez, and Michael Schumacher was tagged by a Toro Rosso into Turn 3.

Lap 5 We’ve got a stalemate here…Vettel looked, on the basis of his first few laps, that he might run away, but Hamilton is keeping him honest.

Lap 6 “How is he getting away from me on the straight like he is?” bleats Button on the radio. He is being brusquely rebuffed by the Brazilian.

Lap 7 The order is Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Petrov, Massa, Button, Alonso, Rosberg, Kobayashi, di Resta, Buemi, Sutil, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Perez, Maldonado, Kovalainen.

Lap 8 So much for overtaking having been improved. Button cannot get past Massa, and Alonso is bearing down on the pair ominously. Buemi gets past rookie di Resta, who is now being threatened by his team mate in close attendance.

Lap 9 “My tyres are starting to go,” says Mark Webber from third. That’s interesting.

Lap 10 Hamilton was six tenths quicker than Vettel on the previous lap. Is the Red Bull hard on its rubber? As if to confirm the theory, Vettel radioes to say his rears are feeling a bit worse for wear.

Lap 11 Pastor Maldonado is parked at Turn 9. Out of the way, though. And now Button is past Massa! But he had to go through the escape road to do it…and now Alonso is past Massa too! So does that mean Button will have to let them both through? Sounds as though he will.

Lap 12 Webber pits.

Lap 13 Alonso is now pitting. This will complicate things re the Button situation. He goes onto brand new soft Pirellis.

“My front wheels were in front of him when we entered the corner,” says Button, the case for the defence.

Lap 14 Hamilton is chopping Vettel’s lead down at the rate of 1.2 seconds a lap.

Massa pits, too, which translates Button’s potential punishment into a drive-through.

Lap 15 Vettel pits. He emerges behind Jenson Button which could hurt him, but then, as if the gods favour Vettel, Button is given a drive-through. Not entirely unjustified, even if Button will complain.

Lap 16 Button tries to hold Vettel up a bit, but not for long. He’s past Button at Turn 5.

Hamilton is in the pits. And he’s out, but behind Vettel.

Lap 17 Why, I hear you ask? Because Vettel did an amazing out lap, once he’d got past Button. The Red Bull seems very quick on the fresh rubber, but perhaps harder on it long-term.

Lap 18 Button serves his drive through.

There’s now six and a half seconds between Vettel and Hamilton. The order is now Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Petrov, Alonso, Massa, Perez, Rosberg, Kobayashi, Barrichello, Buemi, di Resta, Sutil, Heidfeld, Glock, Alguersuari, Kovalainen, Trulli, d’Ambrosio and Schumacher.

Button pits, officially, and Glock is slowing. The Virgin is perhaps not long for this world.

Lap 21 “The DRS doesn’t seem to be doing anything,” says David Coulthard. He’s absolutely spot on. Peope are using it, and not getting by. Pointless waste of money.

Lap 22 Barrichello makes a lovely move to get by Kobayashi for ninth into Turn 3.

Vettel is about 1.5 seconds a lap quicker than his team mate. Further proof that the Australian’s tyres are going off.

Michael Schumacher has retired from the race.

Lap 23 Barrichello, who was flying, stuck a mad one up the inside of Nico Rosberg and smacked him amidships. Barrichello spins, but recovers, and poor Rosberg is smoking. It looks terminal.

Lap 24 It is. Rosberg retires, through no fault of his own.

Lap 25 The villain Barrichello pits to change his nose.

Button uses the DRS to get past Kobayashi. Hooray. It doesn’t seem very sporting or useful, this system. Jury’s out, though.

Heikki Kovalainen retires.

Lap 26 Not the most exciting Australian GPs of recent times. There’s that one and a bit second gap between most people that seems to stay stable.

Lap 27 Webber pits for the second time. He emerges into what Martin Brundle calls “a nice clear gap”.

Lap 28 Fernando Alonso pits. It wasn’t the cleanest one ever…the right rear seemed to stick a bit. But he too is in clear air when he comes out, and stands poised to score big if anyone comes a cropper in front of him.

Lap 29 Barrichello gets a drive-through for his attack on Rosberg. The order is Vettel, Hamilton, Petrov, Massa, Webber, Alonso, Button, Kobayashi, Buemi, Sutil and di Resta.

Fernando Alonso sets a fastest lap of 1m30.097. He is more than a second quicker than Webber in front of him.

Lap 31 “The [punctured] tyre destroyed the floor…on top I had damaged suspension. I think the team quite rightly decided for safety for me to come in,” says Michael Schumacher by way of explanation of his abbreviated afternoon.

Lap 32 Massa pits for a second time.

Lap 33 Lewis Hamilton is off the track at Turn One. He has a broken undertray, which could be seriously detrimental to his race. “It was definitely broken before he went off track,” says the eagle-eyed David Coulthard.

Lap 34 It’s not clear whether Hamilton can carry on from either a performance or a legality point of view, with his undertray scraping on the floor.

Lap 35 Alonso continues to hunt Webber, but elsewhere there’s not much going on. “Tyres starting to go off,” reports Vettel. He now always sounds as though he’s about to burst into tears on the radio.

Lap 36 Hamilton may face a grilling at the end of the race if his plank is not thick enough. Never thought I’d write a sentence like that. Vettel is into the pits and now Hamilton is too. Petrov joins them.

“We have 21 laps to go, we do not want to make another stop,” McLaren tell Lewis Hamilton after his stop.

Lap 38 Button pits from sixth. It was very slick, that stop, 3.8 seconds. You get the distinct feeling that it could have been a very good afternoon for Button if things had gone slightly differently for him.

“The letterbox is open but there may not be an invitation to pass in there,” is Martin Brundle’s excellent verdict on the DRS.

Lap 39 Alonso is looming large now in Webber’s mirrors. This has the ingredients of combat, although they both may pit again.

Lap 40 Hamilton, believe it or not, is catching Vettel. Yes, that’s Hamilton with bits of his car hanging off. Maybe Vettel had traffic…or maybe, just maybe, he will need to stop again.

Lap 41 Alonso opens his rear wing a mite early onto the pit straight and catches the car beautifully. He is now all over the back of Mark Webber.

Lap 42 Webber pits for a third time. Alonso is released. Webber emerges, and down to Turn 3 runs off the track slightly as the tyres are cold.

Lap 43 Alonso pits. And he is out ahead of Webber! The order is now Vettel, Hamilton, Petrov, Alonso, Webber, Massa, Button, Perez, Kobayashi, Buemi, Sutil, di Resta, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, Barrichello, Trulli, d’Ambrosio, Glock.

Lap 44 Webber is threatening Alonso now. He doesn’t seem to be using his KERS, though, which might hurt him. His DRS makes him hit the rev limiter as he chomps down the straight.

Lap 45 Webber is wide into the last turn, meaning he cannot capitalise down the straight. They are setting a blistering pace, the two of them, as they battle over fourth and fifth. Ferrari remind Alonso to use his KERS.

Lap 47 Vettel’s lead is eleven and a half seconds.

Lap 48 Button is hunting down Felipe Massa and he is through! Excellent use of the DRS from the Englishman. Sergio Perez (!) is threatening Massa too now.

Lap 49 Massa pits, which allows Perez into seventh. The Mexican debutant has only stopped once. “Can the boy walk on water as well?” asks Martin Brundle.

Lap 50 Vettel looks assured at the front.

Lap 51 “It hasn’t been a stunner,” says Martin Brundle by way of a verdict on the race. It is one with which many bleary eyed Brits will concur. Definitely some food for thought, though. One of the areas of interest is Sauber’s incredible ability to maintain good pace and preserve their rubber at the same time. Perez, as we say, has only made the one stop, and Kobayashi two.

Lap 52 Barrichello has retired.

Lap 53 Massa nearly comes together with Buemi as they battle for ninth place.

Lap 54 This is a fierce battle between the two. One that might shortly involve race leader Vettel as he laps the both of them.

Lap 55 Massa through into Turn One.

Alonso is catching Petrov at a rate of knots. He’s got three laps to catch and pass the Russian, who will have good memories from Abu Dhabi of keeping the Spaniard’s Ferrari well and truly behind him.

Lap 56 Alonso is fair chucking that Ferrari into the corners as he chases down Petrov. Time is running out, though.

Lap 57 It’s the penultimate lap. It doesn’t look like Alonso will do it unless Petrov makes an error.

Lap 58 SEBASTIAN VETTEL WINS THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX

Hamilton is a provisional second, with Petrov third and Alonso fourth. Mark Webber is fifth, and he promptly parks his Red Bull at the end of the pitlane. Button is sixth, with the excellent Sergio Perez seventh and his team mate Kamui Kobayashi eighth. Massa was ninth and Buemi tenth.

A sensational drive from Vettel, who controlled the race expertly. A drive from a world champion, no doubt. He may have more pace in the locker, and you get the distinct impression this will not be the last dominant performance from the young German.

Hamilton’s second place is very much open to contention on account of his broken undertray. It would not be much of a surprise if the McLaren did not pass scrutineering, but the Englishman did a great job in the circumstances.

Vitaly Petrov takes an excellent third place, well-deserved. There were doubts over whether he could adequately fill the gap left by the absence of Robert Kubica but he rose to the occasion today.

That’s all from me, thanks for following.