MELBOURNE, Australia — Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel opened his Formula One title defense by driving a flawless race and beating McLaren's Lewis Hamilton to win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Starting from the pole, Vettel kept his lead after the first turn and opened a gap of more than two seconds over Hamilton after the first lap.
The German's lead was never seriously threatened.
Vettel, 23, who used a two-stop strategy on the new Pirelli tires, made his first pit stop to change to softer rubber in the 14th lap, emerging in third place ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button. He regained the lead two laps later when Hamilton made a tire change, and he never looked back, winning by more than 22 seconds.
"The car was quick but also reliable, and that is the key," Vettel said. " … With Lewis dropping off later in the race, there was no pressure, so I was able to control it."
Renault's Vitaly Petrov was a surprise third, claiming his first podium finish. "To be honest, I can't believe I'm sitting with these guys," he said.
Fernando Alonso finished fourth, while Australian Mark Webber was fifth, as both used three-stop strategies — one more than the podium finishers. Webber finished fifth in his home race for the third time.
Button was sixth, falling short in his bid to win the race for a third straight year.