Hamilton glee as Vettel lays marker

ENGLAND’S Lewis Hamilton vowed to rein in champion Sebastian Vettel after the German got his title defence off to the ideal start with a pole-to-flag victory at the Australian grand prix.

Vettel underlined his status as hot favourite to win the drivers’ title again with an exemplary performance in Melbourne, the Red Bull driver comfortably claiming the first race of the 2011 season by 22 seconds.

But Hamilton was delighted to finish runner-up, having feared his McLaren would again be off the pace this term, and predicted he and his team would continue to chip away at the recent dominance of Vettel and Red Bull.

“I feel really privileged to be up here [on the podium] because we thought it was going to be quite a bad weekend,” said the Stevenage driver.

“Now, I’m back up here, back in the fight, only a few points behind the guy in front who has a much, much faster car. But we’ll close that gap, I have no doubts about that.”

Renault’s Vitali Petrov earned a podium debut after the Russian took third place, while Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso pipped home favourite Mark Webber to fourth, and Hamilton’s team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button was sixth.

Scot Paul di Resta came in 10th on his Formula One debut, the Force India driver being promoted two places when the Saubers of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi were disqualified for a technical infringement.

Vettel was last night slashed to odds-on to retain his title by bookmakers William Hill, despite there being 18 more races left this season, but the 23-year-old attempted to play down his success.

“I don’t really like the word dominant at this stage, because there is a long, long way to go,” he said. “Yes, the car was perfect, and all in all, I’m very happy. We’ve learned a lot and we now need to move forwards.”

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX RESULTS

1. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull 1h 29m 30s
2. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren 1:29:52
3. Vitaly Petrov, Renault 1:30:00
4. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari 1:30:02
5. Mark Webber, Red Bull 1:30:08
6. Jenson Button, McLaren 1:30:24
7. Felipe Massa, Ferrari 1:30:55
8. Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso Lapped
9. Adrian Sutl, Force India Lapped
10. Paul Di Resta, Force India Lapped