|Class of his own: Formula One world champion Vettel was virtually unchallenged in his win [GALLO/GETTY]
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel made a perfect start to his Formula One world title defence with a pole-to-flag victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Renault's Vitaly Petrov claimed his and Russia's first ever podium in third place as the top three all ran two-stop strategies, despite the new Pirelli tyres which are supposed to degrade more quickly.
Mexican rookie Sergio Perez was an impressive seventh for Sauber on his Formula One debut but his dream start was later chalked off when he and teammate Kamui Kobayashi were disqualified for technical infringements.
The drivers were excluded for Sauber's breach of technical regulations relating to having slots on the beam wing and the rear wing of the car, International Automobile Federation (FIA) stewards said in a statement.
Sauber said it would appeal the decision.
The 21-year-old would have become the first Mexican in 30 years to score championship points after riding his luck on a single change of tyres to finish seventh, while more seasoned drivers made two or three stops to change their Pirellis.
Japan's Kobayashi had also impressed, finishing eighth for the Swiss-based team on a day principal Peter Sauber had described as a "dream start to the season".
1 S Vettel (GER) RedBull
2 L Hamilton (GBR) McLaren
3 V Petrov (RUS) Renault
4 F Alonso (ESP) Ferrari
5 M Webber (AUS) RedBull
6 J Button (GBR) McLaren
7 F Massa (BRA) Ferrari
8 S Buemi (SUI) Toro Rosso
9 A Sutil (GER) Force India
10 P Di Resta (GBR) Force India
11 J Alguersuari (ESP) Toro Rosso
12 N Heidfeld (GER) Renault
13 J Trulli (ITA) Lotus
14 J d'Ambrosio (BEL)
Disqualified pending appeal:
7 S Perez (MEX) Sauber
8 K Kobayashi (JPN) Sauber
The exclusions mean Ferrari's Felipe Massa is promoted from ninth to seventh and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi from 10th to eighth.
Force India's Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta move up to ninth and 10th respectively.
Vettel, 23, blasted off the grid and never looked troubled as the German notched up his 11th career victory by 22.2 seconds from McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
Ferrari's double world champion Fernando Alonso was fourth ahead of local hope Mark Webber in the other Red Bull.
Starting from pole position, Vettel maintained his lead after the first turn and had already opened a gap of more than two seconds over Hamilton after the first lap and the German was never seriously threatened.
Vettel made his first pit to change to softer rubber in the 14th lap, emerging still in 3rd ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button.
He regained the lead two laps later when Hamilton took a tire change.
"Very cool," he radioed to his team after taking the chequered flag. "Excellent car. Excellent stops."
Button was sixth, falling short in his bid to win the race for a third straight year.
He had to do a drivethrough penalty after using a slip road to pass Ferrari's Massa in the early part of the race, and that cost him a shot at third.
Perez remarkably only pitted once as he finished ahead of teammate Kobayashi, while Massa was ninth and Toro Rosso's Buemi took the last point.
It was a bad day for Mercedes, with both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg forced to retire.
"I had a good start, made up quite a few positions, then had a good run into turn three, but as I turned in someone (Jaime Alguersuari) knocked on to my right rear," Schumacher said.
"The consequence was I had a puncture which destroyed the right tire, and driving back to the pits basically destroyed the right floor. In the end the team decided for safety it wasn't worth staying out."
Hamilton also damaged the floor of his car when he went wide on turn one of his 32nd lap. He continued on, even though the team warned him late to nurse the car into second rather than try to mount a challenge for the lead.
Rosberg was forced to retire shortly after colliding with Rubens Barrichelo in the 24th lap. Barichello was handed a drivethrough penalty for causing the crash.