Date: 19th March 2012 at 10:05am
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Despite no evidence during winter testing in Jerez or Barcelona, or even during Free Practice in Australia, everyone assumed that the team to beat come qualifying and the race would still be Red Bull Racing.

After back-to-back constructors and drivers World titles, Red Bull were not going to just arrive at Australia without a good car.

So in the rain affected practice sessions on Friday, everyone in the paddock and in the media were quick to discount the apparent lack of outright speed of the Red Bull.

In FP1 Sebastian Vettel was 2.2 seconds behind Button in 11th, while in FP2 he was a while 3 seconds behind Schumacher in 10th.

Red Bull were quick to point out though that they hadn’t completed any low fuel running during practice on Friday.

So on to the Saturday and the 2010 and 2011 World Champion was back within a second of the quickest cars on the track, 0.530 seconds in fact behind Hamilton in 7th. But this session would be remembered for watching Vettel lose control while under braking for turn six and spinning off into the gravel trap.

Perhaps the changes to the exhaust rules in Formula One was hindering the Champ? Was he struggling for grip at the back end of the car?

Well in qualifying the German driver made another mistake on his shot at pole position and he had to settle for sixth place, behind team-mate Mark Webber. A result that wasn’t the best for Vettel, when it emerged that Webber also set his time without the aid of KERS, Vettel’s performance looked even more surprising.

‘We would have loved to have been closer to the front, but in Q3 I wasn?t happy with my lap. I made a mistake at the beginning and lost some time, so that was down to me. I could have been one or two places higher, but that?s how it goes. We are not starting at the front, but we are not starting at the back either, so it?s far from disastrous and regarding the car we know what we need to do. We have a long race ahead of us tomorrow and a lot of opportunities, so I?m looking forward to it.? he told formula1.com.

While at this stage fans and the media alike were beginning to question just how good the new RB8 actually was, the race itself proved that Vettel was right all along and that he did have every reason to look forward to the race.

This was because the Red Bull’s performance was much closer to McLaren’s under race conditions, the gap that was over half a second per lap in qualifying just wasn’t there during the race and this brought Vettel back into contention.

His race speed, while not a match for Jenson Button’s McLaren who appeared to have something in reserve throughout the race, was good enough to keep the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton honest, although it didn’t look likely he could have challenged to get passed with the straight-line speed advantage of the McLaren.

But the safety car situation was the only thing needed for Vettel to make the move into second place and once that came, Vettel took second place and with it, the 18 points to kick start his world title defence.

Vettel told the press after the race: ?I?m very happy with myself today – I think it was the most we could have achieved. I felt good in the car. Even before the safety car, I think we would have had a good shot at Lewis towards the end, as we were getting close. I decided to stay out when he went to the pits and we would have had a crack even without the safety car. I think it was a great race ? a lot of fun.’