Sebastian Vettel started the new Formula One season as he finished last year, with a crushing victory.

It was the drive of a world champion as the sport's youngest title holder did not put a wheel out of place before taking the chequered flag at the Australian Grand Prix.

From the moment the five red lights disappeared to finally raise the curtain on the new campaign, the 23-year-old German was never troubled.

Vettel's margin of victory was a yawning 22 seconds to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who had earlier damaged his car in running wide at turn one.

In only his second season with the Enstone-based Renault team, Vitaly Petrov finished on the podium for the first time in his F1 career.

On three-stop strategies, Fernando Alonso was fourth for Ferrari, followed by Mark Webber in his Red Bull, the Australian on home turf again unable to finish any higher than fifth, this being his third occasion, with Jenson Button sixth in his McLaren after he was handed a drive-through penalty for a move on Felipe Massa.

Williams driver Rubens Barrichello was another handed a drive-through penalty for causing a collision as he attempted a move up the inside of Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes.

Rosberg retired within a lap with engine failure, seemingly caused by the collision, leaving glum faces all round within Brackley's Mercedes team, as Michael Schumacher had retired three laps earlier.

The seven-time champion had endured a bitter start to the race as he was forced to pit at the end of lap one due to a puncture after being caught from behind.

As for Barrichello he retired much later in the race, following in the footsteps of rookie team-mate Pastor Maldonado who was the first to exit.

Behind Button, Sauber's rookie Sergio Perez produced the drive of the race to claim seventh.

The Mexican stopped just once to confound critics of the new Pirelli tyres as many had expected a multiple-stop grand prix.

Perez's team-mate Kamui Kobayashi was eighth, followed by Massa in ninth and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi 10th, with Paul di Resta on his F1 debut with Force India 12th behind team-mate Adrian Sutil.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner revealed after the race his team did not use the KERS boost system all weekend due to technical issues, underlining the depth and ease of Vettel's victory.

Petrov was arguably the happiest of the podium trio, admitting: "To be honest I can't believe I'm sitting with these guys.

"We didn't know where we were coming into the season, but in practice and qualifying we were good.

"In the race the team did everything perfectly. We can be very proud of what we have achieved."