Sebastian Vettel has apologised to Robert Kubica for having caused the collision between the pair in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this weekend - costing both a podium finish in the 2009 curtain-raiser and, BMW-Sauber contend, costing the latter a likely win.

Having both enjoyed a strong race for 90 per cent of the grand prix, Vettel and Kubica were running second and third - both within sight of leader and eventual winner Jenson Button - when they came together with just three laps to go. At the time the BMW star was on Bridgestone's medium compound tyres and his Red Bull Racing rival on the unloved super-soft rubber, handing the former a sizeable advantage - but in a case of immovable object meets irresistible force, things weren't quite that simple.

As the duo entered turn one nose-to-tail on lap 56 of 58, Vettel made a slight error that enabled his pursuer to gain a run on him, and heading down to turn three - the Albert Park street circuit's favoured passing point - Kubica was alongside on the outside line. As they approached the corner together, however, it rapidly became obvious that two into one was not going to go, as the Pole held his ground and the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner similarly refused to yield on the inside.

The coming-together when Kubica turned in was inevitable, with the contact tipping the F1.09 into a half-spin and leaving it with accident damage that would pitch the 24-year-old into the wall just moments later, whilst Vettel toured around with a heavily re-designed car before parking it on the grass. It was, for both drivers, a chronic waste.

"What a disappointment!" reflected Kubica, who set the second-fastest lap of the race and was confident he could have been able to catch and overtake Button too had he only got safely by Vettel. "I had a chance to win this race because Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel were on soft tyres and struggling, while I was on the harder compound and was able to drive much quicker.

"Sebastian went wide in corner one and then he braked early. I was already in front, but he didn't want to let me by. Then he had a lot of understeer and touched me. My front wing was under the car; therefore I crashed in corner five.

"I think Sebastian was a bit too optimistic. Had this been the last corner, okay, but there were still three laps to go and he really had no realistic chance to defend his position because I was so much quicker. We both had a great weekend up to this point and we leave Melbourne with nothing. That's a real shame. My car was very good, particularly in the second stint when I set the best lap times. That's racing!"

Vettel broadly echoed that prognosis, and to his credit the young German - who ironically made his F1 debut as a stand-in for the injured Kubica in the 2007 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis - made a point of approaching his former BMW boss Dr Mario Theissen afterwards to offer his apologies, having earlier been audibly disconsolate on the radio to his own team, for whom he was making his maiden appearance Down Under.

"We were in second and a strong position," the 21-year-old mused, "but then, a couple of laps from the end, I had a stupid racing accident with Robert. At the time I turned in I was ahead, but I couldn't keep up speed in the corner and Robert was on a harder tyre so was much quicker.

"At the time we collided he was in front, but I had nowhere to go; I couldn't stop the car or turn to the right, and my tyres were gone. It's a shame as it meant the end of the race for both of us. Should I have let him go? You always want to fight. Maybe I should have said let him go and bring third back home, but that's life. I tried to defend and, up to the mid-corner, I had reason, but then I had no grip to avoid a collision.

"I'm sorry to the team and also to Robert, as it didn't just mean the end of my race, but also his. The team did a good job; we were working very hard over the winter and the car seems to be very good. We had good pace today, so overall we have reason to smile."

There was also understandable disappointment amongst the two teams' respective management, with BMW ruing a missed opportunity to possibly seal its second grand prix success and gain an important advantage over chief rivals Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes in the constructors' world championship, and Red Bull having seen what would have been its finest result in the top flight to-date disappear up in smoke once again.

"Robert drove an excellent race and got himself up with the leaders in the final laps," underlined BMW Motorsport Director Theissen. "He was on the harder tyre compound, and had every chance to catch the two cars in front of him to win the race.

"The collision three laps before the flag ended the race for him and also for Sebastian Vettel, so both drivers lost a podium and points. On the positive side, I can say that today we were very fast on the harder tyres."

"Robert was catching the leading cars," agreed the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit's head of engineering Willy Rampf, "and then, just a few laps from the end, he was able to attack the front-runners. Because of our tyre choice, Robert was on the harder compound in the last stint, unlike his competitors on the soft.

"At this stage our car was much quicker than the two leading ones. When Robert overtook Sebastian Vettel he was already in front when Sebastian touched him. This cost us second place or even victory."

"A totally gutting finish to what had been a superb race for Sebastian," concurred RBR team principal Christian Horner. "He had good pace throughout and was trying to take the fight to Button. He drove an immaculate race, but I guess a racing accident with Kubica at the end on the soft tyre was always going to be marginal and we came within two laps of a great finish.

"Looking on the positive side, the pace of the car was very good. It backed up our qualifying performance and we can take confidence into the next race in Malaysia in only a week's time."

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