Sebastian Vettel believes that Red Bull Racing has some ground to make up on old rival McLaren after being beaten to Australian Grand Prix victory by Jenson Button.

The reigning champion could only manage second place in the season-opening Melbourne race, aided by a late safety but still an upgrade on the sixth place he took in qualifying, and reckons that RBR currently lags behind its Woking rival despite going into the season as favourite for success. Team-mate Mark Webber, who qualified one place ahead of Vettel, could only take fourth spot after another poor start, unable to overhaul McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages.

"We are not [neck-and-neck with McLaren]," Vettel insisted in response to journalists' questions after the race, "I think they were stronger this weekend - look at the result yesterday, look at the result today. As I said, Jenson deserved to win, he was out of reach for us.

"I'm very happy with second, especially after the difficult day we might have had yesterday but, nevertheless, this was race one. I think it was good to finally get back to racing and stop all the talk, to see some results. We always said in winter testing that McLaren looked very strong. They had a very solid winter, no issues with the car. They did a lot of laps every day, so we expected them to be strong.

"Yesterday, they did surprise everyone a little bit with their pace in qualifying and, today, in the race, I think it was looking a bit better for us but, nevertheless, they are the ones to beat at the moment. We will see what we get next weekend - if I remember last year, we were pretty dominant here and then qualifying [in Malaysia] was just a couple of hundredths between Lewis and myself, so we will see what happens."

Starting from row three allowed Vettel to lay to rest questions surrounding his overtaking ability, but he insisted that the qualifying result was not as bad as people were making out.

"People already asked yesterday, 'how do you deal with the disaster of sixth place on the grid?', [but] I don't think it was a disaster," he claimed, "They said we were in the sh*t, then other people behind us, who were at the back of the sh*t. We didn't have the best day yesterday, maybe that's true, but nevertheless, I think I was quite confident going into the race. I felt I can do better, my eyes were on the front, not looking into the mirrors too much.

"I was surprised by Nico [Rosberg] - he had a very good start. I got a bit stuck at the inside, didn't really have an option on where to go and he got past, so then I had two Mercedes ahead. I got past Nico very quickly - which was a great manoeuvre, on edge - and then I was behind Michael [Schumacher], where I made a mistake and went off in the first corner. Then he decided to do exactly the same the next time I got close to him, so that was good.

"I think the racing has already been like this last year, when you had pit-stops and, to make the strategy work, had to pass a couple of guys quickly. It was a little bit the same today although, obviously, all the time for position. At the beginning of the race, right after the lights went out, it was a bit different maybe to the majority of last year, but it's not as if it's a completely new situation.

"Most importantly last year, we didn't allow ourselves to get used to it and therefore it was nothing out of the ordinary, today, to start from P6. We know that there's a long race ahead of us and opportunities to fight. My target was to win the race and I came second, but I think the winner totally deserves to win that race."

The German reckons that, even without the intervention of the safety car, he may have been able to catch and pass Hamilton, who did not appear to have the sort of pace he displayed in qualifying.

"I think we would have had a good shot at him because it was very close and I was quite quick," he noted, "I decided to stay out and he went to the pits so I think we would have had a crack even without the safety car - it would have been very close but it did help a little bit.

"We had a great stop, so I think that was the most important thing. I thought I would be in a good place, or a good position to have a go at Jenson... but I didn't! He was just too quick. Two corners and he seemed to be gone, while I was struggling to get up to speed. I think I held Lewis up - he was very close for a couple of laps with the DRS enabled, but Jenson was out of sight. There was no way we could have stayed with him!"

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