With nine laps remaining, Massa then pitted again – and the biggest question now was as to whether the front-runners could make it all the way to the chequered flag on the same tyres. Hamilton was needing to nurse his car home in more ways than one, whilst Massa focussed his efforts on demoting Sébastien Buemi's Scuderia Toro Rosso from P9 to snare two points rather than just one, finding a way past into the first turn with four laps left to run.
Massa's team-mate Alonso, for his part, was fast closing in on third-placed Petrov as he eyed a final flourish to reach the rostrum and dropped Webber in his wake – but time was not on his side, and there would indeed be no change in the order.
As a jubilant Vettel – who has now led virtually every single lap of the past three grands prix – clinched the trophy he had wanted, Hamilton claimed a superb second with Petrov a magnificent third for his first-ever podium finish in F1. Alonso wound up fourth with the disappointed Webber fifth and parking his Red Bull immediately after crossing the line, and the combative Button – who had provided the majority of the race's scant entertainment – a feisty sixth.
Pérez was arguably the star of the race to take the flag seventh ahead of his Sauber team-mate Kobayashi, with the lacklustre Massa and Buemi completing the points-scorers. The remaining finishers were Force India pairing Adrian Sutil and di Resta, Alguersuari, a distinctly off-form Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli in the sole-surviving Lotus and grand prix rookie Jérôme d'Ambrosio making it all the way to the end first time out, albeit four laps down and in 16th and last place.
F1 2011 is go – and on the basis of what we have seen Down Under this weekend, his rivals are going to have to go some to catch Sebastian Vettel this year.
To see the race result in full, click here