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Updated Apr 30, 2015 - 2:25 pm

Vettel makes disastrous start to F1 title defense

From left to right front row, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, teammate Nico Rosberg of Germany, Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain, teammate Kimi Raikkonen of Finland, Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, teammate Daniel Ricciardo of Australia, McLaren driver Jenson Button of Britain, teammate Kevin Magnussen of Denmark, middle row, Williams driver Felipe Massa of Brazil, teammate Valtteri Bottas of Finland, Sauber driver Adrian Sutil of Germany, teammate Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico, Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg of Germany, teammate Sergio Perez of Mexico, Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, teammate Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela, back row, Marussia driver Max Chilton of Britain, teammate Jules Bianchi of France, Caterham driver Kamui Kobayashi of Japan, teammate Marcus Ericsson of Sweden, Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne of France and teammate Daniil Kvyat of Russia pose for a drivers group photo during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — World champion Sebastian Vettel could not have made a worse start to his Formula One title defense after the Red Bull driver was forced to retire with engine problems just five laps into the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Vettel remained upbeat about his chances of a podium finish after finishing 13th in qualifying Saturday, but the problems that plagued the four-time world champion in testing Red Bull’s new V6 turbo hybrid car continued at Albert Park.

Vettel said his car lacked power from the start of the race.

“We tried to recover as much as we could. At some stage I thought it was a slight improvement, but obviously we realized there was a bigger problem with the engine,” he said. “For some reason we lost a couple of cylinders. When you don’t have the power from the engine, you can’t make the whole system function properly and you lose even more power.”

Vettel’s new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo fared better, qualifying second before finishing behind Nico Rosberg to become the first Australian to take a podium at an F1 Australian Grand Prix.

A switch to six-cylinder turbo engines has forced a radical redesign of all this season’s F1 cars, with the aim of making the series more relevant to the car industry and tempting major automakers back to F1.

After winning the last nine races of the 2013 season, preseason testing was problematic for Vettel, and his first race of 2014 disappointing to say the least. But he maintains he is still in contention for a fifth straight driver’s title.

“For sure were learned an awful lot (about the car). We learned the car is quick, we just need to get everything together,” Vettel said.

“No doubt we’ll fix this issue, the question is how soon?”

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