Masterful Button wins thrilling season opener in Melbourne

Austrlian GP winner Jenson Button leads the pack into Turn 1 on the opening lap of the race in Melbourne

Mar.18 (PVM) Jenson Button gave another one of his master performances to win the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne. The Englishman seized the lead from the start and was never seriously challenged despite a drama packed grand prix which saw the deployment of the safety car in the late stages of the race.

Race winner Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren, celebrates on the podium. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 18 March 2012.

Jenson Button celebrates victory on the Melbourne podium

Button showed his intent as he lined his McLaren MP4-27 slightly askew in the second place grid slot, as the red lights went out he floored it just enough to get maximum traction and good drive into Turn 1, while ahead of him his teammate Lewis Hamilton starting from pole, appeared slightly sluggish off the line and had no option but to tuck in behind Button. Thereafter, for the 2009 world champion, it was a well controlled cruise to his 13th F1 victory and third win down under.

Button said, “Every win means a lot. As a team, the win shows how important the winter is. We’ve had a strong winter and yesterday we showed that in qualifying. It’s nice to come away with victory in the first race of the new season. The guys have done an amazing job this winter. This win will definitely help them push hard in the extra hours their doing for that extra part. A big thank you to everyone at Woking for this victory. It’s a pretty amazing day.”

Notably it is the first time in 23 races – more than an entire season – that Red Bull have not led a single lap during a grand prix…

Jenson Button got an early lead and never relinquished it

Jenson Button got an early lead and never relinquished it

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel recovered from a mediocre (by his lofty standards) qualifying performance to take second place, aided  by some good fortune and a cool head when a pace car situation arose on lap 37 – after Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham CT01 came to halt on the start straight in a dangerous position – this enabled the Red Bull driver to leap frog Hamilton whose lap was compromised when he had to slow for the yellow flags and pace car. He finished third, but rued the fact that a McLaren 1-2 was lost.

Vettel commented afterwards, “I decided to stay out when Lewis went into the pits and I think we would have had a crack without the safety car. Maybe it helped us a little bit to get past Lewis. We had a great stop. I thought I would be in a good position to have a go at Jenson but two corners and he was gone. It wasn’t very easy to get away from Lewis but Jenson was out of sight. He deserved to win today.”

Third placed Hamilton said, “Firstly congratulations to Jenson – he did great job. And to the team for doing great job. It was a bit of a tough day for me, but we’ve got a lot of races ahead of us. I was in a very similar to position to what I was last year. It was a tough race, but still positive for the team, so hopefully we can take that on to the next race.”

Podium (L to R): Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing, Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren and lhap. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 18 March 2012.

Top three on the podium

After the pace car Button got it right as he powered away from Vettel who appeared to stumble on the restart, but kept it together with Hamilton and Mark Webber chasing. Although the trio remained in close proximity, the duel was done and dusted as they followed Button over the line in that order – Vettel, Hamilton and Webber narrowly missing out on a home podium, but scoring his best ever result in Melbourne since his first attempt back in 2002.

It was a bittersweet day for Ferrari after a woeful qualifying which saw the reds way down the grid. On race day, as is his custom, Fernando Alonso delivered a gutsy performance in the well below par F2012 to take fifth place – a result that was perhaps way beyond their imagination just 24 hours earlier.

Alonso was made to work hard throughout the afternoon especially after the pace car period when Pastor Maldonado glued his Williams to the rear wing of the Ferrari, and although the Venezuelan got close a few times he was not given an opportunity to pounce. And then on the final lap Maldonado clipped the artificial grass, ever so slightly with just a few corners to go, and slammed into the wall. Race done. Heartbreak for Williams who were in line to score more points in Melbourne than they did in all the races last year.

Alonso reflected, “We didn’t lose too many points and now the priority is to improve the car. We had some interesting fights but not at the top so we need to improve quickly.”

Fernando alonso was stalked by Pastor Maldonado until the last lap

Fernando alonso was stalked by Pastor Maldonado until the last lap

On the opposite side of the spectrum Felipe Massa did himself no favours with probably his worst showing for the Maranello squad since he was drafted into the team back in 2006. The best part of his day was a bullet-like start that saw him move from 16th on the grid and into the top ten on the first lap and progressing up to eighth in the first dozen laps, but after that it was downhill all the way for the Brazilian as he grappled his way around the circuit until contact with the Williams of countryman Bruno Senna ended his day.

The midfield provided some of the most intense action and intriguing battles of which the two Saubers were key players in a myriad frenetic sideshows. At the end of the day Kamui Kobayashi bagged sixth place and teammate Sergio Perez crossed the finish line in eighth.

Splitting the Sauber pair was comeback champion Kimi Raikkonen who was involved in just about every battle and will be happy, after starting from 17th on the grid, with fifth place and surviving the race distance fraught with wheel-to-wheel encounters in the Lotus E20. A definite candidate for drive-of-the-day, considering the circumstances.

For fellow Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, what promised much, ended in disappointment for the Frenchman, who was also making his return to F1. From third on the grid he had a dreadful start and was soon swallowed up by the frantic mid-pack. A couple of laps into the race he went wheel-to-wheel with Maldonado and came off second best, as contact bent the front right suspension and broke the steering on his Lotus. Early shower!

Jean Eric Vergne goes farming in the Melbourne gravel

Jean Eric Vergne goes farming in the Melbourne gravel

For last lap antics, none in memory will match what went down in Melbourne in  a few crazy minutes at the very end of the race.

Toro Rosso teammates Jean Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo started the final lap ahead of Force India’s Paul di Resta in 11th, 12th, 13th respectively. In a flurry of big brakes and smoke halfway around the lap, Ricciardo edged passed rookie Vergne, followed by Di Resta, and taking advantage of the new boy’s fumble, with an opportunist move.

At precisely the same time, up ahead Maldonado self-destructed and Nico Rosberg came to a halt, meaning that Ricciardo bagged points on his home debut, Di Resta took the final point and Vergne came agonisingly close to scoring points in his F1 debut. As they say, that’s racing!

For Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg – making a return to F1 after one year on the sidelines – it was a very short day in the cockpit and a bitter pill to swallow, considering his strong qualifying performance, as he was the victim of a first corner incident, which ended his race on the spot.

Also out of the top ten, when they had looked good for a podium at least, were the Mercedes duo of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. The pair had great starts and tucked in behind the two McLarens early on with impresive top speed helping their cause.

Schumacher was having a good run in third for the first ten laps before the W03 ran out of drive forcing him to coast to a halt, his race run. Rosberg was strong briefly but spent the afternoon defending, until the last lap when he parked the Silver Arrow with the finish-line in sight. Not a good day for the Brackley boys…

Attrition was higher than is normal for the modern era, with seven retirements during the course of a glorious sunny afternoon at Albert Park.

Now there’s hardly a break as the F1 circus moves to Malaysia for round two and what should be another intriguing episode of the longest season in the sport’s history.

Australian Grand Prix Result – Melbourne, 18 March 2012

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time Grid Pts
1 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 58 Winner 2 25
2 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 58 +2.1 secs 6 18
3 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 58 +4.0 secs 1 15
4 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 58 +4.5 secs 5 12
5 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 58 +21.5 secs 12 10
6 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 58 +36.7 secs 13 8
7 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 58 +38.0 secs 17 6
8 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 58 +39.4 secs 22 4
9 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 58 +39.5 secs 10 2
10 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 58 +39.7 secs 15 1
11 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 58 +39.8 secs 11
12 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 58 +57.6 secs 7
13 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 57 +1 Lap 8
14 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 57 +1 Lap 20
15 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 53 +5 Laps 21
16 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 52 +6 Laps 14
Ret 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 46 +12 Laps 16
Ret 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 38 +20 Laps 18
Ret 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 34 +24 Laps 19
Ret 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 10 +48 Laps 4
Ret 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1 +57 Laps 3
Ret 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 0 + 58 Laps 9
DNS 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 23
DNS 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 24

Note: Perez qualified 17th but dropped five places as penalty for a gearbox change. De la Rosa and Karthikeyan did not qualify after failing to meet the Q1 107% time.

Subbed by AJN.