Aus GP: Flawless Button wins
McLaren take Melbourne victory ahead of Vettel and Hamilton
Last Updated: 18/03/12 11:15am
McLaren's Jenson Button has won the season-opening Australian GP, leading the way from first corner to last in a flawless frontrunning performance.
In a ding-dong contest, it was Button who reigned supreme, out-sprinting team-mate Lewis Hamilton as the lights went out for the start of the new campaign and controlling an otherwise untidy race in serene fashion thereafter.
Even when the late deployment of the Safety Car handed Sebastian Vettel an unearned opportunity to snatch victory out of McLaren's grasp, there was no undoing Button with the Englishman retaining his composure and speed superiority as he quickly re-established a comfortable advantage and a thoroughly deserved win.
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Amid some chaotic scenes further afield, Button's excellence was a reassuring constant throughout the 58-lap contest with the 2009 World Champion maintaining his terrific form of last year and seemingly entirely at home in the superior of MP4-27.
The new favourite for this year's championship? Definitely maybe. Though Hamilton was unfortunate to relinquish second place, his defeat to his McLaren team-mate was emphatic and his subdued post-race demeanour - "dejected" was the description attached in the post-race press conference - told a telling tale. His response in Malaysia, and any indications that his morale has been damaged, will be fascinating to behold.
Sandwiched between Button and Hamilton when the chequered flag fell, Red Bull certainly showed up better in race trim than the RB8 had done in qualifying, but Vettel's second place owed a hefty debt to the luck of champions, with the German securing second place ahead of a relatively lacklustre Hamilton due to the absurd vagaries of the Safety Car regulations.
Yet, after the unchecked dominance of Red Bull over the last two seasons, the overwhelming relief must be that F1 has a contest to relish at the front with the two leading teams seemingly very closely matched when running with full tanks.
If there was a disappointment, it was at Mercedes, with Nico Rosberg failing to make a convincing impression in the wake of Michael Schumacher's luckless early exit through gearbox trouble and then crashing out on the final lap after tangling with Sauber's impressive Sergio Perez, while Ferrari were flattered by Fernando Alonso's indefatigable battling qualities landing fifth place.
But for Lotus enduring 'one of those days', Ferrari's embarrassment at the failings of their F2012 would surely have proved acute with only a major last-lap error by Pastor Maldonado in the unexpectedly-competitive Williams potentially sparing Alonso further ignominy, the Venezuelan having been right on the Spaniard's gearbox for several laps until he dropped a wheel on the grass and ploughed nose-first into a wall.
For Hamilton, meanwhile, the race was a catalogue of frustration: beaten off the line by the sister McLaren, the loss of track position meant that he was forced to stay out for an extra costly lap on fading tyres and then had to sit behind the long-running Perez whilst his team-mate built up a ten-second lead.
Within seconds of the two McLarens taking their second pit-stop in formation, the Caterham of Vitaly Petrov crawled to a halt on the pit-straight, prompting the deployment of the Safety Car. Now for the bewildering twist: with the Red Bull able to continue at full speed whilst the two McLarens had to adhere to the controlled Safety Car delta time, Vettel was able to pit and return to the track ahead of Hamilton. In old-fashioned terms, it was a mugging.
But not a steal. From the re-start, Button produced a blistering turn of speed to resecure a comfortable advantage and a richly-deserved victory, while his team-mate was reduced to fighting off Mark Webber rather than hounding Vettel to the end. The contrast was sharp.
Australian GP result:
1) Jenson Button McLaren 58 laps
2) Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +2.1
3) Lewis Hamilton McLaren +4.0
4) Mark Webber Red Bull +4.5
5) Fernando Alonso Ferrari +21.5
6) Kamui Kobayashi Sauber +36.7
7) Kimi Raikkonen Lotus +38.0
8) Sergio Perez Sauber +39.4
9) Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso +39.5
10) Paul di Resta Force India +39.7
11) Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +39.8
12) Nico Rosberg Mercedes +57.6
13) Pastor Maldonado Williams +1 lap
14) Timo Glock Marussia +1 lap
15) Charles Pic Marussia +5 laps