McLaren top dire 2013 at first attempt as debutant Kevin Magnussen flies to podium
Both Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button promoted in final standings after Daniel Ricciardo's late-night disqualification
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 16/03/14 1:49pm
McLaren topped their miserable 2013 campaign in one fell swoop at the season-opening Australian GP as they returned to the podium for the first time in 16 months and took an early lead of the Constructors' Championship - a result Jenson Button admits is a big early 2014 boost for the team.
McLaren's new protege Kevin Magnussen capped his highly impressive acclimatisation to life at motorsport's top table by finishing a fine third on his debut in Melbourne, while experienced team leader Button recovered strongly from a Q2 exit on Saturday to come home just three seconds behind in fourth.
Both drivers were later promoted in the post-race classification, with Magnussen up to second and Button elevated to third, following the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo.
Having missed out on the podium completely for the first time in 30 years last season, Magnussen's top-three finish represented McLaren's first visit to the rostrum visit since Button won the 2012 season finale in Brazil, while the 33 points collected by the team - as many as they achieved in the first six races last year - puts them on top of the nascent Constructors' Championship.
And while fully aware the MP4-29 isn't the outright fastest car in the field, Button said the Melbourne result gives the team a strong basis on which to construct a competitive season.
"It's been a long time since we were leading a Constructors' Championship [China 2012]," Button replied when asked by Sky Sports F1 if the three-four finish was a big boost for the team.
"It's a really good feeling. You always want more but this is a good starting point and we have some improvements for Malaysia.
"We are not leading the Constructors' because we're the quickest, we're leading the Constructors' because we got both cars home and we're relatively quick. With some updates hopefully we can challenge the Mercedes and Williams, who I think are very quick."
Coincidentally or not, McLaren's return to the podium occured on the first race weekend since Ron Dennis's return to direct involvement at the race team in five years.
The legendary figure, who presided over a gluttony of title wins during his tenure as team boss between 1981 and 2009, however showed his famous thirst for winning by stating: "We're pleased but we're not ecstatic. We save 'ecstatic' for wins."
McLaren's hierarchy though will undoubtedly be more than just a little pleased with the assured weekend-long performance of 21-year-old debutant Magnussen after the Dane became the first rookie since McLaren's last young star, Lewis Hamilton in 2007, to make the podium on his first F1 outing.
Having driven in Formula Renault 3.5 last year, Magnussen admitted the achievement was difficult to take in.
"It's hard to believe really, it just seems so surreal," said Magnussen, who becomes the first Danish podium finisher.
"It's not a win but it definitely feels like a bit of a win because the team is coming off a difficult season and they really wanted to come back.
"What can I say? The car was just so much better than we've been at any point, we just keep improving the car and I just had exactly what I needed the whole race.
"The preparation we've done this winter has been fantastic - I've never done a Formula 1 race and testing is so limited these days, so big congratulations for the team to doing such a good job."
The rookie's performance was praised by both Button and new McLaren Team Principal Eric Boullier, who told Sky F1: "He's young still, he's only 21, so obviously he was aggressive but still very mature in some ways. Managing stress and the pressure over the weekend.
Magnussen is applauded on his return to the pitlane
"He was not unlucky like Jenson [in qualifying] so he could benefit from a better position on the grid but still he did a decent race with good pace and managed all the systems in the car."
Button's own promising start to the weekend had already been compromised by the yellow flags triggered by Kimi Raikkonen's crash at the end of Q2 in qualifying. However, he enjoyed better fortune on Sunday as undercuts at both of his pitstops - the first of which came immediately after the Safety Car was deployed - brought him up the order.
"Starting tenth was always going to be tricky and I said to the guys 'I want to get a good start'," Button explained. "It's the easiest place to gain places but it's also the easiest place to have a shunt and especially with the way the cars are under braking there were so many accidents on lap one so I actually found myself going backwards a little bit.
"But an enjoyable race and the team did a great job in the pitstops. Also when the safety boards flashed up I saw it and quickly dived in the pits, which made a big difference as well.
After losing the tip of his MP4-29's nose at his second pitstop, Button added: "It wasn't the prettiest car at the end of the race but it was an enjoyable car at the end of the race. The last stint I didn't have to save fuel, I pushed as hard as I could to catch Kevin and Daniel but there just wasn't enough in the tyres, they were pretty old."
The 35-year-old also expressed his gratification with the support he had received from the paddock on the first grand prix following his popular father John's death.
"It's been a tough weekend emotionally. I'm not the sort of person who likes to show it in front of a TV camera, I don't think that's right," he said.
"In the background it's very, very tough but I've had the most amazing support from the paddock, my family, friends, and all the guys within the team. They've been wearing this little pink shirt and it really does mean a lot. He'll have a big smile on his face looking down and knowing everyone's talking about him right now, he loved that!"
Really proud. To be on the podium made me realize how fortunate I am. Thank you to my family, my manager and all my friends back home.- Kevin Magnussen (@KevinMagnussen) March 16, 2014
They're always behind me and they believed in me before anyone else did.- Kevin Magnussen (@KevinMagnussen) March 16, 2014
I can't thank the team enough for making this happen. They're allowing me to live my dream and I am forever grateful to them.- Kevin Magnussen (@KevinMagnussen) March 16, 2014