McLaren posted notice that they are the early-season team to beat as Jenson Button scored a dominant win at the Australian Grand Prix with teammate Lewis Hamilton crossing the line in third. Red Bull Racing teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber finished in second and fourth, respectively.
Hamilton had claimed pole position on Saturday but when the lights went out, it was Button who made the better getaway, edging his teammate out of the lead as the pair rounded turn one. Button controlled the race comfortably, although a late-race accident involving Williams’ Pastor Maldonado and an earlier safety car period gave brief cause for concern.
Button managed the restart well, however, and when the safety car peeled off track the McLaren driver powered into a three-second lead over Vettel that wasn’t threatened in the final laps.
Asked if he had been worried by losing the 10-second lead he had built up over Vettel during the safety car period, Button admitted it had given him pause for thought.
“Yeah, you always do, especially when it’s so cold. It’s late in the afternoon, the sun’s dropping, it’s difficult to keep heat in the tires,” he said. “That’s the last thing you want leading the pack round to the restart. I was a little bit on edge but I was able to keep heat in the tires and save a lot of fuel -- which I think was quite important for us -- and get a good restart. The team said 'push as hard as you can for two laps after the restart to get a gap.' I was able to do that, which I was very happy about. Then it was about controlling the pace until the end of the race.”
Vettel, though, admitted that the Briton needn’t have worried.
“When the Safety Car came, I thought I would be in a good place or a good position to have a go at Jenson… but I didn’t! He was just too quick; two corners and he seemed to be gone,” admitted the Red Bull Racing driver, who rose to second from sixth on the grid. “I was struggling to get up to speed."
"I think I held up Lewis," he continued. "He was very close for a couple of laps when the DRS was enabled, so it wasn’t very easy to get away from him but Jenson was out of sight. So there was no way we could have stayed with him. He completely deserved to win today.”
Despite losing out on a 22nd career win, Vettel was pleased with his performance and that of the RB8, especially after mixed fortunes earlier in the race weekend.
“It was a very positive race for us; we knew it would be a difficult one, so to come away with second and a lot of points is very important. I think the car has a lot of potential. Obviously we would have loved to have been in a better position yesterday but as I said, we did a lot of laps and I think we understood more about the car and, yeah, now we need to address the problems and make sure that we give them a harder time next week.”
He admitted, however, that his team had some ground to make up on their chief rivals.
“I think they were stronger this weekend,” he said. “Jenson deserved to win, he was out of reach for us. Today in the race I think it was looking a bit better for us, but nevertheless, they are the ones to beat at the moment.”
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber took fourth place behind Hamilton, recovering from a bad start that also saw him involved in a first-corner clash with compatriot Daniel Ricciardo and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
“There are some positives to take out of today,” said Webber. “Qualifying was difficult for us, but the race pace was better today, it was just that we didn’t have track position. I had a poor start, so I need to see what happened there, and then I got sandwiched at turn one. I was able to keep going and then started to build from there."
“We had a bit of luck with the Safety Car and I was quicker than Lewis at the end, but it’s a difficult track to overtake here -- in Malaysia it would have been different.” he added. “Today was a strong showing and it was a good day given what we went to bed with last night, but this was a good comeback. It was a strong start.”
The top five was rounded out by Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard battling hard to salvage some reward from a pretty dismal weekend for Ferrari.
Alonso made up places at the start but then came a long defense of his position against the surprisingly quick Williams of Pastor Maldonado. The Ferrari driver was only freed from the battle when the Venezuelan erred and arrowed into the wall late in the race.
“When I saw he’d gone off the track I breathed a sigh, because he had been really close to me for quite a few laps up until then,” said Alonso. “I was slower than him and all I could do was defend my position, using the KERS at a few specific points. I am sorry for him, because it’s a real shame to finish a race like that.”
The Ferrari driver admitted the team is in trouble. “We are probably a second off pole and there are seven or eight teams who are all very close to one another. In one sense, that’s good news because if we can improve by a few tenths, then we can make up a few places. Next week in Malaysia will be a trial by fire, because Sepang is a very demanding circuit, for the cars and the tires.”
1. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes 1:34:09.565
2. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Renault +2.1 secs
3. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes +4 secs
4. Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing-Renault +4.5 secs
5. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari +21.5 secs
6. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari +36.7 secs
7. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault +38.0 secs
8. Sergio Perez, Sauber-Ferrari +39.4 secs
9. Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso-Ferrari +39.5 secs
10. Paul Di Resta, Force India-Mercedes +39.7 secs
11. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso-Ferrari +39.8 secs
12. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes +57.6 secs
13. Pastor Maldonado, Williams-Renault +1 Lap
14. Timo Glock, Marussia-Cosworth +1 Lap
15. Charles Pic, Marussia-Cosworth +5 Laps
16. Bruno Senna, Williams-Renault +6 Laps
Ret Felipe Massa, Ferrari +12 Laps
Ret Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham-Renault +20 Laps
Ret Vitaly Petrov, Caterham-Renault +24 Laps
Ret Michael Schumacher, Mercedes +48 Laps
Ret Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault +57 Laps
Ret Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes +58 Laps
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