McLaren driver puts in commanding performance, overcoming safety car setback to take chequered flag
Jenson Button has won his third Australian Grand Prix in four years, passing team-mate Lewis Hamilton on the first corner of the race and going on to dominate Albert Park until the flag fell in the early evening sunshine.
It was his 13th victory and in Melbourne he drove with the smoothness and calmness that was a feature of his driving last year, when he was runner-up to Sebastian Vettel.
“Thanks guys,” he said after he crossed the line. “The car was beautiful and too quick.” And it was – even for his team-mate.
“We had a strong winter and this will help them to push even harder,” Button said. “I was a little bit on edge, trying to keep heat in tyres when the safety car came out. But it was an amazing day.”
Hamilton was frustrated not only by his poor start. He got stuck behind Sergio Pérez then got overtaken by an opportunistic Vettel, who took second place. Hamilton took the final podium place as McLaren showed that their pace on the previous day, when they took 1-2 on the grid for the first time for three years, was no fluke.
“It was a tough day but there are plenty more races ahead so I’ll keep my head up,” said Hamilton.
Mark Webber was fourth, his best performance in his home race, and Red Bull will be happy with their 2-4 result after their disappointing qualifying.
The only real problem for Button – apart from the vibration from his tyres that he reported – came with the emergence of the safety car on lap 37 after Vitaly Petrov, driving a Caterham, came to an awkward stop on the start/finish straight. It meant Button losing his commanding 10-second lead.
The incident helped Vettel, who didn’t have to slow down because he was past the yellow flag area, allowing him to replace Hamilton in second place.
The champion was told by Red Bull to “rehearse in his mind” the overtaking move to get past Button and take the lead. But when the safety car came back in with 17 laps to go, Button streaked ahead once more, pulling out a lead of 3.4 seconds within two laps.
It was a disappointing race for Mercedes after their show of pace in the various tests and qualifying sessions. Michael Schumacher didn’t finish and Nico Rosberg was back in 12th.
Fernando Alonso produced a strong drive in a Ferrari that had looked uncompetitive, to finish fifth. But it was a disappointing afternoon for Williams and Pastor Maldonado, who worked his way up to seventh only to crash out on the final lap.
Hamilton failed to make the most of the 20th pole of his career, suffering some wheelspin, and Button, on the dirty side of the grid, got up on the inside of his team-mate to take the lead on the first turn.
There was also a bad start from Webber, who made contact with Bruno Senna’s Williams and quickly slipped from fifth on the grid back to ninth.
There were early signs that Red Bull had better race pace than they did in qualifying on Saturday. Vettel quickly moved past Nico Rosberg to take fourth place.
But the early laps were dominated by the McLarens, pulling away from the rest of the pack. At the same time Button drew away from second placed Hamilton, pulling out of the DRS zone and replicating what Vettel did on so many occasions last year.
McLaren – and especially Button – go to Malaysia on Monday full of confidence. The race was confirmation of what many said before the start: it could be a classic season.