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Race Report: Button Claims Aussie Honours

Sunday 18th March 2012

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Race Report: Button Claims Aussie Honours

Race Report: Button Claims Aussie Honours

Jenson Button beat team-mate and pole sitter Lewis Hamilton into the first corner and never looked back as he won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The 2009 World Champion was in complete control of the race as he claimed the early-season honours ahead of the Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton. Vettel scrapped his way through the field from P6 on the grid but was handedsome good fortune when a Safety Car gifted him second place ahead of Hamilton.

The success stories of qualifying on Saturday, Romain Grosjean and Michael Schumacher, both had races to forget as they both retired early.

Race Report
It was a sunny Albert Park that greeted the cars with an ambient temperature of 22C and the track at 28C. As the tyre choices were revealed on the parade lap, only Perez, Vergne and Petrov were going for the medium Prime tyre. Perez had taken a 5-place grid penalty for changing a gearbox and was starting from the back. Both HRTS were missing after failing to achieve 107% of the qualifying time on Saturday.

When the red lights went out Jenson Button got a great start from P2 on the grid and was able to take the inside line into Turn 1 and edge ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton for the lead. Further back, the two Mercedes both had great starts with Michael Schumacher up to third place and Nico Rosberg coming through from seventh on the grid to take fourth.

Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber had poor starts and lost places. Webber was sandwiched between Vergne on the outside and Hulkenberg on the inside and radioed back that he thought he had damage after they both tried to get onto his piece of tarmac at Turn 1.

Home boy Daniel Ricciardo and Bruno Senna had a coming together and both had to limp back to the pits at the end of the opening lap. However making up for their dismal qualifying on Saturday, the Ferraris launched themselves forward, Fernando claimed P8 from twelfth on the grid and Felipe Massa had an even more impressive charge to P10 from sixteenth on the grid.

Nico Hulkenberg's ill-advised contact with Webber on the opening lap put him out of the race.

Positions at the end of Lap 1 1.Button, 2.Hamilton, 3.Schumacher, 4.Rosberg, 5.Vettel, 6.Grosjean, 7.Maldonado, 8.Alonso, 9.Webber, 10.Massa, 11.Kobayashi, 12.Perez, 13.Glock, 14.Raikkonen

The jostling for positions that so often ends on Lap 1 continued right through Lap 2 in Australia. Sebastian Vettel hammered another nail into the theory that he can't overtake by getting past Nico Rosberg's Mercedes for P4, while a feisty move from Pastor Maldonado saw Romain Grosjean punted off into the gravel after inexpertly trying to defend his place. From P3 on the grid, a poor start and race exit on Lap 2 was not the start Lotus would have wanted for Grosjean but Raikkonen was still running and was up to P12 by Lap 2.

At the front, Jenson Button set a series of successive fastest laps to establish a clear gap to Hamilton. By Lap 5 he had a 3.1 second advantage. Lap 6 was the first time that he didn't set the timing screens to purple (fastest). It was all very reminiscent of Vettel in 2011.

Pastor Maldonado's adventures were continuing as he went off track on Lap 4 allowing Alonso up to P6 and Massa up to P8. He wasn't the only one. Sebastian Vettel misjudged his braking into Turn 1 on Lap 6 allowing Nico Rosberg to close up again. The two ran side by side with Alonso in close attendance to see if he could capitalise. In the end Vettel hung on to keep his place.

Having qualified well, the much anticipated fall-off in Mercedes lap times, caused by tyre wear, was being realised. Michael had dropped 6.5 seconds behind Hamilton by Lap 7 and Nico Rosberg was coming under pressure from Fernando Alonso for his P5. They weren't the only ones. By Lap 9 Felipe Massa was reporting back that he had no grip in his rear tyres and he was holding up a gaggle of Perez, Kobayashi and Raikkonen..Sebastian Vettel caught up with P3 Schumacher on Lap 10 and just as he was figuring a way to get past him, Michael obliged by pulling off the road and then limping back to the pits - seemingly a gearbox problem putting an end to his day's work.

At this stage, Lap 11, Button had a 3.3 second advantage over Hamilton who was ten seconds clear of Vettel.

On Lap 12 Massa started off the round of early pitstops for tyres, followed a lap later by Rosberg and on Lap 14 Fernando Alonso. It had been predicted that the stops would begin around Laps 16 to 18, so this was much earlier than expected.

By Lap 15, both McLarens were running laps in the 1:34s and Sebastian Vettel, now in P3, was catching them with 1:33s. Button pitted on Lap 16 and Vettel followed him in. Lewis Hamilton's one extra lap on the old tyres cost him dear - a disastrous 1:36.403. This meant that when the cars reassembled after the pit-stops his lead over Vettel had shrunk from 10 seconds to 2.8.

Positions on Lap 17: 1.Button, 2.Raikkonen (not stopped), 3.Perez (not stopped), 4.Hamilton, 5.Vettel, 6.Vergne (not stopped), 7.Alonso 8.Rosberg, 9.Webber, 10.Maldonado, 11.Massa, 12.Kobayashi

Hamilton struggled to get past the yet-to-stop Sergio Perez and lost more time to Vettel. By Lap 23 he was just 1.2 seconds in front of him and decided to put his foot down to open up the gap. Hamilton reduced the fatest lap to 1:31.7 on Lap 24 and 1:31.5 on Lap 26 and by Lap 30 he'd closed his deficit to Jenson to just 9.4 seconds but only opened a 2.5 second gap on Vettel.

Not far behind them Mark Webber was hard on the tail of Nico Rosberg and complaining that the German was "moving all over the place" and on Lap 31 the Mercedes driver had to take to the exit road on the inside of the fast chicane to maintain momentum and his position ahead of the Red Bull. Whether or not that was a fair defence of the place became a moot point when he pitted at the end of the lap.

Released from following Rosberg, Mark Webber started to move forward with a new sense of urgency and set the fastest lap of 1:31.098 on Lap 32, his target the P4 of Fernando Alonso. Before he could quite get there Alonso obliged by diving into the pits for more tyres, handing over the place.

At the end of Lap 36 both McLarens followed suit. At this stage Button had a 10.8 second lead over Hamilton and so the team were able to get both cars in and out on the same lap. They had lost a lot of time when the tyres started to go off after the first stint and were not going to risk waiting an extra lap for Hamilton again

Little did they know this was again the wrong thing to do as at that moment Vitaly Petrov's steering failed on the Caterham and he failed to find a safe place to park it, leaving it in an awkward position on the start/finish straight. The Safety Car was brought out and because Hamilton had to slow for the incident and Vettel was past it, Vettel got in and out of the pits and took his position. Many more cars took advantage of the opportunity to stop for tyres and the field compressed. Heading for the restart after Lap 41 the order was: 1.Button, 2.Vettel, 3.Hamilton, 4.Webber, 5.Maldonado, 6.Alonso, 7.Perez, 8.Rosberg, 9.Raikkonen, 10.Kobayashi, 11.DiResta, 12.Vergne

When the race was restarted on Lap 42 Jenson Button produced one of the restarts of his career crossing the line at the end of the lap with a massive 2.5 gap to Vettel. He then reeled off a succession of fastest laps on Laps 43, 44, 45, 46 and 47. Of the top four it looked like it would be Hamilton pressuring Vettel that might bring a result, but Vettel edged out a slight lead to take himself outside the DRS zone and then Hamilton came under pressure from Webber. In the closing stages of the race all four would put in fastest laps but the order wouldn't change and 2.9 seconds was the closest Vettel would ever get to Button.

Pastor Maldonado looked glued to the back of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari for the 17-lap sprint to the flag, while further back down the field there was an all-Brazilian clash between Bruno Senna's Williams and Felipe Massa's Ferrari at Turn 4, Massa pushing Senna out wide and the two making contact. The incident would be investigated by the stewards afterwards.

Nico Rosberg's tyres were fading again and he found himself under pressure from Kobayashi and Raikkonen who were continuing their ding-dong encounter from earlier. All of them were catching the one-stopping Sergio Perez who was hanging on to soft rubber that he had changed before half distance.

It all began to kick of on the final lap when Pastor Maldonado tried to cut too much kerb in a bid to mount an overtaking move on Alonso. His car lost control and span into the barriers - his precious P6 position for Williams up in smoke. Rosberg attempted to get past Perez and the two came together damaging Rosberg's car and putting him out of the points, while wounding Perez's chances.

Kobyashi gratefully swooped through to take P6, Raikkonen passed Perez in the penultimate corner to take P8, while not far behind Daniel Ricciardo got ahead of Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne for P9 and Paul DiResta edged the Frenchman out by 0.1 of a second for the final point as the cars crossed the line in a blanket finish.

The frantic midfield drama slightly deflected the attention from Jenson Button's highly impressive first win of the year and the Red Bull recovery to 2nd and 4th. Lewis Hamilton was a glum addition to the podium in P3 having hoped for so much more. A further seventeen seconds back, Fernando Alonso came home in P5 having saved a lot of the Scuderia's blushes.

It had been an epic first race to start the new season, but as many had predicted, the McLarens and the Red Bulls look to be the teams to beat - even if they don't have a fancy DRS-stalling device.
Frank Hopkinson

Times
01. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h34:09.565
02. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 2.100
03. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 4.000
04. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 4.500
05. Alonso Ferrari + 21.500
06. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 36.700
07. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 38.000
08. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 39.400
09. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 39.500
10. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 39.700
11. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 39.800
12. Rosberg Mercedes + 57.600
13. Maldonado Williams-Renault + 1 lap
14. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
15. Pic Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
16. Senna Williams-Renault + 4 laps
Did Not Finish
Massa Ferrari 47
Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 42
Petrov Caterham-Renault 37
Schumacher Mercedes 11
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 2
Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1
Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1
De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1

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