Jenson Button starts his season with an emphatic win in Melbourne

2012 Australian Grand Prix report

Jenson Button, McLaren, Melbourne, 2012Jenson Button produced a dominant performance to win the first race of 2012.

He took the lead from team mate Lewis Hamilton at the start and never looked back.

Sebastian Vettel split the two McLaren drivers on the podium after a safety car period played into his hands.

Button grabs the lead

A frantic first lap set the scene for the race: close action in the midfield, but at the front a consummate performance from Button.

As Hamilton bogged down, Button got “excited” and shifted up into second too quickly. Despite that he was was cleanly into a lead he rarely looked like losing.

From third on the grid, Romain Grosjean started slowly, finding trouble selecting second gear. Nico Rosberg, who started four places back, drew alongside him on the outside of the first corner. Rosberg braked later and made the turn, taking up fourth behind his team mate.

Grosjean’s race didn’t last much a longer. Pastor Maldonado dived down the inside of him at turn 13 on the next lap, the pair made contact and the Lotus’s front suspension broke.

Vettel picked off Nico Rosberg on the second lap, sweeping around the outside of the Mercedes at turn nine. He set off after Michael Schumacher, but went off at turn one on lap six and briefly fell back into the clutches of Rosberg.

Rosberg was under pressure from Fernando Alonso, who’d made remarkable progress from 12th on the grid.

Mark Webber made a poor start by his own admission and suffered damage to his RB8 in contact with Nico Hulkenberg. Having fallen to ninth he passed Maldonado when the Williams driver collided with Grosjean, and took up the running behind Alonso.

Massa hits tyre trouble

The other Ferrari of Felipe Massa had also started well and he too moved up at Maldonado’s expense. But within the fist ten laps he was struggling with tyre wear and Maldonado re-passed him.

Button pulled away quickly at the start, building up a 3.4s lead over Hamilton. His advantage was boosted by Vettel’s mistake and Schumacher’s retirement on lap 11. By lap 13, the closest driver to him besides his team mate was Vettel, 13 seconds behind.

Massa came in to shed his worn tyres on lap 12, and the drivers in front soon began to pit in response.

McLaren faced a dilemma familiar to Red Bull last year, of how to manage the pit stops of their drivers who were running one-two, without inadvertently handing one an advantage over the other.

“We give control for selection of the lap to the car in front,” explained Whitmarsh. So it was Button who came in first, followed by Hamilton on the next lap.

At their second stops McLaren brought both their cars in together: “We nearly did it at the first stop – we chickened out of that one,” added Whitmarsh.

Vettel followed Button in on lap 17. When Hamilton emerged from the pits on the following lap he came out behind Sergio Perez, who was repeating Sauber’s tactics from last year of running a long first stint on the harder tyre.

Hamilton spent a costly two laps behind Perez before using DRS to pass him on lap 21. Vettel, now within range of the McLaren, followed him past on the same lap.

The next man past was Alonso, who was running in an impressive fourth place in a Ferrari which had looked a handful all weekend.

Further back Rosberg and Webber were disputing fifth place. Webber took a brave look at Rosberg in the high-speed turn 11, but backed out of it just as Rosberg realised he couldn’t make the corner and took to the escape road.

The Mercedes driver pitted at the end of the lap, releasing Webber to hunt down Alonso. He took over a second per lap out of the Ferrari before Alonso, too, headed for the pits.

Hamilton loses out under safety car

After passing Perez, Hamilton initially made an impression on Button’s lead, bringing it down to under ten seconds. But by the time they were ready for their second pit stops the gap was back up to ten seconds and McLaren felt they could risk bringing both their drivers in on the same lap without losing any time.

They were ill-rewarded for this risky move as the appearance of the safety car shortly afterwards ultimately cost Hamilton second place to Vettel.

Vettel believed he would have had a chance at passing the McLaren even without the safety car appearance, which was triggered by Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham stopping by the start/finish line.

But in another respect the safety car was good news for McLaren, as the team had found they were using fuel at a quicker rate than they expected and needed to back off to make sure they reached the finish.

Having let the lapped cars move out of the way – a revived procedure that not all the drivers in the queue seemed to be ready for – the safety car released the field for a 17-lap sprint to the finish.

Button pulled 1.9 seconds out on Vettel at the restart. Behind him Hamilton initially kept Vettel in range before slipping back – the pair and Webber in a three-way stalemate.

Maldonado’s last-lap blunder

Behind him the action built to a dramatic climax. Maldonado was piling the pressure on Alonso for fifth place and as they headed into turn three he braked desperately lately, almost hitting the back of the F2012.

A few corners later he came completely unstuck, battering the barriers at turn seven. He had been on course for sixth place – better than any Williams managed last year.

Further back his team mate’s race had ended after contact with the other Ferrari. Bruno Senna had been knocked into a spin on the first lap and was making a recovery drive. He tried to take Massa on the outside of turn four and the pair collided, putting both out.

Maldonado’s crash wasn’t the only last-lap drama. Perez made contact with Rosberg while trying to pass, damaging one of Mercedes’ tyres and dropping Rosberg out of the top ten.

The cars behind pounced and Kimi Raikkonen took three places in the final lap to clinch seventh.

Perez hung on to seventh while Daniel Ricciardo and Paul di Resta passed Jean-Eric Vergne for the final points places.

Both Marussia drivers were classified despite their car having done no pre-season testing. Timo Glock celebrated his birthday with 14th place.

Maldonado, Senna and Charles Pic were all classified despite having stopped, leaving just 13 cars circulating at the finish.

“Every lap it felt a little bit in doubt”

If Button’s run to victory had looked straightforward, he said it wasn’t. “Every lap it felt a little bit in doubt,” he admitted afterwards.

McLaren’s win shows they can challenge Red Bull’s supremacy in 2012. But despite their strong showing Hamilton looked distinctly unhappy after a race which saw him start first and finish third.

2012 Australian Grand Prix


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254 comments on Jenson Button starts his season with an emphatic win in Melbourne

  1. Rick said on 18th March 2012, 12:49

    Hamilton’s race pace simply wasn’t up to Buttons level today. People who say it was tyres are mislead, Button was faster than Hamilton even when they both had new tyres on. If it was tyre management Button would only be faster when Hamilton had used the best of his up – this simply wasn’t the case today.
    I have a feeling that is the real reason why Hamilton was dejected afterwards, he knew he simply wasn’t quick enough from the off – it’s a long year though.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 18th March 2012, 12:57

      Looked to me like Hamilton was baffled by Button driving away from him and sort of lost the confidence and determination to fight for it. Lets hope he nails it on pole next week again and gives a good fight for it.

    • lluis said on 18th March 2012, 13:30

      Not only because of the lack of pace, poor strategy affected him too.
      Excerpt from El Pais “Y hoy, Jenson Button dejĂł constancia del potencial de los bĂłlidos británicos … por delante de un inconformista Sebastian Vettel y de Lewis Hamilton, perjudicado por la estrategia del equipo.” => “And today, Jenson Button recorded the potential of British racing cars … ahead of maverick Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, hurt by the team’s strategy”

    • soulmonkey said on 18th March 2012, 18:49

      My hypothesis is that Button turned up his engine to full mode at the start (after passing Hamilton) and after the restart. This allowed him to get away and out of the reach of the DRS. Once settled, Hamilton was able to either egged back or maintain the gap to Button. Unfortunately, Hamilton did need to pit before Button and not doing so at the right time contributed to his race greatly. But I think the most deciding factor was that Button used more engine revs (gas) than Hamilton. [of course it's a guess].

  2. BROOKSY007 (@brooksy007) said on 18th March 2012, 13:16

    Sitting @ turn 2 today – the mclarens have an obvious downforce advantage, their cars looked stable and controlled while the rest of the field were twitching and sliding on exit! Very cool to watch only 15m away!! Disappointed to see webber get sandwiched and his start, but 4th was pretty good. Riccardo in the points – very big cheers all around!
    Congrats to mclaren – starting the season strong!

  3. bsnaylor (@bsnaylor) said on 18th March 2012, 13:38

    When will we get to see the predictions table updated!

  4. schumi_the greatest said on 18th March 2012, 13:49

    Some of the comments on this site amaze me! people twisting reality to suit theyre theories etc, ridiculous.

    Was a good race, Button drove brilliantly, I knew as soon as he was past at the 1st corner it was always going to be hard for Hamilton to get back in front because of the pit stop situation. Thats the problem when your racing your team mate, rightfully the team gives the best strategy to the guy in front. But i also think thats a weankess on Hamilton/Mclarens past. At the 2nd round of stops Hamilton was starting to come under pressure from Vettel, Button was 10 seconds clear so was never going to be under threat by the “undercut” from Button. Mclaren should have brought lewis in first to protect his 2nd place from Vettel. What happened after was a bit lucky on Vettels part but (and Im a huge fan of Lewis) needs to be more assertive in these situations – that’s 1 of buttons strengths he’s prepared to make his own decisions out there sometimes and lewis needs to learn from that. The fact he was clearly not happy after the race is understandable i’d put it down to just a bad day at the office – it happens and to be fair to Jenson when he’s on form in a car that’s to his liking he’s a very good driver. Be interesting to see what happens in Malaysia, i would think mclaren would be even better there with the long corners etc their car seems much more planted on the track than the red bulls.

    Another impressive drive by Perez he faded off a little last season but he had a great race today, bad luck for Grosjean but he did let Maldonado bully him a little there. Good recovery from Raikkonen and a fantastic drive by Alonso. Massa needs to look at what hes doing, the car isnt any better for alonso but hes just throwing the car around whereas massa seems to expect it to just work for him, he’s been crap the last 2 years.

    Not sure what happened to Mercedes but there’s definitely pace there shame to see Schumacher retire but we should get a better idea of the pecking order next week. I think Mclaren are a little ahead of Red Bull with Lotus/Mercedes not far behind.

    Great to have F1 back and I thought the sky coverage was brilliant to be fair. I certainly didn’t miss listening to eddie jordan talk complete drivel or the cringey banter between the pundits (something brunle alluded to as a reason for leaving)

    • dkpioe said on 18th March 2012, 16:59

      at the second pitstop they both came in the same lap as hamilton was so far behind already. button exited his pit box well before hamilton arrived – so mclaren did nothing wrong to hamper hamiltons race. hamilton was outdriven this race in every aspect by his teammate, but not by as much as his pathetic attitude after the race showed. he should have been happy to have points on the board as its obvious it is going to be a tight season. such a poor attitude by hamilton shows a sign on mental weakness, this will hamper him over the season, he has to realise he is not the next ayrton senna like he thinks he is, and should just do the best he can, and be happy for every opportunity he gets to drive a top-2 car in f1.

    • Alexandre said on 18th March 2012, 20:35

      ALonso had a good race, but won 2 places (grosjean and maldonado) in the beginning, and had fresh tires to overtake both rosberg and webber (1st pit stop). If Massa continues like this, dont know if Ferrari will be patient to wait until the end of the year. Yes, the golden years are definitely gone. :(

  5. smudgersmith1 (@smudgersmith1) said on 18th March 2012, 14:00

    Really pleased for JB, but more concerned about Lewis, he seems to be missing the bit of magic he had in his first couple of seasons.
    This could be the closest of seasons and yes…..vettel can race and mix it when he needs to.

  6. Kevin Campos (@kcampos12) said on 18th March 2012, 14:16

    Great stuff Williams!

  7. Andre (@) said on 18th March 2012, 15:03

    Massa is already blaming everything else but himself.

  8. Terry said on 18th March 2012, 15:11

    Alonso came in 5th behind 2 Red Bulls and 2 Mclarens and this in the grand scheme of things is not a bad result at all. He was actually running 4th ahead of Webber for a while. Surprised they still haven’t resolved their qualifying issues from 2011. As for Massa…well.

    • dkpioe said on 18th March 2012, 17:02

      alonso and vettel are the best at getting the best out of the car they have. alonsos car looked liked 8-10th position finishing car, and after qualifying vettels car looked liked 4-6th position, and both showed their worth in the race and finished the best their cars possibly could.

  9. mikeycool said on 18th March 2012, 15:20

    Great drive from Button, but i still wouldnt dismiss Hamiltons chances in the Championship race this year. Its only the first race for goodness sake! I’d understand if Button won and Hamilton ended up in another incident involving the stewards, but overall it definately wasnt a bad drive from Hamilton.

    • Exactly, but Hamilton fans and non-fans, even haters, probably always expect greatness from him every lap of every race, so anything less than perfect is a ‘terrible’ result or something to do with Lewis losing his ‘mojo’.

      Fact is today was just an unfortunate series of events caused by a less-than-perfect getaway from the line.

      Theres many races to come and everyone will have their fair share of good and bad luck.

  10. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 18th March 2012, 15:50

    It was the first race but gosh this is another major psicological blow on Hamilton. JB just went by and never looked back, whereas Hami found himself yet again trying everything while looking at his team mate from the back.

    JB’s reputation is going up every day with smart races and now very fast fautless pace. Sure there were no mistakes from Hami today but to be beaten like that… one has to wonder: who really is the best driver of the two?.

    Hope Jenson continues like this. It’s just a great pleasure seeing him win like that, so classy!.

    • Simon said on 18th March 2012, 16:07

      I get the sense that Lewis has still got the shackles on somewhat. My guess would be that it’s down to (a) fear of being criticised as being reckless and (b) worried about his tyre management compared to his team mate.

      As many have said before, Jensen is in his element where strategy plays as big a part as raw speed (not to say he’s slow, but he’s not the quite the fastest either). The Pirelli tyres in particular really play to his strengths and full credit to him for his performances over the past 12 months.

      I’ve always thought that Lewis would secretly love to have the most recent Bridgestone era back!

      • dkpioe said on 18th March 2012, 17:10

        hamilton has to adapt. the best drivers can adapt, and tyre usage is a major factor in nearly every motorsport. maybe hamilton was so good in 2007 and 2008 because of the ease and consistency of the bridgestones. now he is still very fast, but cant manage a race pace, he is lucky he has the fastest or second fastest car at every race. in a sauber he might look totally dreadful with his tyre management.

        • Simon said on 18th March 2012, 17:32

          He’s fortunate in the respect that he has Jenson as his team mate. I can’t think of a better experienced driver to learn the “softer” skills from, providing he embraces it.

          Having said that, it’s not like Lewis is that far behind. Let’s not forget that at the midpoint of last season, he was ahead in all aspects of his battle with Jenson (qualifying, race results and championship points). After that, Jenson raised his game and Lewis dropped his.

          Whilst there are certainly areas that Lewis can / should improve upon, those stats highlight to me that the real problem has been in his head…

        • Firstly, cant manage a race pace? – Mclaren have said their cars had a higher fuel consumption rate than they expected, both cars where in fuel saving mode from lap 8, by then with Jenson out in clean air, he already had a little gap.

          Had lewis got a good start, the roles would have been reversed, Hamilton would have been able to pull a few second gap in first stint, would have therefore got pit choice, therefore wouldnt have came out in traffic, therefore wouldnt have got caught out by that SC.

          Anyone looking at Lewis 3rd place and saying ‘see, cant manage tyres. Isnt as good as people expect. Hasnt sorted out his personal problems, bla bla’ are either delusional, or just simply dont understand the details of this sport.

          and secondly, if he was in a Sauber? go back and watch a 2009 review, when he was in one of the worst cars in the field. Try and tell me he looked ordinary, or even bad, in a bad car… You wont be able to because you’d make yourself look foolish.

          • sebsronnie (@sebsronnie) said on 19th March 2012, 10:53

            Spot on! The only thing Hamilton got wrong was the start. After that, they both switched to fuel saving mode but only one of them was in dirty air and got the short end of the safety car stick. It is truly amazing to see how everyone is ready to jump on the guys back with all sorts of frankly ridiculous statements. The worst is ‘his attitude was pathetic etc’ – come on, you want him to celebrate 15 points when his target was 25?

          • Robbie (@robbie) said on 19th March 2012, 13:08

            @N said…while I do agree with you in general that one race does not a season make, and LH has tons of time to take the fight to JB and everyone else, I think that it isn’t entirely unfair to criticise him after the year that he just had with enough mistakes that will always ensure no WDC.

            Since you are into playing woulda, coulda, shoulda (ie. had he gotten a better start this would have happened and this wouldn’t etc) I’ll add this…If he hadn’t made so many mistakes last year, allowed JB to best him in the end, and then to top it off recently admitted that he had too much fun last year that cost him training days which hurt him at the track, perhaps I would feel for him a little more.

            But he got pole, and then one could say squandered it…JB has shown last year was not just a fluke and he didn’t shine just because LH struggled at times, he shone because he is good and fast and doesn’t seem to get distracted whether he is leading or coming up through the field, nor with a teammate who many have claimed is faster and who has the team centered around him.

            LH to me is showing signs of a sense of entitlement. He’s been in F1 for long enough to know that the ‘fun’ he had last year would hurt him on race weekends, not to mention I think it is a terrible thing for the team and it’s sponsors to hear…that their WDC level driver hurt everyone with his ‘fun’. And now his sour-puss look after the race…get over yourself LH…the world doesn’t revolve around you….and you are not the next Senna in spite of claiming that for yourself…that’s how I feel about LH now.

          • Well robbie, we obviously have compleltly opposite views of what happend at the weekend.

            You think its not unfair to critise him after his performance given what happend to him last year? I say the opposite, i say he kept his head down and got on with the job in Aus instead of letting his frustration at having not only lost first place, but then lost 2nd through bad luck. Maybe in past years he would have tried too hard in the remaining laps after the SC restart to try and re-pass Vettel. Can you imagine what people would be saying had he tried too much to retake 2nd place and did a Maldonado?

            Lewis came across to me as someone with their eye on the long-game, precisly because of how last year went.

            “he shone because he is good and fast and doesn’t seem to get distracted whether he is leading or coming up through the field, nor with a teammate who many have claimed is faster and who has the team centered around him.”

            Jensons wins have typically came about when hes either backed into a strategical corner and tries something contrary to the main runners, which eventually pays off, or, when his main rivals come into troubles.

            It’s also a bit strange you mention its terrible for him to be admitting he let his focus slip by ‘partying’ too much for one year, when Jenson admitted he did the same thing for most of his F1 career, only really knuckling down since mid 2000’s.

            Young, wealthy… it’s going to happen. Atleast Lewis has recognised it early enough and now seems focused on the job.

            Also, don’t think i’ve ever seen one quote by Lewis claiming to be the ‘next Senna’

          • Robbie (@robbie) said on 21st March 2012, 14:21

            http://www.formula1blog.com/2011/03/29/hamilton-im-senna-and-alonso-is-prost/

            I know those quotes were talked about on this site last year. I’m sure it’s in the archives here but I just googled “Lewis Hamilton ‘I am Senna’ quote” and found the reference I have pasted above quite quickly.

            Anyway, I take your point and perhaps it will turn out to be the case that LH is now focused with his eye on the long-game after last season. We’ll see how he now deals with what JB has done so far this season.

            As to the partying thing…you are right about JB and I had forgotten that, so good on you to bring it up, but that said, since you’ve reminded me, I’m quite sure JB fell into that trap early on in his career and realized it early on too, and corrected his behaviour…well before he was anywhere near being a proven winner and/or WDC. The difference with LH is that this is last year we are talking about…already a proven winner and WDC, he decided to become a partier too? Different from JB, and I say LH had way more reason/experience such that he should have known better than JB, a relative rookie when he learned his lesson.

    • Alexandre said on 18th March 2012, 20:39

      Jb is each year more like Prost, and Hamilton more like Mansell.

  11. Simon said on 18th March 2012, 16:01

    Disappointed not to see a 1-2 for Mclaren today. Even though I’d have preferred a victory for Lewis, once Jenson got past in the first corner and had clean air, combined with his slighlty better tyre management, he was always going to be tough to beat. Good result for him.

    The first pit stop was at least one lap too late for both drivers and cost Lewis in particular a lot of time as a result; his tyres had clearly gone off during the last lap (or two) of that stint.

    I actually thought Mclaren had pulled off a superb move for the 2nd stop (redeeming themselves for the earlier mistake), getting both drivers in at once. Vettel can count himself very fortunate to be in a position to drive round part of the track faster than his rivals (which shouldn’t be allowed, but does seem to be a loop-hole in the current rules).

    I’m hoping for a season full of twists and turns, and the early signs are it might just deliver!

  12. carbon_fibre (@carbon_fibre) said on 18th March 2012, 16:02

    So disappointed that Maldonado crashed out in the last lap ,he deserved that 6th place.

  13. The mercedes website says that rosberg got a puncture when he collided with perez – which would explain his lack of pace on the last lap

  14. Platine (@) said on 18th March 2012, 16:09

    Unreal how HAM so often suffers from McLaren poor strategy, how could they not spot he’d be stuck being Perez? Whitmarsh said they chickened out, prob wasnt enough time, make sure you optimize stops, pull Hamilton in before BUT if he has priority.
    Safety car costing him second is just crazy.
    Didnt see any evidence that VET could have taken him, McLaren had at least equal pace.

    Anyway, BUT was imperious, look like McLaren have the edge right now, dev. will keep them there I reckon, so fancy BUT and HAM to fight for teh title, with VET, aided by Rud Bulls uncanny race management, in the mix.

    Another bit of Alonso durability and skill to get 4th, he is such an asset to Ferrari, while Massa is just a liability, as you all seemingly agree :) Appears Ferrari is not the mess that it seemed.

    Awesome Sauber.

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