Jenson Button beat McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton into the first corner of the 2012 Formula 1 season opener at Albert Park Raceway
in Melbourne, Australia, and then led all the way to finish.
Button earned his 13th F1 victory, stamping both himself and the new McLaren MP4-27
as a threat to challenge Red Bull Racing, which has been dominant over the past two seasons thanks mostly to today's second-finisher, reigning two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
In earning his third Australian GP victory in the past four years, Button drove a perfect race, not allowing a safety car period that bunched the field and left Vettel on his rear wing to get to him.
"At the start I really wanted to get away fast in the first two laps to avoid the threat of DRS (there were two zones)--it wasn't easy because I had Lewis right on my tail," Button said. "But the race went smoothly after that. My biggest worry was the late-race safety car--I had a 10-second advantage, which was pretty healthy, but the safety car cut that to nothing."
At the close of the race, close to 6 pm local time and nearing sunset, all the drivers had to work to "keep temperature in the tires when we were running slowly behind the safety car. That was a big worry for me," Button acknowledged, "but it worked out okay in the end. I got clear of Seb and the DRS zone pretty quickly and was able to pull out an advantage and hold it to the end. We've got a great car and we can fight for the world championships. This is a perfect start to my season and I'm already looking forward to Malaysia," which takes place next week.
This was the 176th victory for McLaren, 149th fastest lap for the team and seventh fastest lap for Button.
Vettel's RB8 race car
was 2.1 seconds behind Button at the close of the 58-lap contest, up from his sixth place starting spot.
"I think it was the most we could have achieved and I felt good in the car. I think it was a great race--a lot of fun," he said. "I'm very happy to come away with second place; it's a lot of points and I think people would not have expected it after [qualifying] yesterday."
While Hamilton was disappointed "not to have been able to convert pole position into victory, I'm not downhearted. There are still plenty of races ahead and lots more opportunities to score points. I struggled out there a little," he revealed. "It wasn't my day. But what's most important is that we showed today that we have a very quick racing car. That's a massive positive for the team."
Mark Webber earned fourth place in his home Grand Prix from fifth on the grid. While qualifying was out of spec for both Red Bull drivers, Webber was able to work better with race-day pace--despite a poor start that saw him pushed back to ninth. "The car felt quite tricky on the options in the fist stint and I wondered if I had some damage from the first corner, but then when I got the primes the race came alive for me."
Fernando Alonso took the new Ferrari F2012 to fifth place, making a stellar start and moving from 12th to eighth on the opening lap. "We knew it would be a very complicated race and I am happy I managed to bring home a useful number of points," the 2006 champion said. "We still have a lot of work to do to reach those that are ahead of us--we are probably a second off pole and there are seven or eight teams who are all very close to one another."
Kamui Kobayashi's success in pre-season testing computed to a sixth-place result in the Sauber C31: "I am very happy for the team and myself," he said. "I had to do the whole race with a damaged rear wing--this was very difficult and for sure cost car performance."
Kimi Raikkonen's return to Grand Prix racing resulted in a seventh place finish for the Finn and 2007 titleholder, driving for Lotus F1 Team. Coming from 18th on the grid in the E20, the Iceman said he "felt like I've never been away. Yesterday we made some mistakes which cost us quite badly so it could easily have been better in the race. Overall the weekend was far from ideal, but the car feels good and to come back to seventh means we at least come away with some points."
Sergio Perez had been leading his Sauber teammate Kobayashi but an incident on the final lap pushed the Mexican back to eighth place. Australian Daniel Ricciardo finished ninth for Scuderia Toro Rosso while Paul di Resta took the final point for Sahara Force India F1 Team.
It was a disappointing day for Romain Grosjean who qualified third for his first race with Lotus F1 Team. He had to retire after a third-lap collision with Williams' Pastor Maldonado bent his front suspension. Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg didn't have the pace they showed in qualifying: Schumacher lost drive at the first corner and went off in the same turn on the 11th lap and damaged his car, forcing retirement; Rosberg simply lacked the needed speed after making a good start; a side-by-side encounter with Perez gave Rosberg a puncture that stunted his pace.
Among those who failed to finish were Williams' Bruno Senna, caught in the customary first-lap melee, Ferrari's Felipe Massa who had troubles with car balance throughout the weekend and tangled with the popular Senna, Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov's Caterhams and Maldonado, who failed to complete, one lap down.
The results of this first race leave Button in the lead of the world championship with 25 points to Vettel’s 18, Hamilton's 15, Webber’s 12 and Alonso’s 10, while McLaren head the constructors’ points with 40 to Red Bull’s 30, Sauber’s 12 and Ferrari’s 10.
The F1 season continues next weekend in the dense air of Southeast Asia for the 2012 Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix. There are two five-place penalties handed down after the race: Kovalainen for passing under safety-car conditions and Sergio Perez for a gearbox change.