'Unbeatable' Jenson Button lays down marker for F1 season
Jenson Button tore a page from the 2011 Sebastian Vettel F1 Driving Manual in Melbourne yesterday, and won his third Australian GP in a style that left the reigning world champion impressed and magnanimous.
"Congratulations to McLaren and to Jenson, he drove a fantastic race and was unbeatable today," Vettel said after finishing second, ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the second McLaren.
"The first few laps I knew I had to push hard," Button said. "I knew that Lewis would be right on my tail and I obviously had to try to get away because of the DRS [rear wing] after lap two, so that was important. We were all going a bit into the unknown in the race. The longest run I did was about eight laps on Friday – and obviously the conditions were very different. So, going into the race, trying to understand what wing angle to use, tyre pressures and everything, was very tricky.
"I think we got it close but it wasn't quite right but the second and third runs for me were much better. We had more of an understanding of what the car felt like in the first stint and the second and third ones were much stronger.
"All in all I'm happy with the car, there were a few areas where I think it could have been a little bit better – but I think that we did a pretty damn good job this weekend."
Vettel admitted that his start was interesting. "I think I had a good start first off, getting off the line was important. Then it's a bit tricky here because Turn One is quite difficult to find the right point to hit the brakes."
He lost time having to overtake the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg which passed him at the start, as he aware that the McLarens were getting away. "They were bye-bye, so I had to make sure that we were not losing too much ground," he added.
Hamilton had started from pole position but lost out to Button at the start, then lost time during his first pit stop and was running a distant second when Vitaly Petrov stopped his Caterham on the pit straight with power steering problems on the 36th lap. That coincided with both McLarens' second pit stops, and triggered the deployment of the safety car. Vettel decided to stay out one lap longer when he saw Hamilton coming in and that, allied to the benefit of the safety car, was enough to move his Red Bull into second.
When the racing resumed on lap 42 Button simply checked out and left Vettel to fend off Hamilton and Mark Webber, who had had to fight back from a first-corner clash involving his Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus and Nico Hulkenberg's Force India which dropped him to ninth.
"Obviously I thought I'd have another go at Jenson but after the first two or three corners after the restart he was already quite far away," Vettel said. "I was struggling, at that time I was holding Lewis up a little bit and Jenson was pulling away too much. I think once I got settled the lap times weren't too bad, the speed wasn't too bad, but I think overall he was too quick today for the whole race. So, out of sight."
By the flag, Button was a comfortable 2.1sec ahead of Vettel, with Hamilton 1.9sec further down and Webber within 0.4sec of him.
"Mark was very quick," a glum Hamilton admitted. "I damaged my tyres behind Sebastian, then I decided to drop back a little bit so I had some clear air, but Mark was definitely putting pressure on. The Red Bulls were very quick down the straight, so there was no chance of getting past Seb.
"I just struggled out there. I got a shocking start which was really the beginning of it all. It was obviously a tough race, but congrats to Jenson, it was a great race for him. It would have been great to have had a one-two, but it just wasn't a good day for me.
"It's OK. It's a pretty poor standard compared to some others. I'll just re-focus, get my head down and there's lots of races ahead. In these championships it's all about consistency so that is what I am going to focus on."
Button could show his team-mate one or two things about consistency, as he never put a wheel wrong.
"Every race you win is very special," he said, "but I think starting the year strong for this team is really important and the last two years for us have been tricky coming into the first race. So to come away with Lewis's pole yesterday and the victory today, I think puts us in a great position for the next few races and on the right foot.
"A big thank you to everyone within the team who's worked so hard. I saw our mechanics this morning who said 'This curfew [rule where teams are not allowed to work on the car overnight] is great – it's the first rest we've had since the start of the year', so big thanks to all of them and everyone at Woking who has worked those extra hours to get these extra parts out."
Psychologically it was an important victory for McLaren, their 176th, as they needed to beat Red Bull after two years of playing catch up. It was, Button said succinctly, "A fantastic day!"
Final positions (58 laps) Points
1 J Button (GB) McLaren 1hr 34mins 09.565secs 25
2 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:34:11.704 18
3 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:34:13.640 15
4 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:34:14.112 12
5 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:34:31.130 10
6 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:34:46.331 8
7 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 1:34:47.579 6
8 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:34:49.023 4
9 D Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso 1:34:49.121 2
10 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:34:49.302 1
11 J-E Vergne (Fr) Toro Rosso 1:34:49.413
12 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:35:07.207
13 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams at 1 lap
14 Timo Glock (Ger) Marussia at 1 lap
15 Charles Pic (Fr) Marussia at 5 laps
Not classified: 16 B Senna (Br) Williams 52 laps completed, 17 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 46 laps, 18 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 38 laps, 19 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 34 laps, 20 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 10 laps, 21 R Grosjean (Swit) Lotus F1 Team 1 lap, 22 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 0 laps.
Manufacturers: 1 McLaren 40pts, 2 Red Bull 30, 3 Sauber-Ferrari 12, 4 Ferrari 10, 5 Lotus F1 6, 6 Toro Rosso 2, 7 Force India 1, 8= Mercedes GP 0, Marussia 0, Williams 0, Caterham 0.