• Australian Grand Prix

Assured Button wins thrilling opener

Laurence Edmondson March 18, 2012
Jenson Button led into the first corner and never looked like losing his lead from that point onwards © Getty Images

Jenson Button took an impressive victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix ahead of a tight battle between Sebastian Vettel in second and Lewis Hamilton in third.

Crucially, Button led into the first corner ahead of McLaren team-mate Hamilton and from that point onwards he never looked like relinquishing his lead. But it was a thrilling race nonetheless and a safety car on lap 37 allowed Vettel to squeeze between the two McLarens while Mark Webber tagged onto the back of the top three for a straight battle between the two McLarens and two Red Bulls to the flag.

Button judged the safety car restart to perfection and pulled out a second over Vettel in the first sector, underlining the quality of the McLaren, even when on cold tyres. Vettel, Hamilton and Webber held positions behind him, but Webber, who dropped back to ninth at the start and fought hard to come back to the front, filled Hamilton's mirrors for the final ten laps.

Vettel put a solid performance together, but gained position ahead of Hamilton thanks to a safety car period brought about by Vitaly Petrov's Caterham grinding to a halt on the pit straight. The McLaren duo pitted just before the safety car's arrival on track, while Vettel, who had been closing on Hamilton anyway, stayed out. The Red Bull then pitted while the McLarens were obeying the safety car speed limit and as a result emerged ahead of Hamilton.

Fernando Alonso finished a very solid fifth from 12th on the grid, ahead of Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Raikkonen, who both made the most of an action-packed final lap in which Pastor Maldonado crashed out from sixth and Nico Rosberg and Sergio Perez made contact and dropped back through the pack. Perez managed to recover to secure eighth while Rosberg dropped to 12th, which allowed Daniel Ricciardo to score his first career points ahead of Paul di Resta in tenth.

At the start Button's getaway was crisp and clean while Hamilton bogged down and had no chance to block his team-mate coming up the inside. McLaren then prioritised its lead car's pit stop strategy and that undoubtedly hurt Hamilton, who could have done with an earlier stop as he was struggling to manage tyre degradation compared to Button.

Behind the two McLarens, Michael Schumacher made a good start to get ahead of Romain Grosjean, but both drivers' races soon fell apart. Grosjean found himself in a battle with Maldonado and the pair made contact at turn 13, breaking the Lotus' suspension and putting it out of the race. On lap 11 Schumacher was coming under pressure from Vettel for third and sailed through the braking zone of the first corner, losing the position. Two corners later it became clear that the Mercedes had a problem and by the end of the lap Schumacher retired with a gearbox problem.

Alonso was one of the first front runners to pit and took on medium tyres. His Ferrari immediately came alive and his pace triggered several other drivers to pit. The only driver in the top ten on a different strategy was Perez, who was nursing a set of medium tyres and actually backed Hamilton into Vettel when the McLaren emerged from its first pit stop.

Another man showing impressive pace was Williams' Maldonado who dropped back to ninth in his first stint but rocketed through the field over the next two stints to put pressure on Alonso in fifth. The Ferrari was struggling with tyre degradation - Alonso would probably have had to make three stops had it not been for the safety car breather - and over the closing stages was really struggling. Maldonado was primed to take advantage, but coming out of turn six on the final lap ran wide and his FW34 switched violently from left to right before slamming into the wall. Just two thirds of a lap from the finish, Williams' hopes of a return to solid points were dashed.

Outside the top ten, Jean-Eric Vergne just missed out on a points finish on his debut after being overtaken on the final lap by team-mate Ricciardo and Paul di Resta. Timo Glock was the only other driver to make the chequered flag, but his Marussia was classified behind Rosberg and Maldonado as he was a lap behind the rest of the field. Bruno Senna and Felipe Massa both failed to make the finish line after the came together on lap 48, but both were outclassed by their team-mates over the course of the race.