Jenson Button won an dramatic Australian Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton dropping from pole position to third at the flag. Hamilton was disconsolate afterwards, while Button was delighted having won the bragging rights within the team at the outset of the season.
It was Button’s 13th career victory and his third here in Melbourne and it was all done at the first corner, where he dived down the inside of Hamilton to take the lead. He managed to survive a late safety car, which cut his 10 second lead to nothing, while Vettel and Red Bull took the opportunity to pit for the second stop and rejoin ahead of Hamilton.
Vettel was more than satisfied with the result, after a difficult weekend in which the revised version of the Red Bull had proved tricky to handle and vulnerable on the straights.
Mercedes’s race pace was disappointing, while Ferrari’s was better than expected, at least in the hands of Fernando Alonso, who finished fifth behind Mark Webber, whose fourth is the best ever result for an Australian in his home Grand Prix.
Meanwhile there was heartbreak for Pastor Maldonado, who was running sixth half a lap from scoring Williams’ best result in two years when he crashed into a wall. This provoked a reshuffle of the order behind, with Kamui Kobayashi jumping up to sixth place from ninth on the final lap.
Button made a clean start to pass Lewis Hamilton into turn one and controlled the race from then on, setting the fastest lap in the process. Both Romain Grosjean, who qualified a brilliant third and Mark Webber made slow getaways, allowing the Mercedes’ of Michael Schumacher and a fast starting Nico Rosberg to fill in behind the McLarens. There was trouble in the midfield as Daniel Ricciardo and Bruno Senna came together, resulting in the Brazilian spinning at the first corner. Nico Hulkenberg was the first retirement of the race, quickly followed by Romain Grosjean who had his suspension broke by the Williams of Pastor Maldonado as the Venezuelan lunged up the inside at Turn 13.
As the two McLarens pulled away Vettel made a great move on Nico Rosberg and set off in pursuit of Schumacher who ran wide at Turn One and promptly retired at the end of Lap 11 with a gearbox problem.
After the first set of pitstops Hamilton dropped back in behind Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez, who was the only driver in the top ten to one-stop today. This slowed Hamilton down, allowing Vettel to close the gap to second. Alonso made a good start and began to pursue the podium places as Ferrari’s race pace proved to be much more promising than their qualifying times. However, the same could not be said for Felipe Massa who spent much of the race battling with Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Raikkonen and the Brazilian’s race finally came to an end following a collision with his compatriot Bruno Senna. Senna had a difficult weekend compared to his team mate, with Maldonado qualifying 8th and putting in a very impressive performance and proving a threat to Alonso, Webber and Rosberg before a heavy crash on the final lap ruled him out of his highest Formula One finish to date.
Button was able to hold a ten second lead over Hamilton, despite vibration from his second set of tyres. The race was order was looking stable until, during the second pitstop phase of the Grand Prix, the Caterham of Vitaly Petrov stopped on the inside of the pit straight resulting in a Safety Car. Fortunately for Vettel he was close to the pits and reacted quicly to make his stop and return to the track ahead of Hamilton, who had come in with Button just before the Safety Car was deployed.
At the restart Button quickly opened up a three second gap over Vettel on the first lap and left his pursuers in his wake. Webber had also gained a position over Alonso during the Safety Car period and the Australian made the battle for second into a three-way race. Alonso spent the remainder of the race holding off Maldonado for fifth position, which ended successfully following the Williams drivers lack of concentration on the final lap. This pushed Kobayashi, Raikkonen and Perez up into 6th, 7th and 8th respectively.
Further back there was a tremendous scrap for the last points as Rosberg dropped back on the final lap, slowing down Jean-Eric Vergne in the process which allowed his Toro Rosso team-mate and the Force India of Paul Di Resta to grab the final points.
Further back Marussia’s Timo Glock was 14th, the former Virgin team’s best result in F1 to date in a car which had not tested before the first race.
(Additional reporting: Matt Meadows)
AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, Melbourne, 58 Laps
1. Button McLaren 1h34:09.565
2. Vettel Red Bull + 2.139
3. Hamilton McLaren + 4.075
4. Webber Red Bull + 4.547
5. Alonso Ferrari + 21.565
6. Kobayashi Sauber + 36.766
7. Raikkonen Lotus + 38.014
8. Perez Sauber + 39.458
9. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 39.556
10. Di Resta Force India + 39.737
11. Vergne Toro Rosso + 39.848
12. Rosberg Mercedes + 57.642
13. Maldonado Williams + 1 lap
14. Glock Marussia + 1 lap
15. Pic Marussia + 2 laps
16. Senna Williams + 4 laps