Bragging rights at McLaren go to Button after dramatic season opener
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Mar 2012   |  11:14 am GMT  |  418 comments

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)

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

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Yes Hamilton was beaten fair and square after making an error into turn 1. He also did not have the race pace of Button who happens to go very well at Albert Park. It is clear from the past that Button knows how to set up his car around this place, so its quite understandable that he had more race pace considering they did not have much dry running on Friday.

We will never know what would have happened had Lewis got to that first corner first. Maybe he would have held on until the first pit stops, maybe he would have been overtaken buy Jenson (which would have hurt even more), but neither Vettel nor Mark Webber could manage it as far as we know and Button himself proved against Massa last year that overtaking is not easy here especially between the top cars.

That happens and does not mean Hamiton will be beaten by Button every other race, much as some would love to believe that. For example, good as Vettel is, he has no answer to Webber at the Nurburgring under normal conditions and wouldn’t have a prayer of a chance were he to loose the whole of Friday free practice to help with his set up. How good is Jenson go at Silverstone?

It’s only the first race and not all will go the way of Button, trust me. It will be a long season, let’s all


I’ve downloaded all lap times from FIA website and I’ve tried to make them “lap-corrected”: that is, I tried to remove the influence of cars being lighter as fuel is burned and the influence of the track being faster as more rubber is left on its surface.

By putting all laps on a graph, it seemed that everyone was on average 0.088s faster with every passing lap.

This looks like a correct figure as the expected fuel correction for Australia was the following:

0.3 s = 10 Kg of fuel = 4 laps = 0.075/lap

So 0.088 might be a correct figure as it includes also the track getting faster.

I’ve lap-corrected all laps from every pilot to make them all as if they had been done on the last lap.

So a 1:33,750 done on 1st lap would be corrected as 1:33,750-(57*0.088) = 1:28,734

That is, a 1:33,750 done on 1st lap is expected to be equivalent to a 1:28.734 done on lap 58.

The result is the following:

1:28,232 Button

+0,275 Hamilton

+0,334 Webber

+0,518 Maldonado

+0,536 Vergne

+0,611 Vettel

+0,760 Kobayashi

+0,781 Perez

+0,814 Ricciardo

+0,851 Alonso

+0,874 Raikkonen

+0,915 Rosberg

+0,949 Schumacher

+1,028 Massa

+1,420 Di Resta

+1,440 Senna

+2,086 Petrov

+2,456 Kovalainen

+3,682 Glock

+4,564 Pic

N/A Grosjean

N/A Hulkenberg

And by using the best time for each team:

1:28,232 McLaren

+0,334 Red Bull

+0,518 Williams

+0,536 Toro Rosso

+0,760 Sauber

+0,851 Ferrari

+0,874 Lotus

+0,915 Mercedes

+1,420 Force India

+2,086 Catheram

+3,682 Marussia

I think there are some interesting results from this:

1)Toro Rosso is quite fast, maybe more than many(?) expect

If you look at FIA official timings, Vergne did very nice sector times and he was also 6th faster overall (Ricciardo was 8th)

2) Mercedes lower than expected?

While it is obvious that Mercedes isn’t as good in race as in qualify, this data shows that their race performance was really bad

3) Lotus lower than expected?

Lotus too looks less shiny, however Grosjean was out immediately and Raikkonen might not have had enough “free air” laps to do a good fastest lap for its Lotus when it had good tires.

It’s the first time I do this kind of analysis so I might be quite wrong, but I’ve tried also with different lap-correction (e.g. using just 0.075) and the results still looked similar so there might be some truth in this.


Thanks! Amazing effort


Here’s a thoughtful analysis of the JB-LH race outcome. Quite refreshing.


James… I read on another site you were quoted as saying something like “In the hands of Alonso the Ferrari is capable of 5th, in the hands of Massa its sitting in the garage” True? No better summary can be said than that.

I agree the comments about sulky Hamilton, there he is sitting at the pinnacle of motorsport with one of the most enviable jobs on earth…and sulks like a child at a podium finish! I get that these guys have to have certain amount of ego to do what they do…but this guy shows his true character every time he’s given a dose of humility… entitled and spoiled. I love seeing him get beat.


No I never said that. That’s the internet for you.


With Pirelli tyres the Formula has changed for the worse.

Gone are the days when Brawn used to ask Schumacher to do 18 stunning qualifying laps. You won’t see stints like them anymore.

Gone are the days when Hamilton was able to dance his car’s rear end around the tracks.

You won’t see him doing that anymore.

I am sure this isn’t really what the fans want to watch. How many drivers nowdays push 100% in their stints?

The answer is none because they are all afraid of the tyres not being able to withstand a full racing stint.

What a big shame that is.


Very impressed with Button today, he out raced and out paced Hamilton today. Arguably Button’s most impressive win to date – dominating from the front in the dry in equal machinery to another world champion, not to mention dealing with the pressure of having Vettel closed up behind him after the safety care.

Probably not as emotional or exciting as Hungary 06 or Canada last year, but in terms of out-and-out pace I think this is better than all his other wins.


I was in Jerez and Barcelona for testing. Talking to the mclaren garage crew at the Hotel. They all believed this car has been developed more towards Jenson’s driving style – and this is quite believable due to the nature of the Pirelli tyres. Also there is indoubitably a sense of irritation in the team with Lewis’ behaviour last year.

He is also out of contract at the end of this year. The consensus is he will be “allowed” to leave unless he wins the drivers’ title.

Lewis knows that his only chance to stay with Mclaren is by winning the championship. Mclaren clearly have an excellent chance of delivering this with the 2012 car, but Lewis can see already the writing on the wall.

Further, if the FIA do change the regulations regarding stepped noses, this will cause all the teams except Mclaren to require fundamental aero and mechanical/suspension re-designs, leaving Mclaren in the box seat for 2013.

No wonder Lewis is depressed knowing he could well be “existed” at the end of this year.

As many of you have pointed out, he like other great drivers needs to adapt his driving style and moreover stop behaving like a petulant child.


Agree on the fact Alonso outperforms the car but why is he -compared to a heavy fuel car- so slow in an empty fuel car? He was loosing + 1 sec / lap since the safety car situation.


Why did Hamilton pit so late on the first pit stop? If he had come in 2 laps earlier he could have saved 2nd. He hust have lost 5 or 6 seconds on the old tires + he got stuck behind 2 cars allowing Vettel to catch up.


I’m not a big Hamilton fan, but I’m finding it a little strange so many people knocking him after the first race. So he didnt win the race, and was maybe unfortunate to lose 2nd place to Vettel. But it’s only the first race of a 20 race season, Long way to go yet.


Agreed, though I am a Button fan, way too early to write off the supreme Hamilton.


I think that JB is now (as has for a while) asserting his dominance in the team. A few points from this weekend that point towards this:

1) In the tv interview with Jake Humphrey, he made it clear that there is no indenti-kit or quick-fix for replicating the close knit group that JB has around him – suggesting that LH is a little clueless and aimless

2) Immediately after qualifying, JB attributed the second place to a specific error in S2, suggesting that he had more in the bag

3) He vocalised his intention to fight for 1st on the grid before the race – indicated his self confidence and lack of fear for his team mate

4) After the race, he spoke to his team casually like they are HIS team, HIS friends, HIS family – communicating the message that when he wins, the team is aligned as it should be and there are no surprises

5) When he speaks of the hard work of his team, he cites specific examples and individuals, as he did in the post race interview with the Beeb boys – this implies real empathy with the people in the team and a genuine understanding of how hard they work. This is a real contrast with Lewis’ token and media friendly comments on the team in the post race podium drivers conference

MOST IMPORTANT – 6) In the past race drivers podium conference, JB couldn’t help adding at the end, the final comment on how he would focus on the present, enjoying the moment with the (his) team and also chucked in at the last moment “FRIENDS & FAMILY”. He has identified a weakness with Lewis and is determined to make Lewis feel even more alienated and dominated than he does already.

He is not like Graham Hill to a young Jackie Stewart. He is determined to become the de facto number one – both for his benefit and the team’s – as he feels this is the best way to guarantee success rather than relying on the brilliant, but flawed and inconsistent LH.

Remember Montreal – “WHAT, is he DOING!!!”

Watch out F1 fans, it’s going to be a tasty inter-team battle this season indeed. Get your tin hat on and a shovel in your hands Mr Whitmarsh…


James, is it possible that Hamilton’s seeming drop in performance compared to his early career form could be cause by a kind of burn-out? I remember reading (perhaps from you, James) that Michael Schumacher credited a lot of his 2000 onwards form to the enforced break he had after breaking his leg in 1999. I know the McLaren drivers have a hell of a lot of media engagements, and these days we have 25% more races per year.

Though this will not happen, is it possible that he would benefit from being benched for half a season…?


He has looked overloaded at times last year in particular. But they don’t drive as much as they used to in the testing days.



Following Hamilton’s disappointment on his third place instead of a possible win and having to come to terms with Jenson doing a better job, do you think we could see an increased rivelary between the two this year similar to what we saw with Prost/Senna?

What are your thoughts?


No, JB is a very different kind of character from either of those two



I would predict that over the season it’s going to be a close fight between McLaren and Red Bull, with Button, Hamilton and Vettel battling it out for the drivers’ championship. Whatsmore, IMOY it is clear that these teams value the drivers’ championship over the constructors’, notwithstanding the financial importance of the latter.


Do Red Bull not have the advantage, assuming the cars are close over the course of a season, as they won’t have two drivers taking points off each other?

Two lead drivers in a team makes little sense to me. I can only assume McLaren thought Button would play second fiddle in the team, when they took him on. In my mind this season could turn into an almighty row between the two Brits, Hamilton’s face and body language after the race yesterday appearing rather onimous.


You make some good points and I agree with your first para


I don’t think we should count Webber out just yet regarding Red Bull not having to worry about their drivers taking points off one another, like as to be expected at McLaren. Early days of course but there’s a hint that Webber could be more like in 2010 following the loss of the exhaust blown diffuser, which he didn’t seem to get along with.

Remember, Webber out qualified Vettel in Oz and had great race pace when he get into the meat of the race. He needs to sort those starts out though if he’s to challenge.

Regarding McLaren, I think they just take the approach of trying to get the best two drivers they can. They probably expected Hamilton to still have the edge, like we all did, but I don’t think they employed him with the aim of him being a number 2. They just wanted a much stronger partner than Kovalainen was.

I think Martin Whitmarsh had a lot to do with Button’s signing too, as in I get the impression he was a big supporter in getting him on board when perhaps others in the team may have been a little less sure at the time? I dunno, just my feelings. That’s why I think we see a slightly more ecstatic Whitmarsh when Button does well compared to Hamilton. It’s as if he feels he can take a slightly greater ownership of the success due to the increased responsibility of having invested in him. Just my impressions of course. I usually like to deal with raw facts haha!



And sorry about poor spelling and formatting of my posts, which are done a) on a phone, and b) in a crowded tube carriage on the way to work!

Jonathan De Andrade

Hi James,

thanks for the very good post-races articles!

I found Melbourne 2012 a very entertaining race, the best for a long time. I had the chance to see it twice (6am and 2pm)!

I found the lost downforce effect a must of this race, I hope it will remain for for the rest of the season. by watching the cars drifting, sliding, drivers overtaking in corners on the outside it resembled me a lot of 80’s races, specially Piquet over Senna in Hungary 1986! All the changes in regulation to extinguish the EBD this year are paying off!

Will you right something about it James?


Hamilton miserable and Button elated since this was a big intra-team battle. First time lined up at front of grid; first time fastest car on the grid. All the early signs are that one or other will be world champion this season, so massively important to get the momentum going and put other on back foot. Button also admitted being particularly nervy before the race, doubtless because fastest car and Hamilton beside him on grid.

The race could / should have been a thrilling Maclaren fight from start to finish, but Hamilton couldn’t even get close. Massively demoralising.

Significant that Button managed to open up good gap in the first few laps. Almost as if Lewis had been trying to play Button’s game of saving tyres for end of stint but didn’t work for Lewis. Big problem for Lewis is that these tyres don’t seem to let him use his full pace for long enough periods.

Other hidden factor was Maclaren’s underfuelling, which presumably meant that neither Hamilton nor Button were able to run at proper ultimate pace throughout race. Again, this maybe played to Button rather than Hamilton, as he seems to be able to drive more consistently at 95% than Hamilton, who’s best at 101%.

Button got all the racecraft stuff right (early sprint, pitstops, safety car, tyre management, fuel management) just right as he usually does, which makes him so effective when he can control a race from the front.

I’m sure Hamilton will be able to get back at Button, particularly at circuits where tyre-deg not so much a factor. We might also see some contrary strategies, with Hamilton going for sprints with an extra stop, to try to play to his strengths (or negate his weakness on these tyres).

One thing Hamilton does need to do is to smarten his PR act up – doesn’t help his cause at all to mooch around like a sulky puppy after the race. On the contrary, other drivers, and Button in particular, will draw strength from visible signs of Hamilton’s frustrations. I’m sure his sponsors / future employers don’t get much enjoyment out of this sort of stuff either.

One last read between the lines: maybe because of the underfuelling, Hamilton felt that he wasn’t really allowed to race Button and that contributed to gloom. He was presumably not being allowed to use full revs / engine modes etc. and very easy to get paranoid about such things in the cockpit. Wouldn’t be the first time that Maclaren wanted to protect a one-two at the first GP of the season (although in a previous era).


Great race and performance by JB he was the class of the field. Hamilton is being a bit of a sore looser IMO, he was unlucky to loose the place to Vettel due to the safety car, maybe Button has him spooked again, hopefully this wont mess with his head like last year, I would like to see Hamilton do well this year.

However in general I dont think you can read too much into everyones performance this weekend, Button is a master at this track, will he be as fast next weekend? Despite the fact that whoever wins this race has more often than not gone on to win the championship (or at least been a front runner for the rest of the season) the Australian GP often throws up some weird results and performances compared to the rest of the season. I don’t know if its the track or the fact its often the first race and teams are still trying to understand their cars but I wouldnt read into the results too much, wait untill next weekend.

That said the Mclarens are looking good, Red Bull will sort their car out you can bet your bottom dollar on that, Ferrari look to have a bit of a 2009 car again. I’m not convinced on Mercedes, their quali performances for the last 2 years werent too bad but they were often no where in the race, difficult to tell with MS retiring but he didnt look massively quick. Difficult to tell the Lotus (Renault) pace with Grosjean’s retirement and Kimi being stuck behind slower cars most of the time.

On Maldonado and Grosjean, I’m a bit surprised there wasnt an investigation to that, I’m not saying Maldonado should have got or deserved a penalty but I’m surprised it wasnt looked at. From where I was sitting Grosjean gave him plenty of room but Maldonado wiped him out as he was going too fast to make the corner, thoughts? Personally I wouuldnt have given a penalty but drivers have recieved penalties for less in the past.


Channel Ten Australia did a gridwalk before the start with Tom Clarkson.

He said that there was a real chance that Hamilton would not have a good start due to the amount of new white paint to signify the startline right where Hamilton would need grip to get away. He said that Button at P2 would be far enough back from the paint to not be a hinderance.

He may have been proven correct.


Re Webber’s start: I read this morning, he actually had a clutch failure. He, like me, had assumed it was purely driver error, but the team confirmed the clutch issue from their data. Still, I agree that his starts are his weakest link and an area that has to improve if he’s to challenge for the championship. Secondly, it also seems his qualifying pace has picked up – although he just pipped Vettel for 5th, he did so without KERS. Thirdly, and finally, his race pace also seemed excellent and other than when he was stuck behind slower cars; his pace actually matched, if not bettered the three front runners.


Alonso is darn good. Wow.. i don’t believe he dragged that ferrari to 5th. You could see he was struggling.

On the other hand, as big of a massa fan as I have been and still am, his drive today kind of reminded me of Luca B. when he filled in for Massa during his injury. Ok, massa was a bit faster but just the fact that i thought of Luca B. when watching the race is saying something. He needs to improve or else he’ll be gone in a few races.


Blue Flags. I was marshalling at just before Turn 6 and it was evident that Race Control were flashing the blue digiflag light at cars in front of the leader even though they were sometimes 10-15 seconds ahead of the leading driver. Very perplexing and annoying I can imagine.

Tornillo Amarillo

For being Champion, a driver should get many many pole positions, and I cannot see Button doing that regularly, even if he has improved qualifies.

So interesting year, ideal for Alonso style.


In case “driver of the race” feature makes a shock comeback, I vote for Pedro de la Rosa. Thanks.


I’m not sure if it’s only me, but Hamilton’s drive looked quite passionless- my impression is that usually his driving looks different, but it really felt dull for me yesterday. Makes me wonder why. Since he was able to put himself on the pole on Saturday, does it have anything to do with the night after? Just a thought.

Button was the driver of the day for me.

Pity, that Schumacher had to retire from the race, would have been quite interesting to see, where he would have finished at the end of the race- if Vettel would have been able to overtake him etc.


You mean to imply that his (Hamilton’s) girlfriend gave him the cold shoulder the night before the race…or completely vice versa?

Interesting theory, but Hamilton did indeed look colorless, odorless and indifferent on and off the track.


He looked odorless?


I don’t know…unless Button was simply so much better…but Hamilton’s driving seemed to look different from what I’ve seen before. Can be your version, can be sleepless night for any particular reason. If that’s the reason.


LH lost his edge when Bridgestone left, you could drive on the ragged edge lap after lap on those tires, that’s what his strength is.

Sadly I think it’s going to be another tough year for Lewis and Button will win the WC. It’s just funny that the haters get on LH for being down after the race, no competitive race car driver is ever happy when their team mate wins.

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