FIA F1 - Australian GP Race Report
Melbourne, Mar. 18, 2012: McLaren’s Jenson Button drove a pluperfect race to take the lead of the world championship at Melbourne's Albert Park on Sunday, keeping his head and his lead even when a safety car intervention appeared to throw a beaten Sebastian Vettel a lifeline.
The 2009 world champion scored his third Australian Grand Prix victory in four years by taking the lead at the start from team mate Lewis Hamilton, who held a distant second until Vitaly Petrov stopped on the pit straight with power steering problems in his Caterham on the 36th lap and triggered the safety car deployment. McLaren had just pitted both of their cars that lap, but Vettel decided to stay out one longer and that, allied to benefit from 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 team mate Mark Webber, who’d been condemned to an afternoon of fighting back after a first-corner clash involving his Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus and Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India.
As Vettel tried to claw back the deficit to Button, Webber closed in on Hamilton, whose McLaren never seemed as well balanced as his team mate’s. By the flag, Button was a comfortable 2.1s ahead of Vettel, with Hamilton 1.9s further down and Webber within 0.4s of him.
Further back, Fernando Alonso scored an excellent fifth for Ferrari after making a fantastic start to end the opening lap in eighth place from 12th on the grid. As the fast-starting Mercedes of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg faded - the former went off in Turn One on the 11th lap and damaged his car sufficiently to have to retire, and the latter simply lacked competitive pace - he moved into contention for his finishing position. It was a typically tough and professional race from the Spaniard.
In the latter stages he had to defend hard from Pastor Maldonado, who had pressured Lotus’s Romain Grosjean into early retirement on the second lap, the Frenchman breaking his front suspension against the rear of the passing Williams. The FW34 was showing excellent pace and the Venezuelan was dogging Alonso’s wheel tracks until he came to grief in Turn Six, where earlier he’d lost ground with a moment.
This time he lost control and smacked the wall hard on the 57th lap, throwing away sixth place and setting up a fierce battle between the Saubers of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, Raikkonen’s Lotus, the Toro Rossos of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, and Paul di Resta’s Force India.
As Rosberg’s Mercedes ahead of them suddenly slowed on the last lap after a collision with Perez had deflated the left-rear tyre, Kobayashi made it home sixth from Raikkonen. Perez clung on for eighth, with Ricciardo separated from him by 0.0s, Di Resta 0.1s further back, and Vergne another 0.1s down and just outside the points after a promising debut. It was breath-taking stuff.
Rosberg was classified 12th on a deeply disappointing day for Mercedes, who lacked the pace in the race that they’d shown in qualifying. Williams were similarly distressed. Maldonado was classified 13th, while Bruno Senna was involved in the first corner melee, lost time then, and later had a silly collision with fellow countryman Felipe Massa which cost them both dear. He was a non-finisher in 16th. The incident is still being investigated by the stewards.
Between the Williams duo came the Marussias of Timo Glock and Charles Pic, which ran reliably in what amounted to their first serious test session.
Joining Hulkenberg, whose car was too badly damaged after the first-corner collision, Grosjean, Schumacher, Petrov and Massa on the retirement list was Heikki Kovalainen, whose Caterham dropped out with a left-hand front suspension problem. The Finn also picked up a five-place grid penalty for the next round in Malaysia for overtaking under the safety car.
The result leaves 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.