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Brilliant Button takes the honours in Oz

2012 QANTAS AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX RACE REPORT

Button made a winning start to 2012 (BBC Sport)

JENSON Button made the dream start to the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship this morning.  The Brit took his third Australian Grand Prix victory in Melbourne, leading from the start in a dramatic season opener.  The 32-year old Brit started on the front row of the grid, but took full advantage of a wheelspinning start from team-mate Lewis Hamilton to lead into turn one and control proceedings in Albert Park from there.  World champion Sebastian Vettel used a Safety Car period to leap into a fortunate second place, ahead of a rueful Hamilton, who looked disappointed with his final result of third.

Hamilton may have started on pole position, but conceded his Saturday advantage in an instant when he made a poor start.  Button drew alongside his team-mate and even shifted into second gear earlier than he should have, which nearly threw away his early advantage.  Michael Schumacher made an excellent start to move into third place, whilst Nico Rosberg charged into fourth from seventh on the grid as Romain Grosjean lost early positions in his Lotus.  Further back, another slow start from Mark Webber triggered the traditional chaos into Albert Park’s tight first corner.  Both Toro Rosso’s were involved in the meleee, with Daniel Ricciardo launching Bruno Senna’s Williams into the air.  Both pitted for damage repairs at the end of the first lap.  Meanwhile, a knock from Webber ended Nico Hulkenberg’s return to F1 before the lap was out.  The order was Button, Hamilton, Schumacher, Rosberg, Vettel and Grosjean.

Grosjean’s race didn’t last much longer as contact with Pastor Maldonado on the second lap put the Frenchman into early retirement.  Grosjean blamed his rival for the incident, telling Sky Sports F1; “I think Maldonado wanted to overtake me and braked miles too late and I couldn’t give more room.  He hit my front wheel so it’s very disappointing.”  Actually, the Williams driver was passed and it was only glancing contact that terminally broke the Lotus front suspension.  Ultimately, a racing incident but nothing else that Maldonado could have done.  Moments before, Vettel pulled off an outstanding pass on Rosberg to inherit fourth and chase after the sister Mercedes of Schumacher.

On lap six, an uncharacteristic error from Vettel saw him slide off in the first corner, luckily not losing a position.  Five laps later, Schumacher copied the move, but a gearbox problem put paid to the Mercedes GP driver’s strong weekend.  After the first round of pitstops, Button maintained his position at the front and by half distance, he had stretched his advantage over Hamilton to ten seconds.  The McLaren team did leave their cars out when the softer Pirelli tyres ‘hit the cliff.’  Hamilton did an extra lap longer and this allowed Vettel to seriously reduce the seven second deficit between the pair.  Fernando Alonso was showing that Ferrari did have some strong pace on heavier tanks of fuel, with the Spaniard in fourth ahead of Rosberg’s tyre hungry Mercedes GP and the recovering Webber.  Further back, Kimi Raikkonen was entertaining the crowd as the returning Finn got into a feisty dice with Kamui Kobayashi.  He also produced one of the early soundbites of the season on his team radio, when he said; “Why am I getting all the blue flags?”  Race engineer Simon Rennie’s cool response was; “The blue flags are for other drivers, they are not for you Kimi!”

A double pitstop from McLaren on lap 36 looked set to have cemented the team’s 1-2 position, but Vitaly Petrov stopped his Caterham on the start-finish straight seconds later.  With the Russian’s car in an tricky position, the Safety Car made its first apperance this season.  Crucially, Vettel headed for the pits and didn’t have to slow down under the SC delta time given to all the drivers.  Hamilton did and this enabled the champion to move into a dangerous second place, much to Hamilton’s frustration.  At the restart, Button caught the rest napping and opened up a three second lead which never looked troubled as the race entered its closing stages.  Attention soon focused on the battles behind and a dramatic final lap.

Chasing down a struggling Alonso, Pastor Maldonado had driven a sensational race and was on course for sixth place, which would have been his best ever result.  On the final lap, the Venezuelan exited turn six and dropped a wheel on the astroturf.  The lack of grip from his worn tyres meant he had no time to react and the result was a smashed Williams into the barriers.  It was a sorry end to a stunning performance.  Yards later, Sergio Perez and Rosberg touched in the fast turn 11 chicane.  Both cars were hobbled and it allowed for some furious scrapping and a frantic finish for the final points positions.  Ultimately, it was Daniel Ricciardo who benefited the most – vaulting up from 12th to 9th on the final tour.

Amidst all that last lap drama, Button crossed the line to secure a brilliant victory from Vettel, Hamilton and a fired up Webber, who recorded his best ever result in the Australian Grand Prix.  Alonso did drop half a minute in the closing stages but salvaged fifth on a very difficult weekend for Ferrari.  His team-mate Felipe Massa frankly drove like a pig on rollerskates all afternoon!  He never got higher than ninth and his shocking performance ended following a messy tangle with Senna entering turn four.  Although a stewards investigation was launched, neither driver was penalised.  In the final lap melee, Kobayashi wound up an excellent sixth, followed by Raikkonen, a damaged Perez, Ricciardo and Force India’s Paul di Resta, who sneaked past Vergne to take the last point on the final corner of the race.  A crestfallen Rosberg limped home 12th, leaving team principal Ross Brawn frustrated.  He told BBC Sport; “Both drivers reported trouble with the tyres very quickly and we had to manage them all race.  Michael’s gearbox problem was an added disappointment and Nico reported Perez hadn’t been fair, which added salt into the wounds.”

On the team radio, Button said; “Fantastic, what a brilliant way to start the season.  You know, it shows what the winter does.  The car is beautiful and the car is the quickest.”  He is confident and on top of the world, both in morale and the early points leaderboard.  It was a superb opener and we only have to wait seven days for hopefully more of the same in Malaysia.

2012 QANTAS AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 58 1hr 34min 09secs
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 58 +2.1secs
3 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 58 +4.0secs
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 58 +4.5secs
5 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 58 +21.5secs
6 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 58 +36.7secs
7 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 58 +38.0secs
8 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 58 +39.4secs
9 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 58 +39.5secs
10 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 58 +39.7secs
11 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 58 +39.8secs
12 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 58 +57.6secs
13 (Ret) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 57 Accident
14 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 57 +1 lap
15 (Ret) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 53 Oil Pressure
16 (Ret) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 52 Suspension damage
Retired FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 46 Collision with Bruno Senna
Retired HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 38 Technical
Retired VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 34 Steering
Retired MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 10 Gearbox
Retired ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 1 Collision with Pastor Maldonado
Retired NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 0 Steering damage after collision with Mark Webber
DNQ PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH    
DNQ NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH    
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Hamilton and McLaren lead the way in Melbourne Qualifying

IT IS A British lockout of the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s opening race of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship.  Lewis Hamilton took his 20th career pole position for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, just edging out double Albert Park winner Jenson Button in Melbourne.  On a day full of shocks, the British team took the first two positions on the grid for the first time since the 2009 European Grand Prix.

Having set the fastest time in FP3, Hamilton and McLaren came into the acid test of the one hour qualifying session looking like the driver/team combination to beat.  However there were plenty of surprises along the way.  Kamui Kobayashi was the fastest driver in Q1 and Red Bull looked very beatable on a Saturday.  World champion Sebastian Vettel spun off this morning and was working the steering wheel of his RB8 far more than he ever did with its predecssor.  The big casualty of Q1 was Kimi Raikkonen.  The returning champion made a mistake on his best lap, then an error with timing saw his Lotus drop out of the running, continuing the Finn’s messy return.  As anticipated, both Caterham drivers and the untested Marussia cars failed to make the cut too.  Neither HRT of Narain Karthikeyan or Pedro de la Rosa made the 107% rule and for the second year running, the team has been refused permission to start the season in Australia.  Again, Hispania are a case of lost time, lack of ability and a total waste of garage space!

The plight of Ferrari had been very evident in winter testing, but even the Scuderia can’t have predicted the nightmare they were to have in qualifying.  Felipe Massa only just made it out of Q1, but barely featured in the second session and when he did, he looked more like trying to keep the car pointing in the right direction rather than going quickly.  As ever, Fernando Alonso looked to be getting more out of his car.  His chances of making the top ten ended with a rare mistake from the double world champion, as he copied Massa’s error in Friday free practice by dropping two wheels onto the grass.  Same result was produced as even the Spaniard’s class couldn’t save him from being beached in the gravel, although it was at turn one, not turn nine where Massa spun off yesterday.  He starts 12th and Massa 16th; Ferrari’s worst combined qualifying since Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella lined up 11th and 19th for the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.  The car looks slow, unreliable, monstrously ugly and is struggling to stay in a straight line!  They aren’t far away from crisis point.

Hamilton looks the man to beat in Melbourne (Planet F1)

Into the final qualifying session and Hamilton set a blistering lap of 1.24.922.  No-one initially came close, although Button went only a tenth slower on his second run.  Critically, Hamilton abandoned his second run when notified that the pole was his.  Strangely, Red Bull didn’t get their act together.  An off-colour Vettel begins sixth, behind Mark Webber.  The Australian told Planet F1 afterwards; “I don’t know what happened to Seb on his last lap, it looks like he made a mistake. I didn’t have KERS either but I’m satisfied with the job I did.”  Michael Schumacher was an excellent fourth for Mercedes GP, three places better than a scrappy Nico Rosberg.  This allowed the Frenchman Romain Grosjean to end up a sensational third on his return to the sport for Lotus.  Solid efforts from Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo saw them complete the top ten in eighth, ninth and tenth respectively.

The last time Lewis Hamilton started from pole at the Australian Grand Prix was in 2008.  He won the race and ended up taking the title too.  A good omen perhaps?  In the press conference, he said; “I think it is going to be incredibly tough and intense through the race.  Obviously looking after the tyres is going to be key.  The team need to be prepared tomorrow, as do me and Jenson and I’ll make sure we are.”  Well, McLaren not only have the prettiest car in 2012, but for now at least – look to have the fastest too.  Tomorrow’s race looks set to be a real cracker.

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING – THE GRID (All times are fastest in Q3)

1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.24.922

2. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.25.074

3. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.25.302

4. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.25.336

5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.25.651

6. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.25.668

7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.25.686

8. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.25.908

9. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.26.451

10. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) NO TIME

11. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari)

12. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

13. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari)

14. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault)

15. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes)

16. Felipe Massa (Ferrari)

17. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault)

18. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault)

19. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault)

20. Timo Glock (Marussia Cosworth)

21. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth)

22. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) – PEREZ RELEGATED FIVE PLACES DUE TO A GEARBOX CHANGE

DNQ: Pedro de la Rosa (HRT Cosworth)

DNQ: Narain Karthikeyan (HRT Cosworth)