An early switch to dry tyres reaped spectacular rewards as Jenson Button raced away with the Australian Grand Prix to clinch his first victory for his new McLaren-Mercedes team yesterday.
Button, who switched from Brawn GP as the reigning world champion, seized on brake failure for Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel mid-race to storm to a 12-second victory in a highly eventful second GP of the season.
The 30-year-old Briton comfortably held off Polish Renault driver Robert Kubica and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa of Brazil to claim his eighth win in 172 GPs and back-to-back Australian victories.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished fourth to retain the world drivers’ championship lead with 37 points, ahead of teammate Massa (33) with Button improving to third spot on 31.
The big moment in the 58-lap race on the Albert Park street circuit, initially greasy from light rain, came on lap 26 when Vettel veered off the track into the gravel with brake trouble ending his race.
Button roared past and was never troubled as he completed the race with his only trip to the pit lane on lap six to change to dry tyres.
“I made the call to pit early because I felt I was going to keep going backwards,” Button said.
“It was a terrible call initially because the pit lane was so wet and after my first lap out on the course I thought it was a pretty catastrophic mistake.
“But after that I got into a rhythm and I found the dry parts on the circuit and I was able to push pretty hard, and then it was about picking people off when they came out on to the circuit (from changing tyres).
“It was a nice feeling because they’re searching for the grip and I knew where it was and I was able to overtake.”
While it was a triumphant day for Button it didn’t prove the same for team-mate Lewis Hamilton, already embarrassed this weekend after being pulled over by police for “over-exuberant” driving in his Mercedes road car.
Hamilton finished sixth but had two run-ins with Australian Red Bull driver Mark Webber, on lap 16 and on the second-last lap as the pair were dicing with Alonso.
It was more heartbreak for Webber, who started off on the front row but could not convert it into a cherished home victory at his ninth frustrating attempt and had to settle for ninth placing.
It was far from the boring race drivers tagged the processional season-opening Bahrain GP a fortnight ago with only 14 cars finishing the incident-packed race in murky conditions here.
The safety car was called on the track after a chaotic opening lap which claimed three drivers – Sebastien Buemi, Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Hulkenberg – and Alonso’s car was spun around after coming in contact with Button and Michael Schumacher on the first corner.
“The start of the race wasn’t perfect for me, I touched with Fernando (Alonso) on turn one which cost him a lot of time and cost me a lot of time as well,” Button said.
Schumacher was forced to pit to replace a damaged front wing and the seven-time world champion never really threatened, finishing 10th and lying in eighth place in the championship with nine points.
But Button has renewed zest with victory, heading into the third round in Malaysia.
“It’s very special feeling. It’s taken me a little time to get to grips with inside the car and the team has been fantastic, and we’ll take a lot from this,” Button said.
“I feel I’m building in confidence and hopefully when we get to the next race we can do something similar.” — AFP