Jenson Button secured his third Australian Grand Prix victory in four years yesterday to ensure that, for the first time since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel does not lead the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship.
Vettel, Red Bull Racing’s two-time champion, has been the man to beat for more than a year now, but Button and Lewis Hamilton, his McLaren-Mercedes teammate, appear ready to turn the tables: in seven of the previous 10 seasons, the winner at Albert Park has gone on to win the drivers’ title.
Button, starting in second, performed as perfect a start as he is ever likely to enjoy to steal the lead from the pole-sitting Hamilton before they had even reached the first corner. Once ahead, he was largely untroubled, holding the lead for the remaining 58 laps to complete a commanding drive.
“Every win means a lot to you, and for us as a team it really shows how important the winter is,” said Button, whose team have proved slow-starters in recent times.
“We’ve had a strong winter – qualifying really showed that – so it’s nice to come away with a victory in the first race of the new season.”
A safety car in the 37th lap threatened to pose problems for the 2009 champion as Vettel jumped second-placed Hamilton and the 12-second lead Button had built vanished.
But such was the pace of the MP4-27 that a comfortable lead was quickly re-established as Button passed the chequered flag 2.1 seconds ahead of Vettel, who called his rival “unbeatable”.
“When the safety car came, yeah, I thought I would be in a good place or a good position to have a go at Jenson, but he was just too quick,” Vettel said. “Two corners and he seemed to be gone.”
Hamilton had appeared indomitable in qualifying, but cut a despondent figure after the race. Starting at the front in a quick car on a tough track for overtaking, it was a race he surely expected to win, so third was never going to be accepted with a smile.
“It was just a bit of a tough day,” he said. “But we have plenty of races ahead, so I just have to keep my head down.”
Mark Webber, Vettel’s teammate finished fourth – his best finish at his home race – while Fernando Alonso of Ferrari recovered from a disappointing qualifying session to take fifth.
It is the Sepang International Circuit that teams will now focus on. The second round of the championship takes place next weekend in Malaysia with several teams moving quickly to extract maximum improvement in the shortest time.
Alonso, as he has grown accustomed to over the past 12 months, over-performed in what is an inferior car, but feels minor improvements can have major consequences.
“There are maybe 12 cars in the same second this year, so gaining two or three 10th is much more important than in the past. That’s what we have to do for Malaysia and China,” he said.