2012 Formula One Season officially kicks off with the Australian Grand Prix
Jenson Button delivered a peerless drive from start to finish taking victory in the 2012 Australian Grand Prix. Over 58 laps of the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, the Briton started second on the grid alongside his pole-sitting team-mate Lewis Hamilton. After launching off the start line better than Hamilton as the lights went out, he held the inside line into the first corner and then led the race all the way to the checkered flag leading home Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton in an exciting and eventful season opener.
This was the 2009 champion’s third Australian Grand Prix victory in four consecutive years. Hamilton tucked in behind him on the opening lap, trailed by Mercedes drivers Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg; the latter managing to take fourth after starting seventh. Romain Grosjean could not launch his Lotus well enough and dropped three places to sixth while Mark Webber fell back to ninth after getting involved in a first corner incident with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and William’s Bruno Senna. Both Ferrari’s, after their dismal qualifying performance, got off to a superb start with Fernando Alonso climbing from twelfth to eighth and Felipe Massa from sixteenth to tenth. On lap 2, Vettel overtook Rosberg to take fourth. Behind them, William’s Pastor Maldonado forced a maneuver on Grosjean, who, unable to defend position, speared into the gravel and retired. Grosjean’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen, starting seventeenth on the grid, had by this time managed twelfth. Maldonado lost control on lap 4 and had an off-track moment, allowing Alonso to slot into sixth and Massa into eighth. By the end of lap 5, race leader Button had strung together 5 consecutive fastest laps, pulling out a 3.1 second advantage over teammate Hamilton.
By lap 7, Mercedes much publicized tyre wear issues had come into play with Schumacher falling back by 6.5 seconds behind Hamilton and Rosberg, finding Alonso ever closer on his rear view mirrors. Massa, on lap 9, lost grip dramatically as his Ferrari ate up its rear tyres, bottling up the charging pack of Sauber drivers Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi along with Raikkonen’s Lotus. Vettel eventually caught up with Schumacher’s Merc before the latter pulled out of the race with gearbox issues on lap 11, with Button having extended his lead over Hamilton to 3.3 seconds and Vettel a further 10 seconds adrift.
As Vettel pursued the McLarens and began closing in, Button pitted on lap 16 for tyres. Vettel followed suit on the same lap while Hamilton stayed out a lap longer. Running on worn tyres, Hamilton finished that lap 2.5 seconds down on the field’s lap times before his stop. After rejoining, his lead over Vettel had come down to 2.8 seconds. Vettel closed in even further as Hamilton was unable to find a way past Sergio Perez; who had not stopped for tyres by then. Eventually, Hamilton managed to put the hammer down, upping his lead over Vettel to 2.5 seconds and closing within 9.4 seconds of Button.
Further down the road, Webber tussled wheel to wheel with Rosberg for track position before Rosberg pulled in for a fresh set of tyres. Webber, now running in fifth, set out chasing down Alonso. Alonso pitted too, allowing Webber to take up fourth and form a McLaren-Red Bull top 4 leader board.
Further drama unfolded when, on lap 36, after both McLarens had made their second stops, Vitaly Petrov parked his Caterham on the start finish straight after suffering a steering failure. The safety car was deployed as a result. Vettel, who had not stopped again for tyres, pulled into the pitlane under the safety car and managed to bypass the stricken area. Hamilton, meanwhile, had to slow down behind the safety car on his out lap. This eventually unfolded with Vettel snatching second place from Hamilton as the field re-arranged itself in order. Racing resumed on lap 42 as Button set himself up for a perfect restart and went 2.5 seconds clear of Vettel’s Red Bull by the end of the lap. He then proceeded to set another five fastest laps as the top four traded blinding lap times in an effort to catch each other. Hamilton hounded Vettel for second with Webber sniffing on Hamilton’s gearbox. As these three fought, Button settled into a 2.9 second lead and later controlled it beautifully till the fall of the flag.
Button’s masterpiece was somewhat overshadowed on the final lap as the mid-field battles took center stage. Maldonado was right on Alonso’s tail. He made a brave move to pass the Ferrari driver, but lost control of his Williams after his left front wheel rode too much kerb, spinning him into the barriers. It was a bitter blow for the Venezuelan driver and his team, after a strong race from eighth on the grid. Alonso hung on to fifth after a typically feisty drive, salvaging some pride for the Scuderia. At nearly the same time, Kobayashi and Raikkonen were hard on Rosberg’s rear as all three of them caught up to the one-stopping Perez. When Rosberg tried the move, he and Perez made contact, relegating Rosberg down to twelfth and Perez to eighth. Kobayashi and Raikkonen sneaked up immediately to take sixth and seventh behind Alonso.
Behind Perez, Torro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, Force India’s Paul DiResta and Ricciardo’s debutant team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne crossed the line in a nail-biting finish, tailgating one another by a mere 0.4 seconds.
Maldonado, Marussia’s Timo Glock and Charles Pic and Bruno Senna were the final finishers, classified 13th to 16th. The list of non-finishers included Massa, Schumacher, Heikki Kovalainen for Caterham, Petrov, Grosjean and Hulkenberg.
Every single prediction of a vintage season ahead has been substantiated with an unbelievably tight Australian Grand Prix. This bodes well for the upcoming season, with the Sepang circuit of Malaysia already preparing to host the F1 circus this coming weekend. The Malaysian GP from March 24-26 promises more adrenaline and allows no recovery time post Australia. Game on. Stay tuned for more.
[Photos copyright Vodafon/McLaren]