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Button Starts Formula 1 Season With Victory In Australia

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 18 2012

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Jenson Button put his signature on what he termed “a very special year in Formula One” Sunday by scoring a flag-to-flag victory in the season-opening Qantas Australian Grand Prix.

One of six current/former F1 World Driving Champions on the grid, Button took the lead from pole-sitter and Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton heading into the first corner at Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne and drove flawlessly en route to his third career win in the event.

Sebastian Vettel, the two-time/reigning World Champion, rallied from a sixth-place start to finish second with the help of a late-race Safety Car period. Hamilton, disgruntled by some tough luck during his pit stops, finished third.

“We all think this year is a very special year in Formula One,” said Button, who earned his 13th career victory. “Last year we had five World Champions (in the field) but having six World Champions and so many competitive teams – it’s good to see that Formula One is in a great place right now. And it’s a great sport to be a part of right now.” Button’s most recent victory was in the Japanese Grand Prix, six races ago.

In addition to Button, Vettel and Hamilton, the grid included former World Driving Champions Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen – the 2007 title-holder returning to the series after a two-year hiatus.

Mark Webber, Vettel’s Red Bull Racing/Renault teammate, finished fourth to record his best result in his home grand prix. Double World Champion Alonso, of Scuderia Ferrari, placed fifth after starting 12th.

“Every win means a lot to you,” said Button, the Brit who won six of the first seven races with Brawn GP en route to his title in 2009. “As a team, it really shows how important the winter is. We’ve had a strong winter and (Friday’s) qualifying really showed that, so it’s nice to come away with a victory in the first race of the new season. Back in Woking (Surrey, England) they’ve done an amazing job this winter. This will definitely help them to push hard; thanks to the whole team for this victory.”

Hamilton’s balky start was magnified by a pair of solid pit stops wrapped in unfortunate consequences. Hamilton found himself behind the slower Sauber/Ferrari of Sergio Perez after his first stop for tires, which allowed Button to stretch his lead to 10 seconds. On the lap after Hamilton’s second stop, the retirement of Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham/Renault on the home straight brought out the Safety Car. That sequence allowed Vettel to dive into the pits for tires and emerge ahead of Hamilton as he circulated.

Vettel downplayed the Safety Car’s effect on the outcome and his most recent podium. “Nevertheless, I think we would have had a good shot at him (Hamilton) because I was very close,” said Vettel, 24, who has posted top-three finishes in 20 of his last 22 race starts. “When he went to the pits and I decided to stay out, I think we would have had a crack even without the Safety Car. Surely it did help a little bit.

“But a great stop…that was most important and then when the Safety Car came in I thought I would be in a good position to have a go at Jenson – but I didn’t. He was too quick; two corners and he was gone and I was struggling really to get up to speed. Lewis was very close with the DRS-enabled (option) and it wasn’t very easy to get away from him, but Jenson was out-of-sight. So there was no way we could have stayed with him, and he completely deserved to win today.

“But I was very happy to come away with second and a lot of points. I think a lot of people would not have expected that after the result (Friday). I think we had a better car in the race. Yeah, the car seems to have a lot of potential. Now it’s up to us to get to it and we should be very close with these guys.”

While Button opened a three-second advantage over Vettel within a lap, he admittedly was concerned with the restart procedure after the Safety Car period.

“Especially when it’s so cold,” said Button, referring to track temperatures in the 70s. “It’s late in the afternoon, the sun’s dropping and it’s difficult to keep the tires (up to operating temperature). It’s the last thing you want leading the pack around to the restart. I was a little on-edge, but I was able to keep heat in the tires and save a lot of fuel, which was quite important and get a good restart.

“The team said, ‘Push as hard as you can for two laps after the restart to get a gap.’ I was able to do that. And then it was about controlling the pace to the end of the race. Pretty amazing day.”

Despite his 43rd career podium, Hamilton’s post-race body language and terse remarks could not hide his disappointment.

“First, congratulations to Jensen,” said Hamilton, the 2008 World Champion. “He did a fantastic job and to the team for doing such a great job during the winter. And yeah, just a bit of a tough day. Just to keep my head up.”

Schumacher, a seven-time World Champion and four-time Aussie GP winner, started fourth and was running third in his Mercedes when an off-track excursion through the grass in front of Vettel on Lap 10 of the 58 ended his race with a damaged gearbox.

Pastor Maldonado was poised for a sixth-place finish for Williams/Renault when his crash a few corners from the checkered flag shuffled the final standings. Kamui Kobayashi moved into sixth followed by Raikkonen in his Lotus/Renault. Perez placed eighth, followed by Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari and Scotsman Paul Di Resta of Force India/Mercedes in 10th.

Button scored 25 points to lead the Driver’s Championship, followed by Vettel with 18, Hamilton (15), Webber (12) and Alonso (10) heading into Round 2 of the 20-race series , the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix beginning Friday in Kuala Lumpur. SPEED’s live race-day coverage is set for Sunday at 3:30 a.m. (EDT).

“I’m very excited heading to Malaysia, but I’m not thinking about that right now,” said Button, wrapping up the post-race news conference following his 44th career podium finish. “I’m going to enjoy myself with the team and my friends and family and then tomorrow turn my attention to Malaysia.”

The FIA-sanctioned series will return to the United States for the inaugural Formula One USGP at Circuit of The Americas, a $300-million facility under construction in Austin, Texas, Nov. 16-18.

FIA Formula One Australian Grand Prix results with starting position in parenthesis, driver, country, chassis/engine and time/laps differential:

(2) Jenson Button, Great Britain, McLaren/Mercedes, 1 hour, 34:09.565-seconds

(6) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull Racing/Renault, plus 2.139-seconds

(1) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, McLaren/Mercedes, plus 4.075-seconds

(5) Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull Racing/Renault, plus 4.547-seconds

(12) Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari, plus 21.565-seconds

(13) Kamui Kobayashi, Japan, Sauber/Ferrari, plus 36.766-seconds

(18) Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus/Renault, plus 38.014-seconds

(17) Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sauber/Ferrari, plus 39.458-seconds

(10) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, plus 39.556-seconds

(15) Paul di Resta, Great Britain, Force India/Mercedes, plus 39.737-seconds

(11) Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, plus 39.848-seconds

(7) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG, plus 57.642-seconds

(8) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams/Renault, plus 1 lap

(21) Timo Glock, Germany, Marussia/Cosworth, plus 1 lap

(22) Charles Pic, France, Marussia/Cosworth, plus 5 laps

(14) Bruno Senna, Brazil, Williams/Renault, plus 6 laps

(16) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia Ferrari, plus 12 laps

(19) Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Caterham/Renault, plus 20 laps

(20) Vitaly Petrov, Russia, Caterham/Renault, plus 24 laps

(4) Michael Schumacher, Germany, Mercedes AMG, plus 48 laps

(3) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus/Renault, plus 57 laps

(9) Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Force India/Mercedes, plus 58 laps

(23) Pedro de la Rosa, Spain, HRT/Cosworth, did not start

(24) Narain Karthikeyan, India, HRT/Cosworth, did not start

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 18 2012
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