Jenson Button has slammed his critics and proven he can convincingly win in a car that is clearly not the outright fastest on the track. In a difficult Australian Grand Prix that saw changeable conditions, a safety car period, spins, crashes and plenty of overtaking, the reigning world champion gave the rest of the field a driving lesson as he mastered Albert Park once again, taking exemplary care of his tyres and emphasising why the number one is emblazoned on his McLaren.
Even before the lights went out in Melbourne drama was striking a chord with those participating, with light rain falling about 15 minutes prior to lift-off. The teams stated that the light drizzle wasn’t too much of an issue and believed they could cope with the dry tyres, but this seemed to seal their fate and the drizzle turned into a small downpour. As the tyre blankets were lifted from each corner of the cars, intermediates were the choice for all the field.
Running the intermediate compound meant that the usual mandatory rule of running both dry compounds during the race is ignored, so the teams were free to switch to whichever tyre they liked (or indeed, had left), and once the rain had cleared, soft was the unanimous choice among the teams. Before getting to the pitstop though, the drivers had to negotiate the opening lap, and after receiving work in Parc Ferme conditions, both Virgin Racing drivers started from the pitlane. Also struggling before the actual start was Jarno Trulli, who’s Lotus was wheeled back into the garage and taken apart.
With the back of the grid changing slightly in Hispania’s favour, the field got away and Sebastian Vettel maintained his commanding position. Fernando Alonso though had problems and slipped backwards. This put him the danger zone and sure enough, there was a first corner tussle. Massa sneaked ahead of his team mate and Mark Webber, while Button and Alonso decided to share some paintwork which sent the Spaniard into a spin. Alonso caught Michael Schumacher who was hoping to avoid contact and took to the outside. Unfortunately for the German, it was the wrong side and as the Ferrari started to spin, Schumacher was pushed out onto the grass. A fast-starting Hamilton also took to the grass in avoidance and Robert Kubica managed to judge the incident well and gained considerably.
Although the footage suggests Alonso turned in on Button who had the line, it is guessed the poor placement of the mirrors meant Fernando was none-the-wiser. The Bahrain winner then almost had another accident, spinning the car back round to point up the track he almost collected the Virgin duo who had left the pitlane and were being followed by Bernd Maylander in the safety car who always follows the grid down the main straight after the start. Alonso managed to react in time and avoided another collision.
The result from this was a damaged front wing for the Mercedes, which impressively created sparks as Schumacher limped the car back to the pitlane. Although this put the multiple world champion out of position, Schumacher did have one saving grace in the form of a safety car, which was sent out again after a nasty accident occurred further around the lap.
Video footage showed the front wing on the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi drop and fly out to the right side of the car. With no front downforce and snaking out of control over the grass, Kobayashi was sent straight forward, flicked up as the C29 bounced off and on the track and struck the rear of Sebastien Buemi and the front of Nico Hulkenberg who were following each other closely through the corner. Kamui was merely a passenger at this point of the accident and it doesn’t appear to be the Japanese driver’s fault, especially considering Sauber have been having problems with the front wing all weekend.
All three drivers retired on the spot and Hulkenberg was lucky Kobayashi’s car wasn’t any closer to his helmet. Because of the debris strewn all over the circuit, the safety car was deployed for the first time in the 2010 Formula One World Championship.
After 5 laps, Maylander turned the lights off on the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and pulled into the pitlane. There was an interesting tussle between Michael Schumacher, out of position towards the back of the field and Lucas Di Grassi. Schumacher managed to edge his way through but clearly not having much respect for his elders, Di Grassi immediately came back at Schumacher and re-took the position. Much like in Monaco in 1998 when Alexander Wurz decided to not give anything away, Michael Schumacher was left with having to actually make a move stick if he was to make any progress.
With a drying track the drivers soon started to think about switching to dry weather tyres, but it was Jenson Button who blinked first. The Briton wasn’t enjoying his intermediate rubber and was complaining of not having a decent balance on the car. His call to switch tyres seemed very early at first, and indeed as soon as he left the pits, Button drove straight off the track. However, once into a rhythm, the purple sectors started to appear on the live timing and the rest of the field took their cues and dived into the pitlane.
After all was said and done in the pitlane, Sebastian Vettel was still leading despite having stayed out for longer on the intermediates, while Button had been promoted to second. Robert Kubica found himself in third ahead of Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa. The Brazilian developed a bit of a train behind him and drivers were becoming increasingly desperate to pass. Mark Webber was the first to have a go at the Ferrari and this allowed a recovering Lewis Hamilton to sneak through as well. However, Hamilton continued his momentum and attacked Webber, causing the pair to run wide and let Massa back ahead.
For the following laps drivers were changing positions regularly, with the common theme of getting ahead only to run wide onto the damp part of the track and having to relinquish the place again. Hamilton made a brave move on Nico Rosberg at the fast T11, going around the outside of the Mercedes. Although Rosberg had the opportunity to attack Hamilton immediately afterwards, he was forced to back off as the pair headed into a yellow flag zone. Unfortunately for Red Bull Racing, the yellow flag was created by Vettel.
The pole-sitter had complained to the team that the car didn’t feel right for a couple of laps, and after vibrations developed, Vettel eventually went straight off the track and beached the RB6 in the gravel. Vettel’s front-left brake had failed and for the second time in succession, the German failed to convert a dominant pole into victory. Button now found himself in a commanding lead over Kubica.
Being in control of the race, and having been there so many times now, Button was able to manage his tyres well. Further down the field though the drivers were battling each other and Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton all needed fresh rubber. At the time, without knowing what the Ferrari duo, Kubica and Button were going to do, the decision to pit was by-and-large correct. Especially when midfield drivers who were on new tyres were going faster.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t necessarily the right call and the track position lost by Hamilton as he was in the pitlane wouldn’t be recovered before the chequered flag. So frustrated by the decision of the team to pull him in for tyres, Hamilton displayed his digust verbally over the radio. The trio of pitters would be locked together until the end of the race, where a brash move from Webber who was either feeling very brave or simply not expecting the others ahead to brake so early, collided with Hamilton and sent the pair into the gravel. Both managed to recover, although Webber was forced to pit for a new nose and wing.
The post-pitstop promoted Ferraris were struggling for grip on the degraded rubber but not wanting to lose their positions, resisted the urge to pit. Following Kubica until the end, the red cars were joined by the Rosberg-train until Webber and Hamilton took to the scenery. The only other noteworthy point regarding the drivers was Michael Schumacher, who spent most of his afternoon studying the rear diffuser of Jaime Alguersuari’s Scuderia Toro Rosso. On a couple of occasions, Schumacher got by the young Spaniard, but each time we checked back, Jaime had somehow managed to reclaim his position. Conversely, Alonso suffered fewer problems in recovering from his start, finishing fourth after a long battle with his team mate who refused to give up the podium position.
Heikki Kovalainen managed another race distance in the Lotus T127, and thanks to the high attrition, can quite close to scoring a point. Karun Chandhok also managed Hispania’s first race finish, completing the grand prix, albeit five laps down from the leaders.
Of the retirees, Kamui Kobayashi, Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastien Buemi went out early due to the Sauber’s accident. Jarno Trulli failed to get going, Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov and Adrian Sutil all retired, Sebastian Vettel suffered a brake failure and both Virgin Racing drivers retired with what appeared to be mechanical issues, most probably hydraulic related.
The Australian Grand Prix proved to be much more interesting than Bahrain before it, and with plenty of overtaking and drama, expectations are high for Malaysia next weekend. Fernando Alonso still leads the world championship but his position has been compromised by his team mate and Jenson Button. Robert Kubica scored some solid points for himself and Renault while Red Bull Racing leave Australia with almost nothing. Mark Webber had a terrible race which resulted in only a couple of points and an apology being made to Hamilton, and Vettel walks away empty-handed from what should have been an easy victory.