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Jenson Button has claimed his third victory in the Australian Grand Prix, controlling the first race of the 2012 season in style. After losing the lead to his McLaren team-mate at the first corner, Lewis Hamilton lost a further position to World Champion Sebastian Vettel when a mid-race Safety Car reshuffled the order.
Sunday’s opening event of the year always did promise a selection of dramatic moments, thanks to evenly-matched tyre compounds and a mixed up grid. Hamilton headed the pack from his 20th career pole, as a four-day attendance of almost 315,000 made this Melbourne’s largest crowd since 2005. Sergio Pérez started 22nd and last thanks to a five-place gearbox penalty, but HRT packed up early after failing to qualify for the second consecutive year.
Unlike in past seasons, it was a clean start for the front-runners, as Button out-braked Hamilton at the first corner. Behind, Mark Webber was squeezed by both Nico Hülkenberg and newcomer Jean-Éric Vergne, with the latter cutting across the grass as the former became the season’s first retirement. Attempting to avoid his compatriot, Daniel Ricciardo was forced to brake early, allowing Bruno Senna to take the outside line as the two cars made contact, spinning the Williams across the charging pack. A lap later, Romain Grosjean’s brilliant third-place qualifying came to nothing after contact at Turn 13 with Pastor Maldonado.
In a similar style to 2009, Button emphatically extended his lead from Hamilton, with Vettel pulling an impressive move on Nico Rosberg to take fourth place around the outside of Turn 9; he proceeded to catch Michael Schumacher, who duly suffered a downshift problem, running off-track and retiring from the race.
When the McLaren cars followed each other into the pits for their final stops on Lap 36, the Caterham of Vitaly Petrov ground to a halt on the start/finish straight, resulting in the deployment of the Safety Car; this allowed Vettel to enjoy one chiefly quick lap back to the pits, easily jumping Hamilton for second when he rejoined. On a clean restart, the front positions remained static for the final 17 laps, with Mark Webber marking his best ever home result with fourth.
There were inspiring drives and a number of highly impressive overtaking manoeuvres throughout the field. Fernando Alonso dragged his under-performing Ferrari up to the top five, suggesting that all is not yet lost for the Italian team’s radical 2012 design. Following a double disqualification last year, Sauber enjoyed a double top ten result this evening. From the back of the grid, Pérez was one of only three drivers to start on the harder tyres, mirroring his aggressive strategy of 2011. This allowed him to run as high as second, battling with World Champions Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso, but knowing when to concede the places.
The Mexican ran seventh, but last-lap contact with Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes dropped both cars down the order as Kimi Räikkönen took advantage to finish seventh from 17th on the grid. A promising day for Williams ended in disaster on the ultimate tour; shortly after Bruno Senna retired, Pastor Maldonado - chasing Alonso for fifth place – touched the grass and slammed into the wall at Turn 7, throwing away a strong points finish. As Räikkönen took advantage, eighth to 11th places were locked together over the line, with Ricciardo ensuring two Australians were in the top ten - despite being at the back of the field after the start - and Paul di Resta making up for a disappointing weekend by scoring another point in Melbourne, with Vergne just missing out.
While Heikki Kovalainen’s steering arm failure cemented a double Caterham exit, Felipe Massa’s torrid weekend also finished in the pit lane following a clumsy late-race incident with Senna, as the two Brazilians locked together when battling at Turn 4. On his 30th birthday, Timo Glock led new Marussia team-mate Charles Pic to 14th and 15th places.
Button took the chequered flag from Vettel by two seconds. The victory marks the Frome man’s 13th win in Formula 1, equalling the sums of David Coulthard and former double World Champion Alberto Ascari. In a season which features no less than six title winners, the year begins with an all-Champion rostrum.
- Post-race feelings from winner Jenson Button
The 2012 Formula 1 season begins with back-to-back races; Round 2 will take place at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit next weekend
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|2.||S. Vettel||Red Bull||+2.139|
|4.||M. Webber||Red Bull||+4.547|
|9.||D. Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||+39.556|
|10.||P. di Resta||Force India||+39.737|
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|2012 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix|
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|19 Mar '12||‘A really poor weekend for me’ – Massa|
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|11 May||Video of the Day: Button on race preparation|
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|10 May||Button gives McLaren fine of €1000 euros|
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