Jenson Button took a fantastic win today in the Australian Grand Prix, thanks almost exclusively to his smooth driving and correct strategy. The man from Frome was peerless at maintaining his tyres, after a mid-race gamble to move onto slicks fortuitously paid off.
Button has long been renowned for the care with which he drives an F1 car and in Australia today it paid off in abundance. The McLaren man was effortlessly seamless into all the corners of an Albert Park track that had developed a dry line after the early rain held off. It was consequently a choice for all the teams and drivers between stopping once or twice, one which some got very wrong. Button got it right and early on, and, once the Red Bull of Vettel had departed, was a cert for the win if he could only manage his rubber. It was a task which could not have been more suited to the smoothest of them all, and Button duly did the job with aplomb.
Another star was Robert Kubica, apparently more at home on this parkland racetrack than any other. The Pole was second, his pace not to be sniffed at despite the errors of others which played into his hands. A great result for the Renault team, it nevertheless remains to be seen whether the form can be replicated at other tracks.
More gutsy performances came from Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Vettel was again in the unenviable position of mechanical unreliability, but his driving all weekend up to that point had been flawless. Although it is frustrating for the young German, his time will come because when he is hooked up no-one on the grid can live with him at the moment.
Hamilton, meanwhile, drove a characteristically determined and ruthless race. His overtaking was second to none before he got to Fernando Alonso, and his raw pace would have threatened the front if the cards had fallen differently. This is not to say that he would have beaten Button, for Hamilton is notoriously hard on his rubber and he would have probably been driving on his rims had he not stopped the second time. In that sense he has little to complain about to his team. But although he may have to come to turns with Button’s superiority in the area of tyres, Hamilton probably has the edge over his compatriot overall, and he only has to show that on track.
Nico Rosberg, although hampered by machinery that was not the equal of that of any of the other big three teams, was harrying and chasing right til the end. He is making his demolition of Michael Schumacher slow and deliberate, and all the more painful for it. The seven-time champion, supposedly in the same race, made a great start but was caught up in the carnage at the first turn and thereafter was a shadow of his former self. To watch the great man toiling to pass Alguersuari in a Toro Rosso was grating, and there is nothing yet seen in his comeback which indicates he is the fearsome Schumi of old.
The Ferraris must also take their fair share of criticism. Despite their agreeable third and fourth result, which leaves them sitting pretty in the championship, the Maranello squad made some odd decisions which might have prevented a better result. After a mishap at the first corner, Alonso’s dynamic pace as he carved the field up was a sight to behold and contrasted sharply with Schumacher’s failure to do the same. That same pace would surely have seen him pass a floundering Massa with ease, chase down Kubica and even threaten Button before his tyres went off. So why was he stuck behind Massa, a man whose engineer has to remind him how to drive effectively? It was a bizarre conservative decision from Ferrari, even if it has won them points.
Lastly, Mark Webber received a reprimand from the stewards for his ridiculous attempt to pass Hamilton as the Englishman was in full battle royale with Alonso. The resulting crash prevented Hamilton from taking a probable fourth or even third, prevented the viewer from seeing a wonderful dogfight and deprived the Australian of some credit for an afternoon in which he had played a big part.
The biggest victor this morning, Button aside, was surely the sport. After vilification in the media, the Australian race was a cracker, thanks to a sprinkling of rain and some out of position racing cars. Although the wider problem of loss of mechanical grip when following has not been addressed, the spectacle was much improved, and who is to say that the wonderful Albert Park did not play a part? Armchair supporters should be able to pick which races to watch this season on the basis of track reputation. But diehard fans were on an emotional rollercoaster this morning, excited, elated and entranced. Those fans will have no trouble tuning in for the next instalment of what could well be a fantastic season.