Jenson Button got his 2012 championship campaign off the perfect start after a lightning getaway assisted him to a third Australian Grand Prix victory in four years. Sebastian Vettel took advantage of a late safety car period to beat Lewis Hamilton to second.
The decisive moment came in the first few metres as Button grabbed the advantage from his teammate who suffered from wheelspin. Romain Grosjean’s dream weekend quickly turned into a nightmare though as Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel demoted him to sixth. Pastor Maldonado looked set to push him back even further on lap two but contact at turn 13 ruled the Frenchman out altogether with broken front right suspension.
The two McLarens stretched away from the pack while Vettel set about picking off the two Mercedes. Rosberg was dispatched at turn nine on the second lap but Michael was proving a tougher nut to crack. Vettel’s path through to third eventually opened up for him on lap 11 as Schumacher’s gearbox packed up.
By this time, the British duo had opened up a 12 second lead over the Red Bull with Rosberg fourth ahead of a determined Fernando Alonso who had jumped seven places from his lowly grid position. As was so often the case in 2011, Mark Webber made an awful start and fell back to sixth and was becoming frustrated at following the Ferrari. Rosberg triggered the first round of pit stops on lap 12 but the McLarens left it a further three laps before pitting, intent on a two-stop strategy.
Button called in a lap ahead of Hamilton and that would prove crucial as Lewis found traffic in his way when he re-joined. They certainly weren’t the cars he was expecting to see as Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez sneaked in front of him, both yet to stop. Perez in particular was acting the role of spoiler as he waited for the one-stop window to open and by the time Hamilton had found a way through, Button’s lead out front was up to 11 seconds.
Another key event in the pit-stop phase was the emergence of Vettel who had zoomed in on the back of the second McLaren. With Button seemingly in control, attention now shifted to the battle for second.
Despite his miserable qualifying, Alonso was running well in fourth having dropped Rosberg. The German was getting rather accustomed to seeing cars fill his mirrors with Webber and Maldonado eying up fifth. The Australian made his move on lap 32 but Rosberg’s refusal to lead took him up the turn 11 escape road, reminiscent of the Button/Massa controversy 12 months ago. There was no need for steward intervention as Rosberg pitted moments later in any case.
With Vettel looming behind, McLaren opted to pit early for their second stop, bringing Button and Hamilton in on the same lap. They did it just in the nick of time as Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham broke down on the pit straight on lap 36, necessitating a safety car.
Button’s ten second lead was reduced to nothing but he no longer had Hamilton to deal with as Red Bull’s speedy pit work leapfrogged Vettel into second. McLaren needn’t have worried as Button streaked clear at the restart, pulling out a 2.5 second lead which he controlled to the finish.
Vettel comfortably held off Hamilton who was forced to keep an eye on Webber, eventually beating him to the final podium place by four tenths of a second. Alonso had Maldonado shadowing him in the closing stages but the Williams crashed in dramatic fashion at turn six on the final lap, giving the Ferrari a clear run to fifth.
This should have promoted Sergio Perez to sixth after his one-stop strategy worked beautifully but contact with Rosberg six corners from home dropped them both down the order. Teammate Kamui Kobayashi inherited sixth with Kimi Raikkonen taking seventh on his return to F1. Perez somehow made it over the line in eighth with Daniel Ricciardo and Paul Di Resta finishing in the final points positions ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne. Rosberg limped home in 12th with a left rear puncture.
Maldonado was classified in 13th while the two Marussias both made it to the finish, a good achievement given their troubled build-up to the season. Bruno Senna and Felipe Massa dropped out in the final six laps after contact at turn four while a collision with Webber on lap one accounted for Nico Hulkenberg.