Jenson Button won his first race as world champion and his first race for McLaren today at the Australian Grand Prix, a race he also won last season for Brawn GP. He currently sits third in the drivers championship behind the Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
Button said that he had a great car all weekend, but strategy calls were key to his victory in a race which started under a Melbourne shower. “What a fantastic weekend! From the first lap here, I felt comfortable in the car. Qualifying was good – we weren't on the pace of the front guys, we were five or six tenths off – but our race pace was better. And in these tricky conditions, I think we made some very good calls and we came away with a victory. You might say we were lucky in some ways, but I think we just made the right calls – and that's so important nowadays. It's not just about speed, it's about making the right calls, being consistent and conserving the car.”
The Brit initially said his inspired move to slick tyres before any other runners was mainly out of necessity, and when he entered the pit lane he thought he had made a huge mistake. “It was a necessary move to pit for slicks. I was struggling for grip on the Inters, and the rears were destroying themselves very quickly, so we figured it must be time for dries. As I drove down the pitlane, I could see it was soaking wet and I feared it was a massive mistake on my part. When I left the pits, I went off the circuit and just thought, 'Oh no!'
“But I got to grips with it pretty quickly, and soon started to feel really good in the car. I caught up behind Sebastian [Vettel], I conserved the tyres, I built a useful gap and I want to say a massive thank-you to the whole Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team: they've done a brilliant job.”
Jenson is well aware of the importance of this victory and hopes his good fortune continues at Sepang next weekend. “To not only be on the podium, but to be on the top step, after just two races, is amazing. It's crucial to get the big points when perhaps we don't have the out-and-out pace: these are really important points to us. Now we've really got to get our heads down and hopefully turn up in Malaysia next week with an even better car.
“This victory means so much to me. A Grand Prix win in a McLaren. Sounds good, doesn't it? Right now, I just want to run around and scream. It's just the most amazing experience.”
Lewis Hamilton could only manage a sixth place finish in Australia, but drove a very exciting race. During the race Lewis could be heard over the radio complaining about the fact he’d made one pit stop more than the drivers in front, but after the race accepted his team are only human. “This was probably one of the drives of my life. Okay, it's possible that the decision to make a second tyre stop wasn't the right one, but my team are a brilliant bunch of guys and they usually get it spot-on. I guess things can't always pan out right every time, but that's motor racing.
“It was disappointing to taken out by Mark Webber, but I hear he apologised for it after the race so I appreciate that. I'm happy with the job I did – I drove my heart out today and the car felt good.”
Hamilton seemed pleased that his teammate had managed his first McLaren victory and implied that he would come out all guns blazing in Malaysia. “Could Jenson and I have had a one-two today? Maybe, yes, but you can't say for sure. One thing I can say for sure, though, is that he drove a great race. Congratulations to him for an excellent first win for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – it's a good feeling!
“As for me, I'll just keep fighting. It's the only way I know.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh had praise for both his drivers after the race, and for the sport as a whole. “This afternoon's race was an absolutely perfect showcase for Formula 1, and amply demonstrates that this sport will always surprise, thrill and enthral us in many, many ways.
“For the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, it was an afternoon of two fantastic, albeit contrasting, performances. Jenson's was a drive truly worthy of a world champion. First, he showed extreme tactical acuity and supreme strategic responsibility by personally electing to make the early call from intermediate to dry tyres, a move that moved him ahead of the pack and laid the foundation for this victory.
“Second, he drove with incredible intelligence and impressive maturity to maintain a consistent gap at the front, altering his car's settings in order to best look after the tyres during the extremely long second stint. It was, in all ways, a faultless victory.
“Lewis's race was in real contrast to Jenson's, but no less brilliant for it. After starting 11th, he once again showed the grit, determination, passion and bravery that has made him one of the most exciting racing drivers in the world.
“In less than an hour this afternoon, I think it's fair to say that he almost single-handedly debunked the much-touted recent theory that Formula 1 has become boring. On the contrary, he entertained millions of people around the world with a series of audacious and thrilling overtaking manoeuvres.
“While we concede that, with hindsight, it's possible that we may have been better served by calling Lewis's tyre strategy differently, we're enormously encouraged by his never-give-up attitude and his ever-exciting talent.
“So we leave Albert Park hugely encouraged by the pace we were able to demonstrate, and we head to Malaysia keen to maintain that momentum.
“Finally, I also think it's worth praising the extremely valuable contribution of ExxonMobil in this race: their engineers and chemists have done a fantastic job over the winter to provide us with a set of fuel and lubricants that really set the standard in Formula 1; their performance, efficiency and reliability played a crucial role in our victory today.”