Jenson Button won the 2012 Australian Grand Prix in dominating fashion, having taken the lead from pole sitter Lewis Hamilton into the first turn and only giving it up for a pit stop. Hamilton would finish third, as second place finisher Sebastian Vettel pipped him in a pit stop during a Safety Car period caused by Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham stopping on the front straight. Mark Webber finished fourth, having lost positions on the start then retaking them through the race. The Australian was very close to Hamilton in the closing stages but remained unable to make a move on the Briton. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top five, having heaved his Ferrari up from a twelfth starting position.
Saturday’s qualifying session added to the newly mixed-up 2012 field, as Hamilton (1:24.922) won pole with a 2011 Vettel-style lap. Only Button came close to the former world champion, making a McLaren front row on the starting grid. Grosjean showed that Lotus’ pace in testing was no fluke, though a mistake from his new teammate Raikkonen meant that the Finn qualified only eighteenth. The biggest mistake, however, came from Alonso. The Spaniard beached his recalcitrant Ferrari in the gravel halfway through Q2 and was only twelfth quickest. Still, he fared better than Massa, who went out after Alonso’s red flag and was also knocked out in Q2. Back up front, Schumacher qualified to start next to Grosjean in the mad dash to fast laps in Q3 while Webber and Vettel managed only to qualify fifth and sixth, respectively. The Australian out-qualified his reigning champion teammate, despite yet another KERS failure. Despite usually winning an appeal to the stewards despite qualifying times outside 107% last year, neither Pedro de la Rosa nor Narain Karthikeyan started the race, presumably due to their extensive balking of other drivers as moving chicanes during qualifying itself. Perez also had issues with his gearbox that forced Sauber to change it and resulted in a five place gird penalty from his qualifying position of seventeenth.
Both McLarens also showed good pace in the practice sessions, with each driver posting the fast lap for a session. Button (1:27.560) led the team 1-2 on the wet Friday morning, with Schumacher, Alonso, and Webber joining them as the fastest five. Hamilton (1:25.681) had his turn on the dry and sunny Saturday morning session, leading Grosjean, Webber, Button, and Rosberg as the quickest. Both Schumacher and Vettel had trips through the gravel in the sunshine, though no driver crashed out of either wet Friday practice. Schumacher (1:29.183) was the shining driver Friday afternoon, leading Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, and Kobayashi in that session as the track dried quickly in the final minutes.
The light was about to begin fading with the late afternoon start in Melbourne, but the sun still shone brightly as the lights went out to start the 2012 season. Button beat Hamilton to Turn 1, but it was well back in the field where contact occurred with Ricciardo going straight on to the gravel and Senna spinning. Grosjean did not show well, dropping well back on the start. Webber had a poor start, complaining of contact, while both Senna and Ricciardo, then Pic all pitted. Hulkenberg did not complete the first lap. Button led Hamilton, Schumacher, Rosberg, Vettel, Grosjean, Maldonado, Alonso, Webber, and Massa at the end of the first lap. Vettel squeezed through on Rosberg at Turn 10, but drama behind him put Grosjean out. Maldonado looked to get through on the Frenchman who gave him a bit of space, but Madonado tagged his wheel, pushing him into the gravel and damaging his right front.
At the front, Button began to eek out a lead on his teammate. The gap was up to 3.1s between the, as Schumacher, Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso, Webber, Massa, Maldonado, and Perez as the top ten. Vettel had a trip through the grass at T1 having lost the rear a bit, allowing Rosberg to get right up on him, but the German champion held off the other German. Alonso and Webber caught both of them, allowing the Spaniard to press Rosberg. Even after the off track excursion, Vettel regained his gap to Rosberg. The drivers soon settled in, as Button gained a tenth or two per lap but his teammate had nearly eight seconds of his own gap back to Schumacher in third. He, however, had Vettel directly on his gearbox.
Button led Hamilton, Schumacher, Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso, Webber, Maldonado, Massa, and Perez as the top ten, with Raikkonen twelfth at the end of L10. That order would not last long, as Schumacher went off and appeared to have some sort of issue that allowed Vettel to move up to third. Schumacher went to pit but parked before arriving to the Mercedes garage, having lost gears. Massa, who was complaining about his tyres, pitted on L11.
Pit Stops Begin (L12):
Rosberg pitted next, leaving Alonso in possession of fourth. Alonso pitted on the next lap, as did Kobayashi and Di Resta. At the front, Hamilton began to claw back a bit of the gap to Button as the latter had apparently been told to save some fuel for a lap or two. Webber pitted for his new tyres on L15 as did Kovalainen. At the end of L15, Button led Hamilton by 3.5s, with Vettel, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Perez, Vergne, Alonso, Rosberg, and Webber the top ten. The top seven had not yet pitted. Perez looked good for a one stop race, having begun on the harder tyre, while Vettel took a good bit of time out of Hamilton. Button and Vettel pitted on L16, as did Maldonado. Both Vettel and Button had a bit of a moment in the stop, as each nearly clipped a crew member of the other team.
Meanwhile, Alonso had been setting good times and was barely back from Vettel as the German rejoined the track. Hamilton pitted from the lead on L17, returning Button to the lead over Raikkonen, Perez, and Vergne who had yet to pit. Hamilton rejoined behind Perez. Vettel was the only driver to stay on the softer tyre. Alonso moved up to sixth with a DRS move on Vergne while Rosberg was also about to take position from the Toro Rosso, as he and Webber did within the next few corners. Raikkonen pitted on L20 for the softer tyre, leaving only Perez in the top fifteen to not yet stop. Perez had come under fire from Hamilton, who could not make a move stick.
At the end of L20, Button had 11 seconds on Perez, with Hamilton still fighting to catch his teammate. Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg, Webber, Maldonado, Massa, and Raikkonen completed the top ten. Hamilton finally got through on Perez with DRS, as Vettel did so at Turn 11. The Mexican next came under fire from Alonso as he remained on track. Perez made life very difficult for Alonso, who soon had Rosberg back again behind him. Along the front straight and into Turn 1, Alonso took fourth from Perez. Rosberg similarly moved forward through Turn 3.
With Ricciardo’s stop on L24, Perez became the only driver to yet stop. He began to drift backward on wearing tyres, losing position to Webber as well as the halfway point approached. Meanwhile, Button radioed that he had started to pick up some vibrations on the tyres, though he had not locked-up. Perez finally pitted on L25 while Hamilton began charging forward to catch his teammate, setting two race fast laps in a row. In the back portion of the top ten, Massa, Kobayashi, and Raikkonen were having a scrap over a few points, as Massa then Raikkonen took position from the Sauber.
Halfway (End L29):
As halfway approached, Button’s tyre issues seemed be haunting him with the gap dropping well below ten seconds. The scrap over eighth continued as Raikkonen smoothly took position from Massa, as did Kobayashi, on L27. Massa pitted for the second time on L29, while Button’s lead held steady at 9.4s at the end of the halfway lap. Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg, Webber, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, and Di Resta completed the top ten. In traffic, Raikkonen was rather frustrated, radioing “why do I get blue flags?!” His engineer reminded him that the flags were for those he was passing and not for the Finn. Meanwhile, Webber remained frustrated behind Rosberg, with Maldonado was right behind the Red Bull. Vergne went off, but the battle between Rosberg and Webber continued, with Webber complaining that the German was weaving. Rosberg took the escape road and kept position, but pitted immediately.
Back in eleventh, then tenth, Perez set the race fast lap on L31. Once Webber got clear air, he took race fast lap, but it was Button at the front running away with a 10-plus second lead over Hamilton. The latter Briton radioed to complain of wearing rear tyres. Each driver in the top five (Button, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, and Webber) at the end of L33 had move than two seconds cushion both ahead and behind.
Second Pit Stops Begin (L34):
Di Resta made his second stop on L34 for the harder tyre. Alonso did the same on the next lap, leaving Webber in possession of fourth position. Alonso rejoined in eighth, behind Kobayashi. A bit further ahead, Vettel had managed to get a second and half behind Hamilton while Button pitted. Hamilton did so as well, as the McLaren drivers had just space enough between to pit both on the same lap.
Safety Car Deployed (L37):
Meanwhile, Petrov had pulled off at the start-finish straight, causing a SC deployment. Vettel, Webber, Maldonado, and Raikkonen all pitted. Vettel rejoined ahead of Hamilton, winning him second position for the restart. After the stops mixed the field, Button led Vettel behind the safety car. Hamilton, Webber, Alonso, Maldonado, Perez, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Di Resta, Vergne, Massa, Senna, Ricciardo, Glock, and Pic completed the cars still running as Kovalainen retired under the SC.
Button got a great restart, well away ahead of Vettel. Hamilton looked to get through on Vettel, but could not come close. The restart was clean for the entire field. Button quickly had a good lead, with 2.5s at the end of that first lap back racing. The only change of position on that lap came from Kobayashi, diving through on Raikkonen. Button continued to gain on Vettel, pulling out nearly another second on the next lap. Hamilton remained less than a second behind Vettel, with Webber right behind. On the radio, Raikkonen informed his team that Kobayashi’s rear wing was broken and shedding parts, adding, “it’s not very safe.” DRS became enabled again on L45 as Button’s lead grew incrementally. Vettel had more problems with Hamilton and Webber within 1.5 total seconds behind him. Despite the closeness, there was little dicing between the three. All used DRS, but there was no overtaking in the first sector. Actual fighting came between Massa and Senna, as they got locked together in a shower of sparks. Senna remained stuck behind in the gravel with a puncture. Both pitted, and Massa retired. News soon came that the incident would be investigated after the race.
10 Laps Remaining:
Button’s lead had come down to 3.3s over Vettel while Hamilton, Webber, Alonso, Maldonado, Perez, Rosberg, Kobayashi, and Raikkonen completed the top ten with ten laps to go. Alonso’s tyres looked mighty ragged, and Maldonado looked ready to take advantage. Though Webber soon gained enough time to be within the DRS settings behind Hamilton, the top five continued to hold station with seven laps to go. However, Vettel was gaining slightly on Button as the laps ticked down.
For the final five laps, Button had a 2.9s lead over Vettel, Hamilton only .4s ahead of Webber, and Alonso holding Maldonado off by just .5s. Both Webber and Maldonado lost a bit of time to the drivers ahead of them, while Senna pitted and became the seventh retirement of the race. For the final two laps, Button continued to turn up the speed and pull away from Vettel. The closest fighting came from Kobayashi and Raikkonen over ninth as the Sauber got out of shape, but the Japanese driver kept the former champion behind. On the final lap, Maldonado lost the rear of his Williams and smashed himself on the wall. He was unhurt, but allowed Alonso a bit of a breath on the final third of the lap. Button took the win, with Vettel safely ahead of Hamilton.
Final Positions, 2012 Australian Grand Prix:
Driver Team Gap 1. Jenson Button McLaren 2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 2.1 3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 4.0 4. Mark Webber Red Bull 4.5 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 21.5 6. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 36.7 7. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 38.0 8. Sergio Perez Sauber 39.4 9. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 39.4 10. Paul Di Resta Force India 39.7 11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 39.8 12. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 57.6 13. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1 Lap 14. Timo Glock Marussia 1 Lap 15. Charles Pic Marussia 5 Laps Bruno Senna Williams 6 Laps Felipe Massa Ferrari 12 Laps Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 20 Laps Vitaly Petrov Caterham 24 Laps Michael Schumacher Mercedes 48 Laps Romain Grosjean Lotus 57 Laps Nico Hulkenberg Force India