World champion Jenson Button won a thrilling Australian Formula One Grand Prix the second straight year on Sunday as long-time leader Sebastian Vettel was stopped by a problem again.
Button got his eighth career win in a McLaren despite a far from perfect pit stop early in the race and riding into the gravel afterwards while the pole sitter Vettel had to retire after 26 of 58 laps with what he said was a broken brakes disc in his Red Bull.
Robert Kubica took second place in a Renault and Felipe Massa was third in a Ferrari an action-packed race at Albert Park, which made up for the procession-like event at the season-opener in Bahrain two weeks ago.
The Bahrain winner Fernando Alonso placed fourth in the second Ferrari to retain first place in the drivers’ standings with 37 points from Massa (33) and Button (31) after two of 19 season races.
Button was awarded for gambling with a seventh-lap pit stop for slicks on a quickly drying track after a shower, while teammate Lewis Hamilton was fuming about being called in for a second stop, which possibly cost him a place on the podium.
“We could have had a first one-two. I did want to stay out,” said Hamilton who was lying third with Kubica in his sight at the time.
Button said it was his decision to come in early and that he had the right formula with just one stop.
“It was my call. When I got into the pit lane I thought it was catastrophic decision because it was soaking there. But the pace was good then and it was the right call.” “I never thought of putting on another set. My pace was not great but consistent. We couldn’t have done a better strategy.”
Victory was sweet for Button as he got the first for the McLaren team (which is still equipped by Mercedes engines) 12 months after starting his title run with a Melbourne win for Brawn GP.
“It is very special. I feel I am building in confidence,” the Briton said.
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh said: “It was a fantastic race by Jenson, in truth he called that first stop and it got him the win, it was his bravery to make that call. With Lewis we made a team call, which disadvantaged him but it was a fantastic job by Jenson.” The boredom of Bahrain was instantly forgotten in Australia with Massa roaring from fifth on the grid to second behind Vettel, who won the start from pole on a wet track.
Behind him, three world champions did not get around the first turn unscathed, with Button and Alonso touching, the Spaniard spinning around 180 degrees and Michael Schumacher damaging his Mercedes GP front wing beyond repair in the incident as well.
The record champion Schumacher did not fall far behind as the safety car was out before the end of the lap after Kamui Kobayashi crashed his BMW-Sauber into Nico Huelkenberg’s Williams, but had to settle for 10th in the end in a modest showing.
“We were faster today,” said Schumacher, adding about the first-turn incident “I don’t know who did what. It was a little chain reaction. That’s racing.” Button was the first to change to slicks on a rapidly drying track and almost all others followed two laps later.
And the Briton was first when Vettel had to retire in the 26th lap, two weeks after an engine problem cost him victory in Bahrain.
Kubica stormed from ninth place on the grid into second once the early dust had settled, with Massa and Alonso following in fourth and fifth but Hamilton roaring up from behind.
But Alonso had the last laugh when Hamilton tried to overtake Alonso in the penultimate lap and Mark Webber drove his Red Bull into Hamilton’s McLaren.
The incident allowed Nico Rosberg to slip into fifth place.
Hamilton at least salvaged sixth while Webber had to go to the pits again for a new front wing and finished ninth.
Button crossed the line in 1 hour 33 minutes 36.531 seconds, 12 seconds ahead of Kubica and almost 15 clear of Massa, who was delighted to get the second podium in as many races in his return from a life-threatening crash in Hungary last July.
“It is fantastic to have second and third place. I know how important it is for the championship,” the Brazilian said.