Monday, March 29, 2010

Australian Grand Prix: Jenson's back for more

Jenson Button injects excitement back into F1 with McLaren win
Boring? Who said anything about boring? Formula One rediscovered its vroom Down Under on Sunday as Formula One's "cool guy"
Jenson Button claimed his maiden victory for McLaren in an incident-packed, rain-affected Australian Grand Prix.

An inspired call from Button to switch to dry-weather tyres on lap six, one lap before the rest of the field, paid off as he moved from seventh place into second. Sebastian Vettel's brake failure midway through the race completed the job as Red Bull were once again left ruing their lack of points on a weekend in which they had the fastest car.
As thousands of race fans trudged off into the Melbourne rain, chattering excitedly about the thrilling drama they had just witnessed, back in the paddock McLaren's luminous orange victory shirts lit up the night sky as Button celebrated wildly with his team and inner circle.

This was the eighth victory of the world champion's career but arguably the most important given the "Lion's Den" he was presumed to have entered at McLaren; the house that Ron Dennis built around Lewis Hamilton.
Poor Hamilton. A wretched weekend, in which he was nabbed by Melbourne traffic police performing "burnouts" before struggling to 11th in qualifying, was nearly consigned to history with a truly magnificent drive that saw him climb as high as third at one point. "It was probably the drive of my life," he said.
Unfortunately, a poor call from McLaren to bring him in for a change of tyres backfired and he eventually finished sixth after a less-than-brilliant shunt from home favourite Mark Webber.
It was tough luck on Hamilton, although his radio outburst at the team's "freaking terrible" decision to bring him in, while borne of understandable frustration, only served to highlight the fact that Button had made his call unaided.

Button's experience showed on this occasion, although he admitted he thought his "game-changing" call might backfire badly as he struggled to stay on the track immediately after switching rubber.
"When I went into the pit lane I thought I had made a catastrophic decision as it was soaking wet," he said. "I then had a little off at turn three but generally the pace was good and I was able to overtake three or four cars when they stopped."
Button's win was his second in succession at Albert Park after his emotional victory on debut for Brawn GP last year, but the 30-year-old said it was impossible to make comparisons.
"The emotions are completely different," he said. "But this is very special. It has taken me a little while to get to grips with the car but the team have been fantastic. They have really welcomed me in.

"I feel I am just building in confidence and hopefully when we get to the next race we can do something similar as this feels too good."
Button's team principal Martin Whitmarsh was similarly thrilled, saying his new acquisition had made a "fantastic call" to come in early.
"He's got to take the credit. He was the cool guy," said Whitmarsh who also defended Hamilton, a man he had described as "fragile and distracted" 24 hours earlier. "If Lewis didn't feel disappointed and frustrated, I'd be worried," he said.
At least Hamilton later recovered his poise to give his team mate a generous hug. That bonhomie was not being played out at all teams. In fact, little niggles and rivalries that promise to boil over at some point this year are now simmering nicely.
Nico Rosberg's continued dominance of Michael Schumacher at Mercedes is particularly intriguing. The returning seven-time world champion's woes continued on Sunday as he suffered an early prang and then spent most of the race stuck behind 20-year-old Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari.

Schumacher was even passed by Virgin Racing's Lucas di Grassi at one point, which inspired an almighty and telling cheer from the press room.
Over at Ferrari, championship leader Fernando Alonso bore the brunt of a frantic start and spun 180 degrees after being clipped by Button.
The Spaniard recovered well but could find no way back past slower team mate Felipe Massa. That must have rankled.
A disconsolate Vettel, meanwhile, could not hide his disappointment at all. This was the second race in succession the young German was denied almost certain victory by a technical glitch. "It breaks my balls to be honest," the Red Bull driver said candidly of his brake failure.
A special mention must go to Renault's Robert Kubica and Hispania Racing's Karun Chandhok for finishing second and 14th respectively, but it was Button who had the final word on proceedings.
Such was his control as he opened up a 10-, then a 15-second lead over Kubica that he confessed he was in a unique position to pronounce on the rebirth of F1 as an exciting global spectacle.
"I could see quite a bit on the TV screens and it did look like a very exciting race," he said cheekily. How's that for Mr Cool?

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