It has to be said that, had Sebastian Vettel not retired after a wheel failure, Jenson Button would probably have been celebrating second place rather than victory.
It was, however, notable that McLaren team boss, Martin Whitmarsh, went to great lengths after the Australian Grand Prix to point out that Button’s early pit stop gamble was the driver’s personal decision, while Hamilton’s two-stop strategy was devised by the team.
Button’s inspired choice, to become the first driver to switch from intermediate wet weather tyres to dry-weather slicks could so easily have backfired. In fact it almost did, as he promptly slid straight off the still-wet track on the first corner after leaving the pits.
Having recovered, Button took on the challenge of making the soft-compound ‘option’ tyres last for a further 50 laps, when most pundits expected them to last at most for twenty. Whitmarsh’s comment hints that it even went in the face of advice from the McLaren team.
If that is the case, all credit to Button and to his race engineer Jakob Andreasson for holding to their plan. It paid off well and it was notable that a similar strategy benefitted Renault’s Robert Kubica and the Ferrari duo of Massa and Alonso.
The highest-placed car to run the two-stop strategy was 5th placed Nico Rosberg, although that could so easily have been Lewis Hamilton, had he not been torpedoed by home-hero-turned-zero Mark Webber, who demonstrated that gutsy drives don’t always pay off.
After the race, Hamilton was sanguine about his late race clash with Webber, but bristled with indignation when asked about his second pit stop. Lewis clearly would like us to think that it was an error of judgement by his team, but I suspect his engineers were right.
The fact is that Jenson Button has a silky-smooth driving style, which allowed him to conserve his tyres while at the same time, maintaining a crushing pace.
Button’s win was a masterly performance, but it was not for me the drive of the race. That accolade should go to Robert Kubica, whose wet weather charge from ninth on the starting grid propelled him into fourth place on the opening lap.
Kubica then fought off all attacks, while at the same time conserving his tyres to bring the unfancied Renault home in second place.
In terms of racing, Melbourne had a lot in terms of action. Sometimes it was a bit too fast and furious— and no, I am not referring to Hamilton’s street burnouts on Friday night!
Steve Slater is an F1 commentator with Star Sports.