By Alan Davies, Formula One correspondent
Sunday, March 18, 2012
POLE-SITTER Lewis Hamilton had to settle for third place in the season-opening 2012 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne after a ‘shocking’ start.
* 176th victory for McLaren
* 149th fastest lap for McLaren
* 72nd victory for McLaren, Mercedes and Mobil 1
* 28th victory for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
* 13th F1 victory for Jenson Button
* 7th fastest lap for Jenson Button
Having stormed to pole position in qualifying on Saturday, the 27-year-old Formula 1 racer from Hertfordshire was unable to convert his front-row spot into victory around the Albert Park circuit.
The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes star got bogged down on the line and lost first place to team-mate Jenson Button, who nipped ahead on the inside at turn one.
From then on Hamilton was always playing catch-up.
“It was a shocking start to be honest,” said Hamilton afterwards on TV.
“I’m not really sure what happened. I just let out the clutch and got a lot of wheel spin.
“It then just followed on, I just had wheel spin all the way out of the launch phase. So I lost a lot of ground there, which was unfortunate.”
The Stevenage-born F1 driver still looked like claiming second place until the safety car was deployed late on after 37 laps.
Hamilton entered the pits directly behind Button in a back-to-back McLaren stop, but as he exited the pitlane the safety car came out.
That, unfortunately for Hamilton, played into the hands of Red Bull rival Sebastian Vettel.
The German was able to nip in for tyres and rather fortuitously jump Hamilton at his second stop, relegating the 2008 F1 world champion to the third step of the podium.
Lewis said: “While it’s a bit disappointing not to have been able to convert pole position into victory, I’m not downhearted – there are still plenty of races ahead and lots more opportunities to score points.
“I struggled out there a little – it wasn’t my day. But what’s most important is that we showed today that we have a very quick racing car – that’s a massive positive for the team.”
On the opening laps, he said: “I lost ground and then suffered from tyre degradation at the end of the first stint.
“Then, at the end of the race, I wasn’t able to close the gap to Seb [Vettel]. He was very quick on the straights which meant that it was always going to be difficult to pass him – so I dropped back into some clear air, then Mark [Webber] put me under pressure.”
Hamilton’s team boss, Martin Whitmarsh, praised both his drivers.
“Jenson was utterly immaculate today,” said the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team principal.
“He made a brilliant start, slipping past Lewis who got bogged down momentarily, and after that he controlled the race with consummate authority.
“Lewis, too, drove extremely well, but was unfortunately deprived of second place when the safety car was deployed late in the race.
“A Vodafone McLaren Mercedes one-two had been there for the taking; but I guess it’s a very good sign when you feel a little disappointed by a one-three, so we’ll settle for that!”
While a glum looking Hamilton was subdued on the podium, race winner Button was delighted at claiming his third victory in Australia – and tipped the team to challenge for honours this season.
"I struggled out there a little – it wasn’t my day."
“There’s a huge amount of positives to take away from this weekend: we’ve got a great car and we can fight for the world championships,” said Button, who also clocked the fastest lap.
Button said: “Every victory means a lot – but today shows just how important it was to have a strong winter. The starts of the past two seasons have both been tricky for us, so today is really encouraging.”
Of the race, he said: “At the start, I really wanted to get away fast in the first two laps to avoid the threat of DRS – it wasn’t easy because I had Lewis right on my tail.
“But the race went smoothly after that. My biggest worry was the late-race safety car. I had a 10-second advantage, which was pretty healthy, but the safety car cut that to nothing.
“And, since it was 6pm, with the sun going down, it was quite difficult to keep temperature in the tyres when we were running slowly behind the safety car.
“That was a big worry for me, but it worked out okay in the end. I got clear of Seb [Vettel] and the DRS zone pretty quickly and was able to pull out an advantage and hold it to the end.”
The F1 circus heads to Kuala Lumpur next weekend for the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang circuit.