It was a day of bests for the Australians at the Qantas Australian Grand Prix as Mark Webber delivered his best ever result in Melbourne with 4th, whilst Daniel Ricciardo claimed a points finish on his home debut in claiming a amazing 9th in a dramatic last lap to the race.
Out front, Jenson Button and his McLaren took the race lead at the start and never looked likely to let it go as he again claimed the Australian Grand Prix title ahead of Sebastian Vettel and pole sitter Lewis Hamilton in the sister McLaren in third.
“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. The guys at the circuit and all the men and women back in Woking have done an amazing job to get us here. Today means a lot to me, and I’m sure it’ll mean a lot to all of them too: it’ll make those extra hours worked in the early hours of the morning all the more worthwhile, because we know we can do great things with this car.
"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 6.00pm, 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.
"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. This is a perfect start to my season and I’m already looking forward to Malaysia.”
It was a race that delivered action from the first corner and kept delivering right up until the final lap. Button was likely the only driver not to have a tale to tell after the race and if not for a inopportune safety car the race would likely have delivered a McLaren 1-2.
The first lap saw both Australian drivers going backwards as Webber dropped places into the first turn and Ricciardo found himself caught up in incidents that damaged his front wing.
From there though both kept pushing and in the case of Webber he was in with a chance of the final spot on the podium as he battled Hamilton in the closing lap.
“There are some positives to take out of today. Qualifying was difficult for us, but the race pace was better today, it was just that we didn’t have track position. I had a poor start, so I need to see what happened there and then I got sandwiched at Turn 1.
"I didn’t want the race to be over; I was able to keep going and then started to build from there. The car felt quite tricky on the options in the first stint and I wondered if I had some damage from the first corner, but then when I got the primes the race came alive for me.
"We had a bit of luck with the safety car and I was quicker than Lewis at the end, but it’s a difficult track to overtake here – in Malaysia it would have been a different story. Today was a strong showing for us and it was a good day for Red Bull Racing given what we went to bed with last night, we had a bit on, but this was a good comeback. It was a strong start.”
Ricciardo spent much of the race with the back markers and slowly moved his way up the field. His real action though came on the final lap whilst he pushed his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne. Vergne finally made a small error on the last lap and Ricciardo slipped through to take the place.
In front of them fierce battles were raging and as Pastor Maldonado crashed heavily and Nico Rosberg also suffered damage in a separate incident with Sergio Perez.
Then at the last corner Ricciardo was nearly able to slip past Perez but had to settle for the 2 points for 9th place.
“I don’t really know how that happened on the last lap. I saw blue flags and a lot of cars in front and I was sure I could make up at least one place because it was chaos.
"I was a bit lucky to be the last one in that group because I could have a clear picture of the other cars going off in front. Then I had a chance to attack Jean-Eric. He defended into Turn 13 and I thought I could make the switch back and I did, which put me in P9.
"The last few laps were crazy and I was pushing like hell. At the start, I got caught up in the accident and at the moment I don’t understand how it happened or who was to blame. I made a decent start, I moved to the outside but there were too many of us there. I hit the left front quite hard against a Williams and had to come in to change the nose. I had to race with a bit of damage after that.
"It’s good to finish ninth, but I think I could have done better because the car was very strong, given how fast it was even with the damage I had to carry through the whole race, with the car pulling to one side. It was not easy to come back, but I never gave up, pushing all the time. I’m extremely happy and it’s great to score my first F1 points here at home in Australia, where the crowd has been just fantastic all weekend long.”
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h34:09.565
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 2.139
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 4.075
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 4.547
5. Alonso Ferrari + 21.565
6. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 36.766
7. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 38.014
8. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 39.458
9. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 39.556
10. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 39.737