Is Jenson Button's Australian GP victory a sign of things to come?

It was great to see Jenson Button win again even if it's not been long, only 4 races since Japan in October 2011. The McLaren driver has generally been considered someone who excels in wet and changeable conditions; Canada and Hungary last year were good examples, but maybe lacks the pace to challenge drivers like Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel over a single lap or in dry races. Is this changing?

Not only did this latest win come in the dry but it was completed in a commanding way. In Japan he was pushed to the grass by Sebastian Vettel at the start but managed to gain the lead during the race, strategy and speed playing their part but it was almost lost as he was chased to the flag by Fernando and Sebastian while having to save fuel. His previous dry wins were during the year of his World Drivers Championship in the dominant (at the start) Brawn GP car.

Jenson Button Melbourne 2012 - Dan Campbell

In Melbourne Jenson did something he’s not done since that 2009 championship, he took the lead from his team mate at the first corner and was immediately quick. Pulling away and creating a gap to his team mate; Lewis Hamilton, of over a second in the first lap up to nearly 4 seconds by lap 9. Compared to last season in races such as China even though he led into the first corner he just couldn’t pull away from Lewis.

Throughout the 2012 Australian GP Jenson was able to maintain a controllable gap despite reports that McLaren were fuel saving from early laps. We can’t know for sure if this is true but when the safety car was deployed Jenson’s race engineer tells him over the radio not to worry about Sebastian’s race pace which had been pretty similar to Jenson’s as “we have been in fuel 4” which is believed to be a fuel saving mode. This would indicate Jenson had been cruising around at the front just conserving the engine, gearbox, fuel and tyres. This is somewhat justified when we see the safety car restart on lap 42, Jenson immediately pulls out a gap to Vettel of 2.5 seconds and up to around 4 seconds by lap 47, this gap is then managed to the end of the race varying from 2.8 - 3.5 seconds.

Jenson Button Melbourne 2012 - Dan Campbell 

On the other side of the McLaren garage Lewis had a good race. After his poor start he kept in check with Jenson but never managed to put a sizeable dent in Button’s lead. Then he lost out to Vettel during the safety car period. It’s hard to know for sure if the safety car was what gained the double World Champion that second place or if he had the pace in the car to undercut Lewis during the second round of pit stops but the end result was the same and Lewis didn’t look pleased during the podium ceremony. Was he rueing the lost points, the poor start, a mistake from the team or was he contemplating why he wasn’t able to keep up with his team mate. Lewis has always been regarded as probably the fastest out and out racer in the sport today but whether it’s the new tyres, something in his head or an as yet undiscovered problem, recently he’s just not been able to demonstrate his ability consistently.

This might not be the sort of dominant victory we saw from current World Champion Sebastian Vettel time and again during the 2011 season but it hints that not only is the McLaren a very good car but additionally, perhaps, Jenson has managed to unlock the speed that has been the chink in his driving armour for years.