Button and McLaren start the new season on top Down Under

Vettel has to settle for second as British pair send out early warning to Red Bull

MCLAREN driver Jenson Button insists he is equipped to challenged for the world championship after his new MP4-27 vehicle propelled him to a commanding victory in the first race of the new season in Melbourne.

Button finished 2.2 seconds ahead of defending champion Sebastian Vettel, while his McLaren team-mate and fellow Englishman Lewis Hamilton, who started from pole position, rounded off a hugely encouraging start to the campaign for the Woking-based team by coming third.

Five of the past six winners of this race have gone on to win the world title and after a winter of intense work behind the scenes Button is confident he and Hamilton are armed to threaten Vettel and Red Bull’s supremacy.

“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,” said Button, who overtook Hamilton at the start and never relinquished his lead.

“It was very important for us to get this one in the bank early on. We haven’t been so strong at this point in the season before, so all in all a great day. For the last couple of years our first races have been tricky. I’d say we’ve been pretty dominant today.

“As a team, the win shows how important the winter is. The guys have done an amazing job. This win will definitely help them push hard in the extra hours they are doing.”

Hamilton echoed the praise Button bestowed on his team but couldn’t hide his disappointment at failing to turn a superb performance in qualifying into victory.

The 2008 world champion’s hopes of clawing Button back were reduced by the appearance of the safety car which came out following the retirement of Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov on lap 37 and played into Vettel’s hands.

“It was a shocking start,” said Hamilton. “I’m not sure what happened. I let out the clutch and got a lot of wheel spin. We lost a lot of ground from there and the safety car didn’t help us.

“It’s still a great job by Jenson. Clearly we’re very quick so we go forward to the next race in good shape.”

McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh, meanwhile, summed up the race weekend as “nearly perfect”.

“Lewis was unlucky with the safety car,” he commented. “Jenson drove majestically, he didn’t put a foot wrong. It was a bit tight on fuel, we struggled a bit. But it’s a great way to start the season. We’ve proved we’ve got a quick car [and] there’ll be a few bits for the next race.”

1 J Button McLaren 1h 34min 09.565sec

2 S Vettel Red Bull +00:02.139

3 L Hamilton McLaren +00:04.075

4 M Webber Red Bull +00:04.547

5 F Alonso Ferrari +00:21.565

6 K Kobayashi Sauber +00:36.766

7 K Raikkonen Lotus +00:38.014

8 S Perez Sauber +00:39.458

9 D Ricciardo Toro Rosso +00:39.556

10 Paul di Resta Force India +00:39.737

11 JE Vergne Toro Rosso +00:39.848

12 N Rosberg Mercedes +00:57.642