Button hails “good step forward” despite P11 finish

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Jenson Button remained upbeat despite finishing as the lowest classified driver in yesterday’s Australian Grand Prix in 11th place.

McLaren’s woeful start to life with Honda power units continued in Melbourne as Kevin Magnussen failed to make the start of the race following an engine failure on his installation lap.

Running with a tuned-down engine, Button eventually finished the race in 11th place as the last classified finisher, two laps down on race winner Lewis Hamilton.

The 2009 world champion was the only driver to finish the race that did not score points, but he was pleased to have even completed all 58 laps in Australia.

“Today has been a good day,” Button said on Sunday. “We’re still a long way off, but this is a good starting point, and I enjoyed the race. I even had a good little battle with Checo [Perez].

“Today also really helps in terms of development: if we’d done three laps, we’d have learned nothing, so we’ve learned a massive amount by completing a race distance.”

Button believes that the small steps being made by McLaren can give the team momentum in the coming weeks as it continues to get to grips with the new Honda engines.

“There’s a lot of work still needed – on power, driveability, downforce and set-up – but we can make big strides,” Button said. “And, by improving one area, it tends to snowball; more and more areas start to improve, too.

“There were more positives: we’re as quick as the Force Indias in the corners, and we look similar in speed through the corners to the Red Bulls and Saubers, too.

“It’s been a tough winter – our longest run in testing was just 12 laps, so today’s 58-lap run was a good step forward – but we know we’ve got a lot of work to do. But, with all of today’s learning, there are many areas we can improve for the next race.”

Button is set to be rejoined at McLaren by Fernando Alonso for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Spaniard was forced to miss the race in Australia following an accident during pre-season testing, but is now back in training and is widely expected to be fit to race in Sepang at the end of the month.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).