Jenson Button opened the 2012 world championship with the perfect result by recording his thirteenth career victory with a brilliant drive in the Australian Grand Prix.
The McLaren driver made a great start from the front row to lead into Turn 1 and from then, drove a strong controlled race to take his third Albert Park win.
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel finished in second for Red Bull, ahead of pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton.
While Mark Webber recovered from a poor start (clashing with Nico Hulkenberg into the first corner) to take fourth for Red Bull with Fernando Alonso dragging his Ferrari from a lowly grid position to a respectable fifth.
Button claimed the lead at the start with a better getaway than his pole-sitting team-mate, and then quickly established a lead of three seconds, which stayed stable through the opening stint.
The two Mercedes occupied third and fourth initially, but Vettel overtook Nico Rosberg on the second lap with an amazing round-the-outside pass.
Michael Schumacher’s run in third lasted only until lap 10, when he retired with a gearbox problem.
That elevated Vettel into third, but the defending champion was 12 seconds down on the McLarens by then and could make little impression.
Third-place qualifier Romain Grosjean dropped to sixth off the line, and was another early retirement when he clashed with Pastor Maldonado on lap two. Maldonado would lose ground with a trip through the Turn 6 gravel three laps later, but rejoined in ninth.
The gap between the McLarens grew to ten seconds at the first stops when Hamilton emerged behind Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez, who were running extremely long first stints.
That allowed a train of cars to develop for second, as Vettel gained and brought Alonso – who made a great start then jumped Rosberg in the first pitstops – with him, and Rosberg, Webber and the recovering Maldonado closed in too.
Webber had initially fallen back with a poor start and a first corner clash with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who had to retire.
The lead order remained unchanged until Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham brought out a safety car by stopping on the pits straight with a steering problem in the middle of the final pitstop sequence.
The McLarens had both just pitted, whereas Vettel had not, and the Red Bull was able to get in for its tyre change under the safety car and get back out between Button and Hamilton.
Vettel was still no threat to Button, though, as the 2009 world champion confidently pulled away from his successor at the restart and left the Red Bull to fend off Hamilton through the final stint.
Webber also benefited from pitting under the safety car to get in front of Alonso at the last pitstops.
The Ferrari could not keep up with the Red Bull thereafter, and as Webber chased Vettel and Hamilton home, Alonso had to focus on successfully defending fifth from Maldonado – who made the task easier when the Williams crashed heavily on the final lap.
Behind, a huge battle between the Saubers of one-stopper Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, Rosberg’s Mercedes – which fell back with tyre wear and early pitstops – and Raikkonen also ended in last-lap drama, as Kobayashi emerged with sixth ahead of Raikkonen and Perez, while Rosberg’s Mercedes jammed in second gear and tumbled down to P12.
The final-lap chaos ahead allowed Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo to pick up his first Formula One points at home with ninth place, despite having lost ground in a first-corner clash with Bruno Senna, which also sent Jean-Eric Vergne off track. Paul di Resta completed the top ten for Force India.
Felipe Massa briefly made it into the top ten, but struggled with poor pace and high tyre wear, making three pitstops and falling back to P13 before retiring with damage following a collision with Senna’s Williams.
So a great result for Jenson Button and McLaren. Not only does the MP4-27 look beautiful, the Mercedes-powered car is fast. Can Button keep this winning form in Malaysia? We will find out in the next seven days.
Australian Grand Prix, race results after 58 laps:
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h34:09.565
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault +2.100
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +4.000
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault +4.500
5. Alonso Ferrari +21.500
6. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +36.700
7. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault +38.000
8. Perez Sauber-Ferrari +39.400
9. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +39.500
10. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +39.700
11. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari +39.800
12. Rosberg Mercedes +57.600
13. Maldonado Williams-Renault +1 lap
14. Glock Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
15. Pic Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps
16. Senna Williams-Renault +4 laps
Fastest lap: Button, 1:29.187
Massa Ferrari 47 laps
Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 42 laps
Petrov Caterham-Renault 37 laps
Schumacher Mercedes 11 laps
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 2 laps
Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1 lap
Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1 lap
De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1 lap
World Championship standings, round 1:
1. Button 25
2. Vettel 18
3. Hamilton 15
4. Webber 12
5. Alonso 10
6. Kobayashi 8
7. Raikkonen 6
8. Perez 4
9. Ricciardo 2
10. Di Resta 1
1. McLaren-Mercedes 40
2. Red Bull-Renault 30
3. Sauber-Ferrari 12
4. Ferrari 10
5. Lotus-Renault 6
6. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2
7. Force India-Mercedes 1
Next race: Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang. March 23-25.