Jenson Button opened the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship with a commanding victory for McLaren in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) managed to get up to second from sixth on the grid, fending off polesitter Lewis Hamilton's McLaren and the second Red Bull of Mark Webber.
Fernando Alonso salvaged fifth place from Ferrari's difficult weekend, having proved much more competitive in the race.
Button claimed the lead at the start with a better getaway than his pole-sitting teammate, 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, and 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 champion was 12 seconds down on the McLarens by then and could make little impression.
Third-place qualifier Romain Grosjean (Lotus) dropped to sixth off the line, and was another early retirement when he clashed with the Williams of 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 10sec at the first stops when Hamilton emerged behind Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) and Sergio Perez (Sauber), 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 pit stops – 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 static 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 pit stop sequence.
The McLarens had both just stopped, whereas Vettel had not, and the Red Bull was able to get in for its tire change under the safety car and get back out between Button and Hamilton.
Vettel was still no threat to Button, though, as the 2009 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 stops. 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 he crashed heavily on the very last lap.
Behind, a huge battle between the Saubers of one-stopper Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, Rosberg's Mercedes – which fell back with tire wear and early pit stops – and Raikkonen also ended in last-lap drama, as Kobayashi emerged with sixth ahead of Raikkonen and Perez, while Rosberg's Mercedes tumbled to 12th.
The final-lap chaos ahead allowed Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo to pick up his first F1 points at home with ninth place, despite having lost ground in a first-corner clash with Bruno Senna (Williams), which also sent Jean-Eric Vergne off the road in the sister Toro Rosso. Paul di Resta completed the top 10 for Force India.
Felipe Massa briefly made it into the top 10 in the second Ferrari, but struggled with poor pace and high tire wear, making three stops and falling back to 13th before retiring with damage following a collision with Senna.
PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS
The Australian Grand Prix
Albert Park, Australia;
58 laps; 307.574km;
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
11. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 39.848
12. Rosberg Mercedes + 57.642
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
Driver Team On lap
Massa Ferrari 47
Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 42
Petrov Caterham-Renault 37
Schumacher Mercedes 11
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 2
Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1
Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth DNS
De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth DNS
World Championship standings, round 1:
1. Button 25 1. McLaren-Mercedes 40
2. Vettel 18 2. Red Bull-Renault 30
3. Hamilton 15 3. Sauber-Ferrari 12
4. Webber 12 4. Ferrari 10
5. Alonso 10 5. Lotus-Renault 6
6. Kobayashi 8 6. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2
7. Raikkonen 6 7. Force India-Mercedes 1
8. Perez 4
9. Ricciardo 2
10. Di Resta 1
All timing unofficial