Sebastian Vettel opened his title defense with a comfortable victory in an Australian Grand Prix that proved intriguing, but not did deliver the high number of incidents predicted with the new DRS overtaking system and Pirelli tires.
Lewis Hamilton coped with a broken floor on his McLaren to take second, but the star of the race was Renault's Vitaly Petrov, who made the most of an excellent start and a fine race drive thereafter to take his first podium in third.
While the top three made it to the finish on two stops, three-stop plans consigned Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Mark Webber (Red Bull) to fourth and fifth – though this was better than Alonso might have expected after falling to ninth at the first corner. Jenson Button was only sixth for McLaren after being penalized for an incident with Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
Vettel tore away from the field in the opening stages, leading by three seconds after just two laps, with Hamilton and Webber holding second and third.
Petrov had made an excellent start to blast through to fourth, with Button and Alonso going wide at Turn 1 as they went three-abreast with the Renault, allowing Massa to slip ahead of Button and leaving Alonso right down in ninth by the time he got off the curbs and grass.
Alonso made very swift progress past Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and was soon catching Massa and Button, whose battle for fifth place was frantic. With his DRS making little difference, Button tried all kinds of creative lines to get ahead the Ferrari, with no success until lap 10, when he went around the outside into the fast right-left Turn 11/12 at the end of the back straight, but had to take to the escape road and cut the second part of the corner to complete it. That would lead to a drive-through penalty, while Alonso immediately pounced and passed Massa into Turn 13 as the Brazilian regained momentum after his near-miss with Button.
Before he took his penalty, Button had a brief battle with Vettel, who had made a relatively early pit stop on lap 14 and emerged behind the Briton. Hamilton had whittled the Red Bull's lead down to 1.5sec by then, but staying out two laps later before his first tire stop cost the McLaren time to the leader rather than being an advantage as, even after having to battle past Button around the outside of Turn 4, Vettel was 6.5sec clear of Hamilton once both were back up to speed.
That gap rapidly grew to 12sec over the next stint – and the reason became clear when sparks started shooting out from under the McLaren, the front part of its floor having become detached and started rubbing on the ground. Aside from a trip over the Turn 1 grass, Hamilton did a remarkable job to keep his car both on the road and near the lead pace, although his chances of pressuring Vettel were over and the German cruised to an ultimately comfortable victory.
Webber could not keep up with the top two and by half-distance was 26sec adrift and only just ahead of Petrov and Alonso. Both the Red Bull and Ferrari chose to make three pit stops, while Petrov – like Vettel and Hamilton – changed tires just twice.
Alonso got ahead of Webber at the third stops, helped by the Red Bull running wide at Turn 3 on its out-lap. With Webber on the softer tires for the final stint, he was able to attack Alonso at first, before the Ferrari pulled out some breathing space. Both charged up behind Petrov in the final laps, but the Russian had just enough in hand to hold on and take a brilliant third. Fifth-placed Webber parked his Red Bull on the grass immediately after crossing the line.
Button fell to 12th following his penalty but recovered to sixth, finally making it past Massa again with 12 laps to go. The Ferrari then made a late tire stop, leaving Massa ninth behind the two Saubers.
Sergio Perez was a remarkable seventh on his debut, having managed to get through the distance with just a single tire change on lap 23. That left him not far adrift of Button, and clear of Sauber teammate Kobayashi.
Sebastien Buemi took the last point for Toro Rosso, with the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta running in the points for a while before falling back to 11th and 12th.
Rubens Barrichello provided plenty of entertainment in the first half of the race, as he recovered from a first-lap trip over the Turn 3 gravel and scorched through the field with a series of overtaking moves. But a wild long-distance dive down the inside of Nico Rosberg's Mercedes at Turn 3 on lap 23 was just too bold, and left Barrichello spinning, needing a new front wing and earning a drive-through penalty. Rosberg had to retire in a cloud of smoke, his cooling system seemingly damaged in the impact, while Barrichello eventually parked his car too.
His teammate Michael Schumacher sustained a puncture when hit by Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari on the first lap, and eventually retired due to the after-effects after 19 laps trailing around at the back. Alguersuari needed a new front wing and finished 13th.
Petrov's Renault teammate Nick Heidfeld made little progress from his poor grid position and was only 14th ahead of final finishers Jarno Trulli (Lotus) and Jerome D'Ambrosio (Virgin). Timo Glock's Virgin, Heikki Kovalainen's Lotus and Pastor Maldonado's Williams all retired with mechanical issues.
The post-race exclusion of the Sauber drivers (see separate story) means Ferrari's Felipe Massa is elevated to seventh, ahead of Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi, and Force India duo Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta.
• Click here for a list of stories from all teams following the race
PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS
The Australian Grand Prix
Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia;
58 laps; 307.574km;
Pos Driver Team
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
3. Petrov Renault
4. Alonso Ferrari
5. Webber Red Bull-Renault
6. Button McLaren-Mercedes
7. Massa Ferrari
8. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes
10. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari
12. Heidfeld Renault
13. Trulli Lotus-Renault
14. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth
World Championship standings, round 1:
1. Vettel 25 1. Red Bull-Renault 35
2. Hamilton 18 2. McLaren-Mercedes 26
3. Petrov 15 3. Ferrari 18
4. Alonso 12 4. Renault 15
5. Webber 10 5. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 4
6. Button 8 6. Force India 3
7. Massa 6
8. Buemi 4
9. Sutil 2
10. di Resta 1
All timing unofficial