Former world champion makes a brilliant start to his bid to reclaim the crown he won in 2009.
FORMER world champion Jenson Button made a brilliant start to his bid to reclaim the crown he won in 2009 with a dominant lights-to-flag victory around Albert Park, giving him his third Australian Grand Prix in four years.
Button and his McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton shared the front row - the first time the superstar pairing had done so in their three-year partnership with the British team - but it was Button, not pole-sitter Hamilton, who made the fastest getaway.
And that, from a competitive point of view, was that as Button stayed out in front, clear of trouble and never gave any of the pursuing pack a chance to run him down in a 58-lap race run in late afternoon sunshine.
Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel, the world champion for the past two years, managed to lift himself from his sixth place starting position to eventually claim second spot ahead of Hamilton who, for much of the race had run at a respectable distance behind his teammate and looked sure to give the English squad a quinella.
Australian Mark Webber showed plenty of pace but was undone by a poor start. He had lined up fifth on the grid, but by the time the field had sorted itself out through the first handful of frantic corners the Red Bull man was back in ninth position.
Webber drove hard and fast all afternoon to eventually claw himself back to fourth spot and, given where he started - and where his teammate Vettel finished - he can only imagine what might have been this time. It's doubtful he would have beaten Button, but he might have fancied his chances of taking higher station. Still, fourth place was his best finish in his home grand prix.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, like the first three men home another ex-world champion, battled his way up the grid having started in 12th position to claim fifth spot from Kamui Kobayashi, in a Williams, who took sixth ahead of the hard-charging former world champion Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus who marked his return to F1 after a two-year absence by finishing seventh.
German Michael Schumacher, the seven-time title winner, was strongly fancied to put in one of his strongest showings since he came out of retirement three seasons ago but his race only lasted 11 laps when he retired after a gearbox problem with his Mercedes. Still, the 43-year-old showed plenty of pace through the weekend and on this form can look forward to being competitive and running at the sharp end of the field next weekend when the F1 circus moves on to Malaysia.
The only concern Button had was when a safety car intervention bunched the field following the breakdown of Russian driver Vitaly Petrov's Caterham at the start-finish line on lap 37. At this stage the Briton was some 10 seconds ahead, but the slowdown allowed his rivals to close up right behind him.
It looked like a perfect opportunity for Hamilton or Vettel to make a late charge, but Button kept his cool and simply accelerated away, quickly opening up a comfortable enough gap he maintained to the line.
A grinning Button was delighted at notching his third Melbourne win, Vettel was happy enough to have gathered a major points haul from what had looked an unpromising position on Saturday night, while Hamilton looked disappointed
and subdued for not capitalising on what was a terrific opportunity to start the season with a victory.
Afterwards Button said his biggest fear in the latter stages of the race, especially after the safety car slowed the field down for a couple of laps, was to retain heat in the tyres so that the grip remained constant.
As the race these days starts at 5pm the temperatures are dropping and the light fading, making it even more important to do so.
''Every win means a lot to me but for the team this victory shows how important winter testing is. We have had a strong winter and qualifying yesterday really showed that. This shows how important the winter is . . this [the win] will definitely help the guys back at Woking [McLaren's factory base] push harder,'' he said.
Vettel admitted that the safety car interlude had helped him in his pursuit of Hamilton, but thought he might have collared the McLaren man in any case.
''We would have had a good shot at Lewis and it would have been very close. I am very happy to come away with second place, it's a lot of points and a lot of people would not have expected that after the results yesterday. This car has a lot of potential and we should be very close with those other guys.''
For Hamilton it was a missed opportunity and he admitted that it was ''a bit of a tough day''.
But he said the season was long, the car was quick and that he had to keep his head up and fight on.