Jenson Button claimed a third Australian Grand Prix
victory at Albert Park
after leading from start to finish in 2012 F1 world championship season opener.
Starting alongside McLaren
team-mate Lewis Hamilton
on the front row, the Briton appeared confident about his chances of winning, but knew that he'd have to get the jump on the polesitter. When Hamilton appeared to get wheelspin off the line, Button seized his chance, leading into the first corner as chaos broke out in his wake.
Even as the leading McLaren
pulled away, the Red Bull
of Mark Webber
found itself pincered into the first turn as Nico Hulkenberg
and Jean-Eric Vergne were squeezed by events around them. Webber's poor getaway - a trait the Australian appears to have brought over from 2011 - then impacted on others, with the second Toro Rosso
of Daniel Ricciardo, itself hardly rapid off the line, being baulked by Vergne's evasive action and becoming the victim of a locked-up Kamui Kobayashi. Contact from the Sauber unsettled the younger Australian, who then collected Bruno Senna, the Brazilian recovering from his own moment on the outside line.
Somehow, Webber emerged unscathed, but both Senna and Ricciardo required attention in the pits before rejoining at the back of the field, which was soon down to 21 cars as Hulkenberg was forced to call an early end to his Force India
The other catalyst to the chaos was Nico Rosberg's lightning getaway from seventh, which saw him burst between the two Red Bulls and up into fourth, behind Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher, who had slotted in behind the McLarens. Ferrari, too, had enjoyed a decent run to T1, with Fernando Alonso
up to twelfth and Felipe Massa
to tenth, the Spaniard chasing Romain Grosjean, who had been squeezed out of third at the start, and Pastor Maldonado, who made a tidy getaway in the Williams. Perhaps the best start of the day, however, came from Sergio Perez, the Mexican having been relegated to the back of the field by a gearbox change after qualifying, but then gaining ten places back almost immediately as he carved through the tailenders.
The action continued into lap two, with Vettel again scotching suggestions that he can't overtake by pulling off a stunning move on Rosberg at turn ten. Maldonado, meanwhile, showed that he still had a little to learn as he misjudged a move on Grosjean which, despite the Frenchman giving the Williams
room, left his Lotus with race-ending damage to its right-front corner.
If Hamilton had hoped to redress his poor start via DRS, he was again out of luck, as Button's lead entering lap four was already over the two-second margin needed to activate the rear wing, and the 2009 champion continued to pull away. It was a different story in the battle for third, however, as Vettel closed in on Schumacher. Despite the younger German making a mistake at turn one - which briefly encouraged Rosberg to take a look at repassing the Red Bull
- he was quickly back on the tail of the seven-time world champion, appearing to force Schumacher into a similar error three laps later. In truth, the Mercedes was in trouble, and Schumacher slowed almost as soon as he regained the track, his W03 out of gears.
At around the same time, Felipe Massa
became the first to stop for a routine tyre change, prompting a reshuffle in the midfield as others began to follow suit. Team-mate Alonso was in a couple of laps later, and his decision to fit the harder Pirellis appeared to lead the way, as both McLarens went the same way at their respective stops. Hamilton briefly took the lead while Button changed his rubber, but the #3 machine was back in front a lap later. Hamilton, however, found more misfortune, as his exit left him behind Perez, the Mexican running longer than most and providing a tough obstacle for the McLaren, who remained in its wake for four laps.
The pair moved up to second and third as Vettel stopped, the German taking on another set of the soft rubber, and order was restored when Hamilton finally got past the Sauber, albeit having handed Button a lead of more than ten seconds. Perez quickly tumbled down the order after that, still holding out for a one-stop strategy, while Vettel appeared to be the man on the move. At times, the German was lapping more than a second quicker than the two silver cars out front, and Button reporting a vibration would not have comforted the McLaren
garage. The leader, however, adapted to his situation, stabilising his advantage over his pursuers - who had come together on track - at around nine seconds.