The last time Jenson Button began from pole position – also co-incidentally in Melbourne – he had taken the chequered flag tenth. This time around he firmly made amends – by leading an incredible Brawn GP one-two ahead of team-mate Rubens Barrichello in the Australian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton fourth.
The result was absolute vindication for the unrelenting hard work put in by all at the ex-Honda outfit over its winter of uncertainty and, moreover, a breath of fresh air for Formula 1. Not only is the top flight entering a brave new dawn, it also has a bold and entirely unexpected new order to go with it.
With the track and air temperature both dropping – in company with the sun – the 2009 curtain-raiser readied itself for action, with reigning world champion Hamilton having been relegated to last position on the grid for the second time over the course of the weekend following the Toyotas' decision to take the start from the pit-lane. Having dominated the race around Albert Park this time last year, the McLaren-Mercedes star was twelve months on almost in need of a pair of binoculars even to see the starting lights...
A textbook getaway for pole-sitter Button was unfortunately not matched by that of team-mate Barrichello alongside him, with the Brazilian's poor start causing a chain reaction further down the pack that would account for a number of runners. As drivers scattered to avoid the tardy Brawn, they approached turn one three-abreast, and as he attempted to regain ground Barrichello clattered into the side of the Red Bull Racing of Mark Webber, which in turn spun round the BMW-Sauber of Nick Heidfeld, with the incident collecting Heikki Kovalainen into the bargain.
The ensuing mêlée similarly implicated Renault's former double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso and Force India ace Adrian Sutil – who had gone off-piste even on his formation lap on the way around to the grid – with Heidfeld touring back to the pits with a puncture, Webber and Sutil requiring front wing replacements and the luckless Kovalainen becoming the year's first retirement with front suspension damage.
A long stop for Webber following a delay to fit a new front wing left the home hero a lap down on the front of the field, where Button was already making good his escape, being chased – at a distance – by Sebastian Vettel, Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica, Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg, who had found himself unceremoniously bundled aside and out of third place at turn three on the opening tour. Barrichello – with slight damage to the front of his car – sat seventh.
Further back, the demoted Toyotas – who had both had to make wing modifications as a result of their qualifying penalty – were on a charge, as was Hamilton, who used his extra KERS power to perfection to make short work of assertively fighting his way past the Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella, Scuderia Toro Rosso new boy Sébastien Buemi and Renault's Nelsinho Piquet, having earlier come perilously close to colliding with the latter as the Brazilian out-braked himself into turn three.
Vettel finally began to peg the flying Button four laps in by setting the quickest lap of the race, as Rosberg and Barrichello were lining up the now struggling Raikkonen, with the Ferraris' super-soft tyres rapidly deteriorating. Perhaps in response to a radio hurry-up from his team, Rosberg artfully forced his way past the ailing scarlet machine into turn one, but when Barrichello attempted to follow suit just a couple of corners later into turn three, his hap-hazard race took another turn as he clumsily nerfed the F60 and lost a bit more of his front wing.
Nine laps into the grand prix, Button had a 3.7-second advantage at the front of the field over Vettel, with third-placed Massa a further twelve seconds in arrears again. Having dispensed with Raikkonen, Rosberg rapidly cruised up to the back of the sister Ferrari of Massa and Kubica's BMW, and with Barrichello coming along to play too there was suddenly a fraught, four-way scrap over P3.