The critics had written him off, he himself admitted that he thought he had made 'a catastrophic decision' early on in electing to becoming the first driver to change over to slick tyres in the 2010 Australian Grand Prix – but reigning F1 World Champion Jenson Button has kicked his challenge for title glory firmly into gear with a brilliant victory in Melbourne, twelve months on from the triumph that launched a successful title challenge.
With the biggest Albert Park crowd in years, precipitation hanging in the air in the build-up to the race and rain increasingly threatening, the heavens opening barely ten minutes before the start turned proceedings into a lottery, with all competitors heading out on intermediates and grip at a real premium. All the ingredients were there for a Formula 1 thriller – and that is precisely what we would get.
A textbook launch from pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel when the lights went out was not mirrored by those behind. Team-mate Mark Webber alongside the German made a more sluggish getaway, and was passed for second by the sprightly Felipe Massa in the Ferrari from row three, the Brazilian making a storming start at a circuit that has never really smiled upon him.
The real drama, however, came as world championship leader Fernando Alonso found himself caught in the middle of a pincer movement between the McLaren of defending title-winner Button inside him and Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes Grand Prix on the outside. As the three squeezed together and tangled, the Ferrari was tipped into a spin and left facing backwards as the oncoming pack darted left and right around him, with some – Schumacher and the fast-starting Lewis Hamilton amongst them – forced to leave the track in avoidance.
That left Vettel leading from Massa, Webber and Robert Kubica in the first of the Renaults, with the Pole having made a lighting getaway right down the middle to vault from ninth to fourth. Later around the opening lap, a front wing-less Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber found himself out-of-control heading into Turn Three and quite literally harpooned the luckless Nico Hulkenberg in the Williams and the Scuderia Toro Rosso of Sébastien Buemi, with all three departing the scene on the spot in a nasty-looking coming-together that thankfully resulted in no injuries.
As the remainder of the competitors literally tip-toed around the lap on the tricky track surface, the safety car unsurprisingly emerged, enabling Schumacher to pit to replace his own dragging front wing. That left the order at the front Vettel from Massa, Webber, Kubica, Nico Rosberg, McLaren duo Button and Hamilton and Adrian Sutil, with Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov confirming the fast-starting abilities of the Renault R30 by leaping up from 18th to tenth. Bruno Senna has similarly profited well from the chaos to put his HRT an excellent 14th – though the Brazilian's race would unfortunately not last long.
At the re-start, whilst Vettel bolted away, Webber got very loose into the final corner to allow a racy Kubica to pull alongside on the start/finish straight as the Renault displayed superb traction in the wet, though the man from Kraków was unable to make a move stick on the outside line. Shortly afterwards, Hamilton asserted himself in the McLaren camp by diving up the inside of team-mate Button into turn three and aggressively squeezing him wide to make sure there was no comeback.
Further back, Schumacher was having fun and games with both feisty rookie Lucas Di Grassi and Lotus ace Heikki Kovalainen duelling energetically with the most successful driver in the sport's history and the former even having the audacity to re-pass the German legend once he had been overtaken in the unheralded Virgin Racing entry.
Up at the sharp end of proceedings, meanwhile, Webber found a way past Massa to re-instate the Red Bull one-two, with Kubica and Rosberg moving in to hassle the Paulista immediately afterwards, and Hamilton next up similarly on the attack. Button became the first driver to pit for slick tyres when he made a late call on lap seven, in an audacious bid that initially looked to have failed as the Briton shot off-track not long after – but the gamble would not take long to start paying off.