Fernando Alonso increased his world championship advantage with a second win of the year in Australia, but the real interest in the race was behind the runaway Spaniard.
While the Renault driver appeared able to pull away at will, having passed Jenson Button on the first of many restarts, the rest of the field seemed more willing to self-destruct as the event turned into something of a demolition derby.
The incident list began even before the lights went out, as Juan Montoya spun his McLaren-Mercedes as the field filed out of the final corner on the way to the grid. Stranded as the remaining cars avoided him, Montoya appeared destined to start from the back of the pack, rather than his earned fifth spot, but then received a reprieve when Giancarlo Fisichella stalled his Renault on the front row. Montoya was duly restored to fifth - or net fourth - as the field completed another parade lap, with Fisico pushed into pit-lane.
When the race finally started, polesitter Jenson Button came under the expected pressure from a fast-starting Fernando Alonso, but resisted the Spaniard through turns one to three, the Renault driver having already locked up at the first corner in an attempt to pass the Honda. A better attempt followed at three, but Button was wise to the outside line adopted by his rival and gently eased Alonso over the kerb in order to keep his place.
In their wake, the two McLarens showed just how flexible the Woking team is over the issue of team leadership, as Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen banged wheels and swapped places in search of the upper hand, while David Coulthard and Jarno Trulli got even closer, the Toyota spinning to a halt across the circuit following heavy contact between the two.
DC managed to continue, but the drama wasn't over for Red Bull Racing, as team-mate Christian Klien found himself involved in a first lap incident for the second successive race. Heading into one of the chicanes on the back side of the circuit, the Austrian made contact with Nico Rosberg's Williams and Felipe Massa's Ferrari, with the luckless Brazilian being fired into the wall - for the second time this weekend - and immediately out of the race. Rosberg, too, was wounded in the skirmish, returning to the Williams pit with his rear wing, and his race weekend, in tatters.
If Klien thought he had got away with his part in the incident, however, he had only to wait until lap five for retribution, the RB2 snapping viciously left under braking for turn nine, possibly the victim of suspension damage. Whatever the cause - and the Red Bull car bucked nastily over a bump before spearing into the wall - the outcome was a very damaged machine as it sustained at least two more impacts with the concrete before coming to rest.
Klien's off brought out the second safety car of the race, Bernd Maylander having only just parked the Mercedes back in pit-lane after the first lap debris-fest, but already the destiny of first place had been decided. Exiting the final corner ahead of the initial restart, Button's car refused to hold the road as intended, its tyres having cooled dramatically, allowing Alonso to get a run on him as he edged wide towards the grass. The Spaniard made no mistake into turn one this time around, having established track position as the cars flashed across the finish line.
Such was Button's loss of performance behind the safety car that the Honda also came under pressure from Raikkonen's McLaren but, again the Briton resisted. Montoya was less of a threat, having dropped back to sixth, behind Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber, after a spin, but the Colombian was again on the rise, following Webber past the Toyota and then jumping the local favourite to re-establish himself in fourth spot.