Formula One fans were treated to a thrilling season-opening Grand Prix in Australia on Sunday as Jenson Button ran out the victor ahead of reigning champion Sebastian Vettel in Albert Park. Battles throughout the field kept fans entertained throughout the race, with a last-lap scramble in the midfield leading to a nail-biting final few seconds.
Having done the hard work on Saturday to claim pole position, a poor getaway from Hamilton saw him immediately yield to team-mate Button who swept past into the lead at turn 1. Hamilton retained second place ahead of the fast-starting Michael Schumacher, while his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg shot from 7th on the grid to fourth into turn 1.
The McLaren duo then proceeded to pull clear of their chasing rivals, with Button opening a 13-second lead over Schumacher by lap 10. Hamilton remained in close contention 3.5 seconds adrift, but then saw his chances of victory all but vanish when he emerged from his first pitstop behind Sauber's Sergio Pérez.
By the time he finally cleared the Mexican on lap 21, Button had scampered 11 seconds up the road. To his credit, Hamilton battled hard and kept the gap almost constant, but was dealt another blow to his race when the safety car was deployed just after his second pitstop to help marshals clear Petrov's stricken Caterham from the main straight.
That allowed Vettel, who had been on Hamilton's tail throughout the Briton's second stint, to leapfrog into second place, and although Hamilton hassled and harried the Red Bull right to the finish he was unable to make a pass stick and had to make do with third place.
Button took the victory by just two seconds ahead of Vettel and Hamilton, while home hero Mark Webber claimed fourth after an over-engaging clutch at the start put paid to his victory chances. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso caused a stir by finishing fifth after his team's dismal qualifying performance on Saturday having survived intense pressure from Williams' Pastor Maldonado in the final 20 laps.
Maldonado had run strongly throughout the race and found himself behind Alonso's F2012 after the safety car period. Despite being consistently within 1 second of the Spaniard, the double DRS zone did little to aid his passage through and on th final lap, with just a couple of kilometres left in the race, he lost control of the Williams at turn 7, speareed into the barriers and waved goodbye to 8 valuable world championship points.
Maldonado's accident triggered mayhem further back the field, as the closely bunched group of Pérez, Rosberg, Kobayashi, Räikkönen, Vergne, Ricciardo and di Resta scrambled to take advantage of the uncertainty. Kobayashi did the best of the group, claiming sixth place ahead of Räikkönen who made a points-scoring return to the sport. Pérez claimed eighth place after a one-stop strategy, while Ricciardo and di Resta claimed the final points places, leaving debutant Jean-Eric Vergne point-less in 11th.
The only other drivers to reach the finish were Mercedes' Nico Rosberg (12th) who dropped from 8th on the final lap and Marussia's Timo Glock who finished 14th a lap down on the leaders.