Ahead of them, Button gauged the restart perfectly to keep Vettel at bay. “I was a little bit on edge during the caution period, but I was able to keep heat in the tyres, save some fuel and push hard for two laps when the race restarted,” he said.
Fifth was Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari. The Spaniard had lined up 12th on the grid due to a spin in qualifying, but made a terrific start and raced solidly to offer the Maranello team some joy after a difficult pre-season development period. Team-mate Felipe Massa also made a fast getaway, but struggled with excessive tyre wear before eventually retiring with damaged suspension, but Alonso’s performance suggests that this year’s Ferrari isn’t quite as bad as many had feared.
After qualifying strongly, Pastor Maldonado looked on course for a fantastic sixth-place finish until he lost control and crashed heavily on the final lap of the race. It was a bitter disappointment for the Williams-Renault team, which was hoping for a strong result after an awful 2011 season.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg also dropped out of the points-paying positions in the closing stages, meaning Sauber drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez finished sixth and eighth. The Mexican turned in a stunning drive from the back of the grid, and stopped just once for fresh tyres as all the other leaders pitted twice.
Kimi Raikkonen’s return to the sport after two years away yielded points as the Finn charged through from a lowly 18th on the grid after spinning during qualifying to grab seventh position. His Lotus-Renault team-mate Romain Grosjean qualified a stellar third on the grid, but made a poor start and retired in the early stages following a clash with Maldonado.
Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo made it two Australians in the points in ninth, with Scottish racer Paul di Resta grabbing tenth for Force India.
There was disappointment for seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who ran third in the early laps of the race but was forced out with gearbox issues.
Provisional race results
Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, March 18 20121 Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren-Mercedes2 Sebastian Vettel (GER), Red Bull-Renault3 Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren-Mercedes4 Mark Webber (AUS), Red Bull-Renault5 Fernando Alonso (ESP), Ferrari6 Kamui Kobayashi (JPN), Sauber-Ferrari7 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Lotus-Renault8 Sergio Perez (MEX), Sauber-Ferrari9 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS), Toro Rosso-Ferrari10 Paul Di Resta (GBR), Force India-Mercedes