|McLaren Formula One driver Jenson Button of Britain celebrates his victory on the podium after the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne March 18, 2012. REUTERS/Scott Wensley
Jenson Button from McLaren began the 2012 Formula One season with an impressive win in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.
Button started second but grabbed the lead from pole sitter and teammate Lewis Hamilton in the first turn of the opening lap. He only relinquished the top position during his two pit stops in the 58-lap race on the Albert Park street course.
During the last round of stops, Vitaly Petrov experienced a steering issue in his Caterham car and stalled on the start/finish straight, forcing the deployment of the safety car. Two-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel made his stop right after Petrov's incident and then came out ahead of Hamilton to take the second spot.
When the race resumed with 18 laps remaining, Button easily pulled away from Vettel and then became untouchable.
Button, the 2009 F1 titleholder, claimed his 13th career win, including his third in the Australian GP.
"Every win means a lot to you," Button said. "For us as a team, I think it really shows how important the winter was. We've had a strong winter, and yesterday's qualifying really showed that. So it's nice to come away with a victory today - the first race of the new season."
Vettel, who started on the pole and won this race last year, finished 2.1 seconds behind Button.
On Saturday, Vettel and his Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber, had a disappointing qualifying session. Webber and Vettel qualified fifth and sixth, respectively.
"I think Jenson drove a fantastic race and was unbeatable today," Vettel said. "I'm very happy to come away with second and get a lot of points. I think a lot of people would not have expected that after the [qualifying] result yesterday. I think we had a better car in the race. The car seems to have a lot of potential."
Hamilton wound up finishing third.
"It was a bit of a tough day, but we have plenty of more races ahead," a disappointed Hamilton said.
Webber finished fourth in his home country, while Fernando Alonso gave Ferrari its best finish in the race with a fifth-place run.
Kamui Kobayashi from Sauber took the sixth spot, and Kimi Raikkonen placed seventh after starting 18th in his debut with Lotus. Raikkonen competed in his first F1 grand prix since the conclusion of the '09 season. He had spent the past two years racing in the World Rally Championship.
Sergio Perez rebounded nicely with an eighth-place finish after having to start from the rear of the 22-car field. Perez was penalized five spots on the starting grid due to a gearbox change on his Sauber immediately after qualifying.
Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo and Paul di Resta from Force India finished ninth and 10th, respectively.
Romain Grosjean from Lotus and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher started third and fourth, but both drivers were knocked out of the race in the early going. Grosjean suffered a broken suspension after he and Pastor Maldonado made contact on the second lap. Several laps later, Schumacher experienced a gearbox issue and lost braking before sliding off course.
"We've never had an issue with the gearbox all winter long, so it's a bit strange," said Schumacher, who finished 20th.
During the final lap, Maldonado lost control and slammed into the barrier. The Williams driver was running in eighth before his incident but ended up finishing 13th.