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McLaren driver Jenson Button gained a victory in the opening round of the 2012 Formula One World Championship in Melbourne on Sunday. Button took the lead from teammate Lewis Hamilton at the start and never looked back. Hamilton later dropped to third where he finished, with double world champion Sebastian Vettel coming second in his Red Bull.
There was much anticipation about the opening Grand Prix of the season as it became apparent in qualifying that Red Bull wouldn’t have it all their own way in 2012. Pole sitter Hamilton got away poorly and dropped behind his fellow Englishman Button, whilst Vettel and Fernando Alonso both made progress through the field early on. But it was an unfortunate start for Romain Grosjean, the French driver got a poor start from third on the grid, and his race was over on lap two as his suspension buckled after a collision with Pastor Maldonado.
Two-thirds of the German contingent joined Grosjean on the sidelines before lap 10, Nico Hulkenberg retired after a collision early on, whilst Michael Schumacher, who had been running third, retired after his Mercedes gearbox failed. As the first round of pitstops ensued, Hamilton found himself stuck behind the Sauber of Sergio Perez, meaning Button had a clear run at the front and was able to pull away from his team-mate.
The frantic opening calmed down as the order took shape and the field spread out between the first and second stops. Button held his lead, but Hamilton was being charged down by Vettel, Alonso and Mark Webber. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa had also made charges up the field and found themselves battling for the lower points positions.
But the race turned on lap 37 when Vitaly Petrov pulled up on the pit-straight when his Caterham stuttered to a halt, meaning the Safety Car made its first appearance. This helped Sebastien Vettel pop up in front of Hamilton and in to second.
Once the race restarted, Heikki Kovaleinen compounded a poor day for Caterham as he pulled off in to retirement, and two more joined him soon after when Brazilian duo Bruno Senna and Felipe Massa tangled in turn four, damaging both cars and ending both their runs. As the race entered its final ten laps, Button was comfortable out front, but Hamilton was coming under major pressure from Mark Webber, whilst being unable to put pressure on the other Red Bull in front of him.
Further down the field, Pastor Maldonado was putting an impressive performance in, the Williams driver running sixth, pressing Alonso, but that all came to an agonizing end on the final lap when the Venezuelan hit the wall hard coming out of turn eight, finishing his race.
The drama wasn’t over there, the battle from 7th to 12th came down to the last two corners, Nico Rosberg and Kamui Kobayashi clashed on the final lap, damaging Rosberg’s car and putting him out of the points, Kimi Raikkonen jumped the Sauber, and out of the last corner Paul Di Resta dragged himself past Jean-Eric Vergne to steal the last point on the line. But it was Button celebrating the first win of the season, and he’ll be hoping his good form carries on this weekend in Malaysia.