MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — McLaren's Jenson Button survived the spins and crashes around him to win the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in a thrilling race Sunday, claiming back-to-back victories at Albert Park.
World champion Button inherited the lead on lap 26 when pole sitter Sebastian Vettel skidded off the track, and held on to win his first GP since switching to McLaren this season.
"I am building in confidence and hopefully we can continue in the next race, because this feels good," Button said.
Renault's Robert Kubica drove a superb race to hold off faster rivals and claim a surprise second place, ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa in a race that contrasted starkly with the season-opening event in Bahrain, where overtaking was limited as teams adapted to the new ban on in-race refueling.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso finished fourth after running as far back as 18th after a collision at the first corner.
The top four finishes all successfully gambled on driving the final 50 laps without changing their soft tires, while those behind them made another stop for fresh rubber. Light rain ahead of the race meant all cars started on intermediate tires, but soon pitted for slicks as a dry racing line emerged.
Mercedes Nico Rosberg was fifth, ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who started from 11th on the grid. The McLaren driver showed his trademark aggression to move up to third place in the middle part of the race, but finished sixth, losing a spot in the closing stages because of a collision with Red Bull's Mark Webber.
Webber briefly led his home race, but paid the price for being the last of the leaders to take off the intermediate tires. He was shuffled back in the early pit-stops and finished ninth, behind Force India's Vitantonio Liuzzi in seventh and Williams' Rubens Barrichello in eighth. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher took the final point, finishing 10th for Mercedes.
Alonso leads the drivers' championship with 37 points, ahead of Massa on 33 and Button on 31. Red Bull pair Vettel and Webber have just 12 and 6 points respectively — a meager return for what is considered the best car in the field. Vettel has started from pole position in both races so far. He blamed brake problems for his failure in Melbourne.
Button took a chance by being the first onto slick tires, and had some nerve-wracking moments as he navigated the first few turns before the heat got into the rubber.
"I thought it was a terrible call initially. I thought it was a catastrophic mistake. Once I got it going and up to speed, the pace was pretty good," Button said. "It was the right call, and I am very happy."
The first corner, notorious in Melbourne for its accidents, lived up to its reputation. Alonso was squeezed between Button and Schumacher and spun the wrong way, facing the oncoming traffic. The Spaniard was forced down to 18th place after lap one, while Schumacher was forced to pit with front wing damage.
There was a more spectacular incident a couple bends later when Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi slid off the track with a piece of debris under his front wheels. Unable to control the car, he speared at full speed into Toro Rosso's Sebastian Buemi and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, ending their races in spectacular fashion.