Button, who qualified second to his team-mate, beat him into the first corner and pulled away to win.

Hamilton lost second place to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel after an unlucky break with a safety car, and the German was able to hold him off.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber was fourth, ahead of the surprisingly quick Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.

Williams driver Pastor Maldonado was on course to take a close sixth, but he lost control while chasing Alonso on the last lap and crashed at the Turn Seven kink.

That handed sixth place to Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese won out in a seven-car fight to the flag.

In a chaotic final lap, Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen, impressive on his return after two years in rallying, took seventh ahead of the second Sauber of Sergio Perez, the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo, Force India’s Paul di Resta, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, who had been eighth until Maldonado’s crash led to frantic place-swapping.

Button was serenely unaware of the drama behind him – he was in a league of his own throughout the race after making a better start than Hamilton and passing him down the inside into Turn One.

Hamilton was slightly more than three seconds behind by the time of their first pit stops, which he made one lap later than Button.

That meant he came out behind Perez and in the four laps it took Hamilton to pass the Mexican, Button extended his lead to more than 10 seconds.

Button held his lead at about that margin until they both made their second stops on lap 36, but a safety car deployed on the next lap to enable the recovery of the stranded Caterham of Vitaly Petrov cost Hamilton again.

Vettel was approaching the pit entry as the safety car signal was given.

According to BBC F1 technical analyst Gary Anderson, that meant he was able to continue at full speed to the pits, while Hamilton had to slow to the pace required of the drivers when a caution period is called.

The time gained meant the world champion exited the pits ahead of Hamilton and although the Englishman stayed within a second of the Red Bull until he began to drop back in the closing stages, possibly because he was struggling with high tyre wear.

Webber recovered strongly after a poor start at his home race left him in ninth place on the first lap.

“Great showing by McLaren,” said Anderson. “It was just unfortunate for Hamilton he got caught up in that safety car.

“Red Bull obviously got their homework done after qualifying on the third row and have showed good race pace.

“And Ferrari will be encouraged by Alonso’s performance.”

Alonso drove a strong race after a disastrous qualifying session had left him in 12th place.

The Ferrari had looked very hard to drive throughout the weekend but it showed a surprising turn of race pace.

The Spaniard drove a feisty, consistent race and although he was not able to hang on to the McLarens and Red Bulls he was able to hold off Maldonado to take fifth until the Venezuelan crashed on the last lap.

Mercedes faded after a strong qualifying. Rosberg had run fourth in the early laps, just behind team-mate Michael Schumacher, who retired with gearbox failure on lap 11 while trying to fend off Vettel.

By Andrew Benson, Chief F1 writer in Melbourne

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