Rob Griffith, Associated Press
McLaren driver Jenson Button of Britain leads teammate Lewis Hamilton into turn two at the start of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 18, 2012.

MELBOURNE, Australia — McLaren driver Jenson Button won the Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, taking the race Down Under for the third time in four years.

Comment on this story

Button beat reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull by 2.1 seconds after the race turned into a 17-lap shootout after Vitaly Petrov stopped on the main straight, bringing out the safety car.

Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton of McLaren was third, just ahead of Mark Webber of Red Bull.

Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was fifth, with Williams' Pastor Maldonado hitting a wall while chasing the Spaniard.

Mercedes' Michael Schumacher held third place for the opening nine laps but ran wide over the grass at turn one under pressure from Vettel, and soon after retired with a gear problem.