|Button beat Robert Kubica by just over 12 seconds in Melbourne [GALLO/GETTY]
Formula One world champion Jenson Button timed his pitstop to perfection to chalk up his first win for McLaren in a rain-affected and entertaining Australian Grand Prix – despite skidding off the track.
The Briton, a winner in Melbourne with Brawn GP last year, took the lead when Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, starting on pole position, was pitched into the gravel mid-race by a brake failure.
It was the second time in a row that last year's runner-up had relinquished the lead after suffering a spark plug failure in Bahrain two weeks ago.
Red Bull's home driver Mark Webber collided with Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap as he vied for fifth place, finishing ninth.
'Pretty much perfect'
"It feels so good... Guys, amazing job, I think we got that pitstop pretty much perfect," Button, who went for an early change to slicks that proved crucial, shouted over the team radio after beating Renault's Robert Kubica by 12.034 seconds.
"It was the right time. Fantastic job, this is a great way to start the year."
Poland's Kubica was comfortably clear of Ferrari's Brazilian Felipe Massa, who nosed out teammate Fernando Alonso for third after the Spaniard had roared back from a first corner spin that left him in last place.
With the race starting in wet conditions on Sunday, Button was the first to pit for slick tyres and seemed to have got it wrong when he immediately skidded off into the gravel.
1 J Button (GBR) McLaren
2 R Kubica (POL) Renault
3 F Massa (BRA) Ferrari
4 F Alonso (ESP) Ferrari
5 N Rosberg (GER) Mercedes
6 L Hamilton (GBR) McLaren
7 V Liuzzi (ITA) Force India
8 R Barrichello (BRA) Williams
9 M Webber (AUS) RedBull
10 M Schumacher (GER) Mercedes
11 J Alguersuari (ESP) Toro Rosso
12 P de la Rosa (ESP) BMW Sauber
13 H Kovalainen (FIN) Lotus
14 K Chandhok (IND) HRT
It took only a lap for him to be vindicated, however, as the track dried.
"He made the call on his tyres," said McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh after a race full of overtaking to banish fears of more tedium after a dull opener in the Gulf.
"We said 'you make the call', he got it spot on and that won him the race."
After locking out the front row, Red Bull's race again unravelled with Vettel crashing out on lap 26 of 58 and Australian Webber colliding with McLaren's Hamilton.
"I had some sparks coming up from the front left wheel," Vettel said on television.
"We didn't know what it was, we wanted to pit on that lap.
"A couple of corners before I had huge vibrations building up and approaching turn 13... as soon as I touched the brakes the brake disk exploded, it felt like."
Webber, who had hoped to become the first Australian to win his home race, ended up ninth in a race he had led briefly before falling back and having to scrap for every position.
Hamilton was on Kubica's tail and might have anchored a McLaren one-two, or even won, before his team called him in for a misguided second change of tyres.
"I think I probably had one of the drives of my life," he told the BBC.
"Unfortunately due to the strategy I was put further back and then I got taken out by Mark Webber.
"I think I honestly drove my heart out today and I think I deserved better than what I ended up with."
The Briton, embroiled in a lying scandal in Melbourne last year, had qualified 11th after making headlines on Friday when police stopped him and impounded his Mercedes road car for what he described as over-exuberant driving off the track.
Seven times world champion Michael Schumacher finished 10th for Mercedes after being effectively ruled out at turn one.
Button's left front tyre hit Alonso's right at the first corner, causing the Spaniard to spin and collide with Schumacher and break the Mercedes' front wing to force an unscheduled stop.
Only 14 cars finished the race as intermittent showers made tyre selection, and the timing of pitstops, a key factor on the bumpy street circuit.
The safety car made an early appearance when BMW Sauber's Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi rebounded off a barrier at turn six on the first lap, crashing into Williams's German driver Nico Hulkenberg.
The incident also forced Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi out.
Double world champion Alonso, who won on his Ferrari debut in Bahrain last week, stayed top of the standings after two races with 37 points to Massa's 33. Button has 31.