Melbourne: Kimi Raikkonen drove a brilliant race to win the Australian Grand Prix for Lotus on Sunday as the new Formula One season opened with an absolute thriller at Albert Park.
Finland's 2007 world champion rode to victory on a two-stop strategy and crossed the line 12.4 seconds clear of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso with triple world champion Sebastian Vettel rounding out the podium in third place for Red Bull.
Vettel got away cleanly from pole position but the variety of strategies forced on the teams by the tyres and the pace shown by Red Bull's rivals ensured this was never going to be a procession for the 25-year-old German.
A few light showers contributed to an intriguing race but never threatened to disfigure it as top drivers engaged in battles around the circuit and the lead frequently changed hands.
Seven cars led the race at one stage or another but after Raikkonen hit the front for the second time on lap 43, it looked like only a mechanical problem would stop him from winning his 20th grand prix to match compatriot Mika Hakkinen's career tally.
"I knew I had a good car so I was confident we could have a good race," said Raikkonen, the former McLaren and Ferrari driver who made his comeback last season after two years in rallying, on a podium of champions. "It was a pretty nice race.
"We are happy with the win but there's an awful lot of work to do to win the championship."
It was the first season-opening win by a team called Lotus since American Mario Andretti won the 1978 Argentine Grand Prix. Alonso's Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa finished fourth ahead of 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton in his first race for his new team Mercedes after leaving McLaren.
Red Bull's Mark Webber had a terrible start from the front row and came up short in his 12th attempt to win his home race, finishing sixth. Adrian Sutil, returning to the sport after a year out, enjoyed a long period as the unlikely leader of the race but finished seventh, just ahead of his Force India team mate Paul Di Resta.
Jenson Button, the winner of three of the last four races at Albert Park, was clearly off the pace but brought his McLaren home in ninth with Raikkonen's French team mate Romain Grosjean claiming the final point in 10th.
The race started with 21 cars after Nico Hulkenberg's Sauber suffered a fuel system failure and he was unable to start, while Caterham's Charles Pic was allowed to take part by the stewards despite not having set a qualifying time.
All made it to lap 25, when Pastor Maldonado beached his Williams on the trackside gravel and Nico Rosberg soon followed him out of the race when his Mercedes developed an electronics problem and parked up.