FORMULA 1 racer Lewis Hamilton finished third in the season-opening 2012 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne today (Sunday)

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He took the final step on the podium behind race winner Jenson Button and second-placed Sebastian Vettel, who made up for a poor qualifying performance on Saturday.

McLaren man Button took the chequered flag for his third Australian GP victory with Vettel’s Red Bull two seconds behind. Hamilton was third.

One of the first to congratulate Button on Twitter was his performance engineer Tom Stallard, the former Olympic rower from Tewin.

He simply tweeted: “@JensonButton Legend!”

Hamilton, the 27-year-old Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver from Hertfordshire, started from pole position on the Albert Park grid.

However, the 2008 F1 world champion lost first place at turn one to McLaren colleague Button after suffering a bit of wheel spin.

That effectively handed the race to Button, who quickly pulled a couple of seconds clear at the front and controlled the grand prix from there.

The lead was stretched to more than 11 seconds after the first round of stops for prime tyres.

Hamilton, who pitted a lap later than fellow Brit Button, exited the pits behind Sergio Perez, who was on a one-stop strategy.

The Stevenage-born driver got stuck in traffic as a result and lost a significant amount of time before finally passing the Mexican star.

With second-row starters Romain Grosjean in the Lotus and Mercedes GP’s Michael Schumacher both retiring early on, Hamilton found the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel on his tail.

Watched by his mum on Mother’s Day and girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, Lewis pumped in a couple of fastest laps as Button reported a vibration with his tyres to cut the lead to less than 10 seconds.

The McLaren pit told Hamilton over the radio: “That was the fastest lap of the race again, Lewis, 0.5s quicker than Vettel behind. Gap ahead is 9.5s.”

Button and Hamilton followed each other into the pits for faultless back-to-back stops on lap 36, handing Vettel the lead just as a safety car came out for the crashed Caterham of Vitaly Petrov.

Red Bull’s double F1 world champion pitted during the safety car period and split the McLarens when he came out, leapfrogging Hamilton and relegating the McLaren man down to third place.

When the safety car finally came in, Button smoothly streaked ahead again, with Hamilton now chasing Vettel for second place with the other Red Bull of Mark Webber less than a second behind in fourth place.

The pitwall told Hamilton: “You should get DRS this lap. Try and stay within one second of Vettel. Webber could get it on you as well.”

Button posted a fastest lap to control things from the front, 3.7 seconds ahead of Vettel.

Hamiton responded with his fastest lap but was unable to get close enough to Vettel in the DRS zones to overtake the German.

With eight laps to go, Jenson had a comfortable 3.5s lead, with Lewis 0.7s behind Vettel in third.

They stayed in that order with Webber fourth at the finish and Fernando Alonso fifth for Ferrari.

It was a rather glum looking Hamilton on the podium after what he described as a “shocking” start, which compromised his whole race.

He’ll be looking for a better race result at Sepang next weekend in the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix.

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