Jenson Button's hopes of breaking his Formula One duck were left in tatters as Renault's Fernando Alonso dominated a dramatic Australian Grand Prix.
AUSTRALIAN GP RESULT
1 F Alonso (Renault)
2 K Raikkonen (McLaren)
3 R Schumacher (Toyota)
4 N Heidfeld (BMW Sauber)
5 G Fisichella (Renault)
6 J Villeneuve (BMW Sauber)
7 R Barrichello (Honda)
8 D Coulthard (Red Bull)*
* S Speed finished 8th but was given a 25 second penalty
Button started on pole but lost control of the race after a crash at the first corner brought out the safety car.
Alonso's Renault passed the Honda on the re-start, and Button was dropped from fifth to 10th when his engine blew up on the last corner of the last lap.
McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was second and Ralf Schumacher's Toyota third.
Button spent the closing stages of the race unable to close on the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld in front of him and fending off an attack from Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella.
The Englishman was hindered by tyre problems throughout the race, and was quickly disabused of the confidence that had led him to predict after Saturday's qualifying session that he could win.
Struggling with grip, especially when his tyres were cold, the last thing Button needed was four interventions from the safety car in an incident-packed race.
The first came on the first lap, after Felipe Massa's Ferrari, Christian Klien's Red Bull and Nico Rosberg's Williams collided at the first corner. Klien was the only one of the three able to continue.
When the race restarted on lap four, Alonso made the most of a mistake by Button as they entered the pit straight to streak into a lead he was never to lose.
The Spaniard immediately stamped his authority on the race, pulling out an advantage of 2.7 seconds in his first lap in the lead, and the best part of a second on the next one.
He was in a race of his own for the rest of the afternoon, despite regular interruptions slashing his lead to nothing three times.
"The race was a bit crazy. Some moments I didn't understand. I was 20 seconds ahead and the gap disappeared after three or four safety cars in 10 laps," Alonso said.
"The car was perfect. We were not in danger of losing the race at any time. "There were no problems at all. Twenty-eight points in the first three races is a dream come true, so let's hope we finish like last year."
Behind him, Button held off Raikkonen until the intervention of a second safety car on lap seven, after Klien lost control of his car heading into turn nine.
Button's hopes of points go up in smoke on the last lap
At the re-start, Button lost a place to Raikkonen, and his lack of grip on cold tyres dropped him down to fifth place after the first pit stops, behind Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren and Heidfeld.
He held that position through a third safety car period, triggered when Michael Schumacher - who was closing quickly on Button's Honda - crashed pushing too hard in the final corner on lap 33.
All the leading runners took advantage of the third safety-car period to make their final pit stops.
Button was promoted to fourth when Montoya was held up in the pits while queuing behind Raikkonen's car, which needed front wing repairs as well as more fuel and new tyres.
But in the hectic seconds following the re-start the leading cars were all tangled up with backmarkers. Vitantonio Liuzzi crashed his Toro Rosso, leaving debris all over the track, and in the confusion Button lost places to Ralf Schumacher, Montoya and Heidfeld.
That left Button heading for sixth, but he moved up a place when Montoya's McLaren retired from fourth place with 11 laps to go.
This first-lap crash triggered one of four safety-car periods
The Colombian, whose typically action-packed afternoon included a spin on the warm-up lap and a no-holds-barred first-lap battle with Raikkonen, was chasing down Ralf Schumacher for third place when he ran wide coming on to the pit straight with 11 laps to go and his engine cut out.
Button spent the rest of the race sandwiched between Heidfeld and Fisichella, unable to pass the BMW Sauber, but comfortably able to fend off the Renault.
But there was one more twist - heading into the final two corners of the last lap, Button began to slow, and as he headed on to the pit straight flames started to pour from his Honda engine.
He had to pull up before crossing the line, and was classified 10th.
His disappointment was matched by that of home favourite Mark Webber, who looked to be on course for a podium finish when his Williams retired from the lead on lap 23 with transmission failure.
Meanwhile, Red Bull's David Coulthard scored his 500th career point after Toro Rosso's Scott Speed was handed a 25-second penalty after overtaking Coulthard under a yellow flag.
Speed, who also received a $5,000 (£2,877) fine for allegedly swearing at Coulthard during the stewards hearing, was demoted to ninth.
Result of 2006 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park track in Melbourne:
1. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault one hour 34 minutes 27.870 seconds
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes +1.829 seconds
3. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota +24.824secs
4. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 31.032
5. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 38.421
6. Jacques Villeneuve (Can) BMW Sauber 49.554
7. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda 51.904
8. David Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Ferrari 53.983*
9. Scott Speed (US) Toro Rosso-Cosworth 53.817*
10R. Jenson Button (GB) Honda 1 lap
11. Christijan Albers (Ned) Midland-Toyota 1 lap
12. Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda 2 laps
13. Yuji Ide (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda 3 laps
R Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) McLaren-Mercedes 45 laps
R Tiago Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota 39 laps
R Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Cosworth 37 laps
R Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 32 laps
R Mark Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 35 laps
R Christian Klien (Aut) RedBull-Ferrari 4 laps
R Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 0 laps
R Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth 0 laps
R Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 0 laps
* = Speed handed a 25 second penalty for overtaking under a yellow flag and Coulthard promoted to eighth.
Key: R = retired
Fastest lap: Raikkonen, one minute 26.045 seconds, lap 57