Kimi Raikkonen got his role as Michael Schumacher's replacement at Ferrari off to a perfect start with a dominant victory in the Australian Grand Prix.
But the Finn's drive was overshadowed by Lewis Hamilton, who made one of the most impressive Formula One debuts for years as he took third place.
The Englishman lost out to McLaren team-mate and world champion Fernando Alonso only at the final pit stops.
The McLarens raced flat out but were no match for the pace of the Ferrari.
Raikkonen led from start to finish at Melbourne's Albert Park with a drive reminiscent of the crushing superiority often shown by his predecessor, who retired at the end of last season.
The former McLaren driver, whose team-mate Felipe Massa started last after problems in qualifying, was in a race of his own as he built a 15-second lead in the first stint, and was never troubled thereafter.
The Finn's performance in a car that was clearly the class of the field underlined his position as the favourite for the world title this season.
Raikkonen takes the lead as Hamilton passes Alonso for third
"We didn't need to really push as hard as we could have," Raikkonen said. "My biggest problem was the radio, it stopped working just before the start.
"It is special moment with a new team, everything is new, to win in the first race.
"I am really happy with the team and the way things are going. It couldn't be any better than it is now."
Behind him, Hamilton marked himself out as a potential future superstar with a committed, aggressive race.
The 22-year-old passed Alonso at the start and kept under control the man regarded as the finest all-round driver in F1 until the final stops.
Hamilton had a couple of scary moments when he dropped wheels off the track, but was only beaten when he was out-foxed on strategy.
Hamilton took advantage of Alonso's failed attempt to hold off the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld as the field approached the first corner and the debutant was able to sweep around the outside and into third place ahead of his team-mate.
Hamilton narrowly led Alonso until the first pit stops, and was able to maintain his advantage by stopping one lap later.
To lead in my first Grand Prix was a fantastic feeling
But the Spaniard took on more fuel than his team-mate at the first stops, which allowed him to run for two more laps at the end of his second stint.
That gave him the advantage of two fast laps on low fuel.
They may have been enough on their own to beat his team-mate, but the issue was put beyond doubt when Hamilton was held up by the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato on his way into the pits.
He was the first driver to finish on the podium on his debut since Jacques Villeneuve was second to Williams team-mate Damon Hill in Melbourne in 1996.
"To lead in my first Grand Prix was a fantastic feeling," Hamilton said. "It's pretty tough when you have a two-times world champion behind you."
Alonso said: "Second place is a good place to start the season, but we have to work a bit more.
It was a disappointing race for Button and his Honda team
"We showed good potential and we're looking forward to the next one.
"Obviously it's always better to win but today it was not possible.
"I think we can be pleased as well. The Ferrari was a little bit too quick for us this weekend."
The McLarens were even further ahead of their closest challengers, the BMW Saubers, than Raikkonen was of them.
Heidfeld was comfortable in fourth place, although he was briefly challenged by team-mate Robert Kubica in the middle of the race until the Pole's retirement with gearbox failure on lap 38.
The German made a relatively early stop on lap 39, but was still able to hold off the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella, which did not make its final stop for another five laps.
In the first race under new rules in which teams must use each of the two types of tyre during the race, most leading teams chose to start the race on the harder tyre and use the softer ones in the final stint.
BMW Sauber were best of the rest behind Ferrari and McLaren
Heidfeld's BMW Sauber team chose the exact opposite of that strategy, starting on the softer tyres before switching to the harder ones at his first stop.
Massa, who had been faster than Raikkonen throughout pre-season testing only to have his gearbox fail during qualifying, climbed impressively up to sixth place.
The Williams of Nico Rosberg took seventh, with Ralf Schumacher's Toyota in the final points position.
Schumacher's team-mate Jarno Trulli followed him home, just managing to hold off the Renault of another debutant, Heikki Kovalainen, on the final lap.
The Honda team could not even manage a top-10 place in a terribly disappointing start to the season.
The cars were way off the pace and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello could manage only 11th place - just 4.4 seconds ahead of Takuma Sato in the Super Aguri, which is effectively last year's Honda car.
Barrichello's team-mate Jenson Button was a woeful 15th, complaining of a front wing which "basically doesn't work".
The team claim they have developments in the pipe line to address the cars lack of rear stability, but they have a mountain to climb if they want to compete for victories this season.
Englishman Anthony Davidson drove a steady race after colliding with the Spyker of Adrian Sutil at the start.
And Scot David Coulthard crashed out when attempting to pass Alexander Wurz's Williams at turn three late in the race.
The Red Bull driver admitted he had been over-optimistic and absolved Wurz of blame for the accident.
Australian Grand Prix result:
1 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari one hour 25 minutes 28.770seconds
2 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren-Mercedes 7.2 seconds behind
3 Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 18.5secs
4 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 38.7secs
5 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault one minute 6.4secs
6 Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 1:06.8
7 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota one lap behind
8 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota one lap
9 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota one lap
10 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Renault one lap
11 Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda one lap
12 Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda one lap
13 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault one lap
14 Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Ferrari one lap
15 Jenson Button (GB) Honda one lap
16 Anthony Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda two laps
17 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Spyker-Ferrari at 2 laps
R Alexander Wurz (Aut) Williams-Toyota 48 laps completed
R David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Renault 48 laps
R Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 36 laps
R Scott Speed (USA) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 28 laps
R Christijan Albers (Ned) Spyker-Ferrari 10 laps
Key: R = retired
Fastest lap: Kimi Raikkonen one minute 25.235 seconds, lap 41