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Button on pole as Brawn muscles in

BRITON Jenson Button seized pole position for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix yesterday in a fairy-tale front row sweep for his new Brawn GP team.

Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello will line up alongside Button in today's race in Melbourne in a remarkable turnaround for a team which was fighting for its Formula One survival earlier this year.

The pole was Button's first in F1 since the 2006 Australian Grand Prix, when he was driving for now-departed Honda.

Mercedes-engined Brawn, which has emerged phoenix-like from the ashes of Honda, will be the first to start its debut race on pole position since the March team in the 1970 South African Grand Prix.

It will also be the first time in 38 races the field will line up without either a Ferrari or a McLaren on the front row.

Button, a race winner for Honda in 2006, scored only three points in 18 races last year and his career looked to be heading for the scrapheap when Honda announced in December that it was pulling out due to the credit crunch.

"The last five or six months for both of us have been so tough," said Button. "Going from not having a drive or any future in racing to putting it on pole here is just amazing, it really is."

Barrichello agreed, with a smile that lit up the post-qualifying news conference.

"Everyone who has touched this car needs credit because it's a really great car," said the Brazilian.

Gearbox failure

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, in his first race as F1's youngest champion, will start 18th after a gearbox failure kept him in the garage after the first session.

The 24-year-old would have been last but he moved up two places when stewards excluded Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock from the classification after ruling that their cars' rear wings were too flexible. Glock of Germany had been sixth with Italian Trulli eighth.

Hamilton won from pole position last year but is now facing his lowest start. "I don't really have a game plan," he said. "I'll just go for it."

His Finnish teammate Heikki Kovalainen lines up 12th on a grid turned upside down by the sport's radical new regulations.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa, last year's overall runner-up, will start sixth with 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen of Finland seventh after the Toyota exclusion.

"The difference between third and myself is quite small...but it was a big difference to the guys in front," said Brazilian Massa. "If they (Brawn) carry on like that they will win the championship in the middle of the year."

Germany's Sebastian Vettel, preparing for his first race with Red Bull after moving up from sister team Toro Rosso, shared the second row with Poland's Robert Kubica for BMW-Sauber.

Germany's Nico Rosberg qualified fifth for Williams while Australian Mark Webber starts eighth for Red Bull.


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