Lewis Hamilton took a commanding victory in Albert Park with a perfect lights-to-flag drive in a race filled with dramatic incidents and several safety car periods behind the victorious McLaren.
Hamilton kept his composure as the others were crashing, spinning or breaking down with mechanical problems! It was Hamilton’s fifth Grand Prix-career win and the ideal start to his championship campaign. Main rival and pre-season favourite Kimi Raikkonen failed to score after an eventful race fighting through the mid-field.
BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld finished in second with Williams’ Nico Rosberg completing the podium. Both Ferraris retired with mechanical problems after a series of driving errors by drivers Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.
McLaren were set for a perfect one-two finish, but Hamilton’s new team-mate Heikki Kovalainen suffered a misfortune of the late safety car period (which resulted him to the tail end of the grid after making his final pit-stop) and accidently hitting the pit-lane speed limited after passing ex-McLaren driver Fernando Alonso in the final laps in this dramatic Australian Grand Prix!
The race was chaotic from the start. On the opening lap in this post-traction control era, the 2008 Formula One World Championship started off with a bang with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa losing control exiting turn 1 and crashing into the tyre wall (breaking his front wing) in a bid to out-accelerate Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren. Behind the spinning red car, a five-car collision involving Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso), Giancarlo Fisichella (Force India), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri) and Jenson Button (Honda) resulted in the first call of the safety car.
During this chaotic moment Ferrari’s Raikkonen took the advantage to leap from P15 to eighth in one single lap, but he would remain trapped behind seventh-placed Rubens Barrichello’s Honda for the first 18 laps of the race.
After the restart, Lewis Hamilton easily kept his lead from Robert Kubica and it was clear that the BMW did not have the pace to keep up with the McLaren. By the eighth lap, the leading McLaren was 4.3 seconds ahead and the following lap Lewis pulled another 1.3 seconds clear… Running on the lightest fuel load compared to the top runners on the grid, Kubica headed to the pits on lap 16 and dropped further behind the race leader.
Meanwhile the Iceman managed to pass Rubens Barrichello after making several attempts at the Brazilian into turn 3. The Finn made the move on lap 19 and after this, the Ferrari began to fly. The sector times from the red car were mighty impressive and showcase the real pace of the F2008. Without that technical problem during qualifying, it would seem Raikkonen would have won this Grand Prix…
Race leader Hamilton made his first pit stop on lap 18 while his team-mate Kovalainen stayed out until lap 23. Before the Finn made his pit-stop, Raikkonen managed to recover from his low grid position and was now up with the leaders.
It was at this point, that the sister Ferrari of Felipe Massa caused the second safety car when the Brazilian tried an ambitions move down the inside of David Coulthard’s Red Bull at turn 1 on lap 25. The two cars touched and Coulthard was sent flying in the air, only to crashed back down spreading debris across turns 1 and 2. Massa retired when his engine cut out shortly afterwards.
At the second restart Raikkonen – who was decided not to pit for fuel and some fresh Bridgestone tyres – immediately pounced on Kovalainen. But in a bid to pass his fellow Finn, the Ferrari driver braked too late for turn three and went off! Kimi managed to avoid hitting the wall and crept back onto the circuit. But by then, he dropped down to eleventh behind the leading McLarens, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Barrichello, Sebastien Bourdais (who was driving superb and benefitted from a single pit-stop in the first safety car), Kubica, Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Timo Glock.
Raikkonen quickly caught Glock’s Toyota but made his second mistake at his ‘favourite’ corner on the Albert Park circuit. Yes, at turn 3… The world champion put his left wheels on the grass at the entry to the corner and the car got away from him. Luckily the anti-stall preventing him from retiring on the spot and Kimi gathered it up and continued.
Meanwhile up front, Lewis was proceeding to edge away from his team-mate Kovalainen, while Heidfeld and Rosberg – who switched places at the first rounds of pit-stop – was keeping up with the second McLaren. Heikki was running a longer middle stint compare to the others and this proved to be his undoing, as the safety car made its third appearance on the day.
On lap 45, Toyota’s Timo Glock ran wide exiting the fast turn 12 and launched his car destructively over an access road, hurling debris over the track. Glock was tremendously lucky not to have been pointing towards the barrier when he hit the bump or he would have had even more violent impact… The safety car was out once again.
The need to wait for the pit lane to open under the caution (yellow) period meant Kovalainen fell to the back end of the pack, while team-mate Hamilton was able to return to the front of the queue with Heidfeld, Rosberg and Bourdais close behind.
Unfortunately, Honda’s Rubens Barrichello refused to wait for the pits to open and made his stop. This resulted in one of the worst pit-stops of 2008. First, he broke the rules entering the pits despite being closed (earned himself a time penalty). Then he managed to knock down his Honda mechanics over as he pulled away with the fuel hose still attached… And to top it off, Rubens exited the pit lane while the red light was on! All this from the most experienced Grand Prix driver and it was no surprise that he was later disqualified from the result despite finishing in sixth.
As the safety car peeled in at the end of lap 49, an over-eager Kazuki Nakajima (Williams) crashed into the back of Kubica. That ended the Polish driver’s race but the Japanese was able to continue after pitting for a new nose. The race stewards were unimpressed, however, and handed Nakajima a ten-place grid penalty for next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
Over the closing laps Sebastien Bourdais was driving beautifully in the Toro Rosso, soaking up the pressure from a trio of faster cars: Fernando Alonso’s Renault, Kovalainen’s McLaren and Raikkonen’s Ferrari. The four-time Champ Car champion was heading for a dream result in his debut Grand Prix with a superb fourth position. And yet sadly, the Frenchman was crudely denied when he suffered a late engine failure three laps from home…
This promoted Alonso and Kovalainen into fourth and fifth and in the remaining three laps, it was battle royale between the present and past McLaren drivers! The Finn passed the Renault at turn 13 (ironically named after the great McLaren driver Senna!) only for the double world champion to cruise back ahead when Heikki accidently hitting the pit-lane speed limiter on his steering wheel as he tear off his dirty, oil-covered visor strip…
Kimi Raikkonen would have finished with this pair had his car not suffered a late failure. The Finn scored no points despite being marked out as the race favourite by fans and pundits.
Lewis Hamilton had begun the race with one of his old karting rivals alongside him – Robert Kubica – and ended it on the podium with another – Nico Rosberg. This was the German’s first podium after 35 races racing in Formula One.
Nick Heidfeld continued his impressive race performance with second for BMW while Nakajima backed up his team-mate Rosberg with sixth, placing the Williams team in second position in the constructors’ standings.
Such was the high attrition rate in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix that only six cars made the finish, both Bourdais and Raikkonen were classified seventh and eighth respectively despite not making it to the chequered flag.
And even though the Ferrari team suffered a double non-finish, the pace of the F2008 will be troublesome for McLaren and the rest of the Formula One grid in the next few races. Without that fuel pump problem in qualifying and the bad luck Kimi Raikkonen endured in the race, it would have been a different kind of results for the world champion… Instead it was the championship runner-up who scored big and this is what Lewis had to say after a perfect weekend in Australia:
“The team did a fantastic job as always, and the car was phenomenal, a complete dream to drive compared to last year.
“They pulled me in early on both stops and that kept us out of trouble. Physically the race was a breeze, and great preparation for Malaysia, so bring it on, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Indeed, the first race of the new Formula One was certainly entertaining. Let’s hope the following race next weekend at Sepang will provide more drama and excitement!
Australian Grand Prix race result, 58 laps
1. HAMILTON McLaren 1h34m50.616s
2. HEIDFELD BMW +5.4s
3. ROSBERG Williams +8.1s
4. ALONSO Renault +17.1s
5. KOVALAINEN McLaren +18.0s
6. NAKAJIMA Williams +1 lap
7. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso +3 laps
8. RAIKKONEN Ferrari +5 laps
R. KUBICA BMW +11 laps
R. GLOCK Toyota +15 laps
R. SATO Super Aguri +26 laps
R. PIQUET Renault +28 laps
R. MASSA Ferrari +29 laps
R. COULTHARD Red Bull +33 laps
R. TRULLI Toyota +39 laps
R. SUTIL Force India +50 laps
R. WEBBER Red Bull +58 laps
R. BUTTON Honda +58 laps
R. DAVIDSON Super Aguri +58 laps
R. VETTEL Toro Rosso +58 laps
R. FISICHELLA Force India +58 laps
DQ. BARRICHELLO Honda
Fastest lap: KOVALAINEN – 1m27.418s
World Championship standings, round 1:
1. Hamilton 10
2. Heidfeld 8
3. Rosberg 6
4. Alonso 5
5. Kovalainen 4
6. Nakajima 3
7. Bourdais 2
8. Raikkonen 1
1. McLaren-Mercedes 14
2. Williams-Toyota 9
3. BMW Sauber 8
4. Renault 5
5. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2
6. Ferrari 1
NEXT ROUND: Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang. March 23.