Kimi Raikkonen made a perfect start to the season with a dominant lights-to-flag win in Melbourne. The Finn has become the first Ferrari driver since Nigel Mansell in 1989 to win on his debut with the legendary Italian team on Sunday, driving faultlessly in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Kimi’s only problems were one minor off when he lost concentration on lap 46, and the lack of a radio throughout the race.
“The weekend has been very good, but today the race was not that easy,” he said. “Maybe it looked like it but I didn’t have the radio as it stopped working before the start, so it was quite complicated. But we had our plan so I knew what had to do even if it was not the ideal situation.”
As Kimi disappeared in the distance, setting fastest laps throughout the race, the focus of attention was the impressive display of Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren. Despite starting in fourth position behind his team-mate Fernando Alonso, he pulled off a superb move by driving around the outside of a fast-starting Robert Kubica (BMW-Sauber) and Alonso to take third. Lewis even led the Grand Prix for a short while when Raikkonen made his first pit stop.
To finish third in only his first race as a Formula One driver is hugely impressive. Lewis matches the remarkable achievement set by Jacques Villeneuve, when the French-Canadian finished his first Grand Prix on the podium back in 1996. There is no doubt that Hamilton could be a world champion in the near future, as McLaren’s CEO Martin Whitmarsh told reporters after the race.
“I think the truth is that the pressure that Lewis had on him, the media quite obviously take a phenomenal interest in Lewis and what he has achieved so far, but he still had to come here and deliver.
“If he had flopped today and made a mistake then we all know what the headlines would have looked like.
“To come through that, make a good start, be out-jumped by the BMWs and respond to that, react, have the presence of mind to react and get to the outside line, execute without taking risks the overtaking he did at the first corner was fantastic.
“Throughout the race he had enormous pressure, he didn’t let that tell and did a fantastic job. Anyone who is here now must know we are at the start of a career that is going to be phenomenal.
“He will be a world champion, it is just a question of time now.”
I suspect Hamilton is taking all in his stride and that first win will come soon enough. Hopefully by next year, with a full season’s experience under his belt, Lewis can challenge for title honours. As for now, he should be pleased by his result.
Even though McLaren didn’t win the race, Ron Dennis should be satisfied with the result with double world champion Fernando Alonso and Hamilton finishing in second and third respectively. It is clear that the Ferrari is the fastest car and it will be a fascinating if the team can improve the car’s performance in the next Grand Prix.
For the Spaniard, second place was the best he could achieve and although he was happy with the result, Alonso feels that the team will need to work hard to catch Ferrari.
“I think it has been a good weekend and now I think with the final result we have to be pleased,” said Alonso, whose fastest lap was over a second slower than Kimi Raikkonen’s.
“Ferrari were a bit too quick for us today but we have to take the maximum points from here, and second place is a good place to start.
“We need to work more if we want to win races, but we show today and proved that we are here to win and not just race and relax. We showed a good potential and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
As for the rest, Nick Heidfeld followed up to his second row start with a solid fourth in the BMW-Sauber, though it was a bittersweet result for the team as Kubica suffered mechanical problems when fifth was on the cards.
That place ultimately fell to Giancarlo Fisichella, but only just. The Italian finished ahead of the closing Felipe Massa by a small margin of three-tenths of a second. The Brazilian recovered strongly despite starting at the back of the grid after taking an engine change. He even suffered the embarrassment of being lapped by his team-mate Raikkonen during the race.
The final points position fell to Nico Rosberg and Ralf Schumacher, for Williams-Toyota and Toyota respectively.
Most disappointed drive in the race? Two drivers spring to mind – Jenson Button and Formula One rookie Heikki Kovalainen. The former struggled in that nasty Honda with a never ending problem of understeer. Plus it didn’t help that he received a drive-through penalty when speeding in the pit lane. To finish P15 was a major disappointment for the driver and team.
But at least he didn’t make any mistakes on track, unlike Kovalainen. The Finn had too many ‘wild’ moments and even had a high-speed 360 degree spin on the first corner. Team boss Flavio Briatore wasn’t impressed by his performance, telling reporters that he was “rubbish”.
Hopefully, by the next race Heikki can learn from his errors and improve on his performance.
But there is no doubt that the star of the Australian Grand Prix weekend was Lewis Hamilton. He may have finished on the bottom step of the podium, but greater things will come his way and don’t be surprise if the young Brit finishes ahead of everyone including the two championship contenders of Raikkonen and Alonso.
The championship now takes a three-week break but all the teams will use this free time in testing their cars at Sepang, the scene of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Can Ferrari continue with that impressive form by winning the next race? Or can McLaren challenge them for top honours? The battle continues on April 8th.
Race results from Albert Park
1. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1 hr 25 mins 28.770 secs
2. ALONSO McLaren +7.2s
3. HAMILTON McLaren +18.5s
4. HEIDFELD BMW +38.7s
5. FISICHELLA Renault +66.4s
6. MASSA Ferrari +66.8s
7. ROSBERG Williams +1 lap
8. SCHUMACHER Toyota +1 lap
9. TRULLI Toyota +1 lap
10. KOVALAINEN Renault +1 lap
11. BARRICHELLO Honda +1 lap
12. SATO Super Aguri +1 lap
13. WEBBER Red Bull +1 lap
14. LIUZZI Toro Rosso +1 lap
15. BUTTON Honda +1 lap
16. DAVIDSON Super Aguri +2 lap
17. SUTIL Spyker +2 lap
R. WURZ Williams +10 laps
R. COULTHARD Red Bull +10 laps
R. KUBICA BMW +22 laps
R. SPEED Toro Rosso +30 laps
R. ALBERS Spyker +48 laps
Fastest Lap: RAIKKONEN 1 min. 25.235 secs