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Last Updated: Monday, 19 March 2007, 10:43 GMT
Hill on Hamilton
By Andrew Benson

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton wowed F1 by finishing on the podium in his first Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton's performance in finishing third on his Grand Prix debut on Sunday was "tremendous", according to former world champion Damon Hill.

The 47-year-old Englishman believes Hamilton has marked himself out as a star of the future by racing team-mate Fernando Alonso hard in Melbourne.

"He qualified well, and he raced brilliantly," the 1996 champion said.

"He was at the sharp end in his first Grand Prix and was competitive with his team-mate - really, really good."

Here, Hill, Britain's last world champion, assesses the man who is already being billed as the driver most likely to follow in his footsteps.

HOW GOOD WAS HAMILTON'S PERFORMANCE?

The weight of expectation was massive on Lewis and it seemed to me he didn't really show any sign of weakness at all.

Damon Hill
Alonso had a little bit of an edge, but given how good he is that is really saying something about Hamilton

Damon Hill
He was on it right from the word go. He qualified well, and he raced brilliantly.

His start was just a classic, fantastic, pulling that move on the first corner. It was a brave but committed overtaking manoeuvre.

It's very, very easy for someone in their first Grand Prix to make a hash of that, but he never looked like he was fazed by what he was doing, he just did it and it came off.

And when he was in front of Fernando [Alonso, his McLaren team-mate and double world champion] you could see he was really using all the road.

Lewis Hamilton passes team-mate Fernando Alonso at the first corner of the Australian Grand Prix
Hill was impressed by Hamilton's passing move at the first corner
He was right up against the wall going into the switch-back at the back of Melbourne and he was using all the road on the exit. He was pushing. He was confident. And he never looked ragged. It was good.

Somewhere in Lewis Hamilton's head was an ambition of what he was trying to achieve in his first race and I think he can't be disappointed with what he did.

He looked very happy on the podium. I think he knew he'd done a bloody good job. He was in the race at the sharp end in his first ever Grand Prix and competitive with his team-mate. Tremendous. Really, really good.

WAS HE AS BIG A THREAT TO ALONSO AS HE LOOKED?

I would say Alonso had a little bit of an edge, but not a huge one. I think Alonso was waiting for his time in the pit stop.

But given how good Alonso is, that is really saying something about Hamilton.

Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton on the Australian Grand Prix podium
Hill says Hamilton will enjoy the test of being Alonso's team-mate
The thing is some people, and I'm probably one, felt nervous about how they would perform.

In my first race with Williams [in 1993] I spun off, went backwards and it was a disaster. So I had a hell of a battle after that to recover that ground.

But there was never an opportunity for anyone to look at Hamilton's performance and say: 'There's a weak spot there.' And that is very, very important.

So he's off to a flying start, and it looks solid and composed.

He's not going to have a perfect season, it's his first year. There are going to be some really disappointing performances.

There are bound to be some times when he makes a mistake. But right now it looks incredibly positive.

WHAT CAN HAMILTON GO ON TO ACHIEVE?

It's too early to say. The season will show that.

If there are races in the year where he really genuinely beats his team-mate and there's no question about it - Fernando didn't have some other issue that held him up - then he has already staked his claim to that sort of podium region of Grand Prix racing for a long time, I would say.

Lewis Hamilton signs autographs after the Australian Grand Prix
Hamilton's performance will attract worldwide attention
There's been a lot of hype in the UK about Hamilton, and that generally doesn't wash with the international press and audience of Formula One until he's actually done something.

So now people are going to be asking: 'Who's Lewis Hamilton? Who's the guy who came third?' on a much larger scale.

That will have an effect because he will now become not just famous in the UK. That'll spread. People will want to know all about him, and he'll feel that.

DOES THIS INCREASE THE PRESSURE ON HAMILTON?

There's only pressure if you've got any doubt about what you're doing, and he doesn't.

HOW WILL HAMILTON COPE WITH ALONSO'S CONSISTENT PACE?

Lewis Hamilton leads McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso during the Australian Grand Prix
Hamilton led Alonso from the start until the final pit stops
He'll be enjoying every second of it. He's right there centre stage. If there's a championship battle in his first season, even he would understand that it would be no disgrace to be not leading the charge for McLaren against Ferrari.

He'll get the same treatment from McLaren. What I expect to see is there'll be enough of a points gap between Lewis and Fernando at around the mid-point of the season for it to become apparent McLaren's best chance of beating Kimi [Raikkonen of Ferrari] is with Fernando.

But we haven't reached that point yet. The first race is not a clue.

606: DEBATE
It will be interesting to see how Lewis goes at the next race in Malaysia. That is a very hard race.

Fernando always looks a little bit puffed out at the end of the race, and so does Kimi. They're nothing like Michael [Schumacher], who never seemed to sweat at all. And Lewis looked fresh as a daisy when he got out in Melbourne, didn't he?



SEE ALSO
F1 set for titanic battle - Hill
19 Mar 07 |  Formula One
Alonso welcomes Hamilton rivalry
18 Mar 07 |  Formula One
Australian GP as it happened
18 Mar 07 |  Formula One
Kovalainen criticised by Briatore
18 Mar 07 |  Formula One
Hamilton outshines Raikkonen win
18 Mar 07 |  Formula One
Button glum after 'rubbish' race
18 Mar 07 |  Formula One
Debut display delights Hamilton
18 Mar 07 |  Formula One
Hamilton 'can be world champion'
18 Mar 07 |  Formula One


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