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Albert Park, Melbourne, 14-16 March
The Chequered Flag podcast



By Andrew Benson

Lewis Hamilton celebrates victory in the first race of the season
Hamilton was serene while all around was chaos in Melbourne
Lewis Hamilton steered clear of the chaos at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix to get his title campaign off to the best possible start.

The Englishman dominated from the start in his McLaren to beat Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber and Nico Rosberg's Williams.

World champion Kimi Raikkonen threw away a chance to challenge Hamilton with a mistake while trying to pass the second McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen.

Kovalainen would have been second but for bad luck with the safety car.

606: DEBATE
It came out for the third time in a dramatic afternoon at exactly the wrong time for the Finn following a high-speed crash involving Timo Glock's Toyota on lap 44.

Kovalainen had to pit for fuel and tyres while the safety car was out, and dropped to the back of the pack.

He recovered to finish fifth, losing out in an exciting battle with Fernando Alonso's Renault in the last two laps.

Kovalainen passed the double world champion spectacularly towards the end of the penultimate lap, only to lose the place as they crossed the line for the start of the last lap when the McLaren stuttered on the pit straight.

Kimi Raikkonen bounces through the gravel trap after making a mistake trying to pass Heikki Kovalainen during the Australian Grand Prix
Raikkonen had a wild ride in a disappointing race for Ferrari
Kovalainen revealed later that he had accidentally hit the pit lane speed limiter button while removing an oil-smeared tear-off from his visor.

Heidfeld and Rosberg both drove unobtrusively excellent races to take the final two podium positions.

Heidfeld held a watching brief in the early laps and stayed out of trouble to benefit from Kovalainen's late problem.

Rosberg's third place was the best result of his career in his third full season.

Rubens Barrichello finished sixth for a more-competitive-than-expected Honda, but was excluded for leaving the pits when the lights were red following a dramatic final pit stop in which he was waved away with the fuel hose still attached.

Kazuki Nakajima's Williams was the final finisher in seventh.

The Japanese was handed a 10-place grid penalty for next weekend's Malaysian race for his role in tangles with Red Bull's Mark Webber at the start and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica nine laps from the end.

Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais was classified seventh on an impressive debut following Barrichello's exclusion, despite retiring with engine failure while running fourth ahead of Alonso and Kovalainen with three laps to go.

And Raikkonen took the final point in eighth place despite retiring with engine failure five laps from the end.

David Coulthard's damaged Red Bull
Coulthard's collision with Massa brought out the second safety car

The race was littered with incident, but Hamilton steered clear of it all on the way to a largely untroubled fifth victory of his career.

The 23-year-old made a perfect start, stayed calm during the first deployment of the safety car following a series of incidents on the first lap, and built an advantage over Robert Kubica's second-placed BMW Sauber in the early laps.

He appeared to be cruising to a comfortable win until the second safety car came out to raise concern over Raikkonen's progress.

From 16th on the grid, the Finn leaped up to eighth on the first lap, but was then held up behind Rubens Barrichello's Honda for 19 laps.

Once he had passed the Brazilian, Raikkonen became a major factor for a while in what appeared to be the fastest car in the race.

His Ferrari had been fuelled heavily at the start, so he moved up the field as those in front of him made their first pit stops.

Raikkonen was up to third, behind the two McLarens, when the safety car was deployed following a collision between the Ferrari of Felipe Massa and David Coulthard's Red Bull on lap 26.

Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India is launched into the air by Nelson Piquet Jr's Renault at the first corner of the Australian Grand Prix
This incident involving Fisichella was one of many in Melbourne

The safety car put him right behind the McLarens on the track, and a serious contender for victory.

It stayed out for four laps while Coulthard's damaged car was moved from a dangerous position.

Raikkonen, light on fuel, was much faster than Kovalainen as the race resumed, but he braked too late as he tried to pass the McLaren into turn three and speared off into the gravel.

He rejoined the track, and made his single stop for fuel at the end of the lap, putting him to the back of the field.

That was the end of any potential threat to Hamilton.

And it turned out to be a disastrous event for world champions Ferrari.

Raikkonen just managed to finish in the points, but Massa retired shortly after his collision with Coulthard thanks to an engine failure.


Provisional results from Australian Grand Prix:

1. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 58 laps one hour 34 minutes 50.616 seconds
2. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber +5.478 secs
3. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota +8.163
4. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault +17.181
5. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes +18.014
DQ Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda +52.453
6. Kazuki Nakajima* (Jpn) Williams-Toyota 1 lap behind
7R Sebastien Bourdais (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 55 laps completed
8R Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 53 laps
R Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 47 laps
R Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 43 laps
R Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda 32 laps
R Nelson Piquet Jr (Brz) Renault 30 laps
R Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 29 laps
R David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Renault 25 laps
R Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 19 laps
R Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 8 laps
R Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 0 laps
R Jenson Button (GB) Honda 0 lap
R Anthony Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda 0 lap
R Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 0 laps
R Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India-Ferrari 0 laps

* Nakajima handed 10-place grid penalty for next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix

Key: R = retired; DQ = disqualified.

Fastest lap: Kovalainen one minute 27.418 seconds, lap 43.



SEE ALSO
Hamilton hails 'career-best' win
16 Mar 08 |  Formula One
Australian GP as it happened
16 Mar 08 |  Formula One


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