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

Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren leads Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari during the Australian Grand Prix
Raikkonen (behind) was in contention by half-distance
Lewis Hamilton believes his victory in the opening Formula One race of the season in Australia was the best of his five career triumphs.

The British driver, 23, won by five seconds from BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld with only seven cars finishing.

"It's probably the best race I've had so far in terms of managing tyres, controlling my pace and confidence, and being comfortable in the car," he said.

"But it's not the perfect win. There

are a lot of areas I can improve."

Hamilton also said he was unconcerned by the pace shown by rivals Ferrari in an otherwise disastrous season opener for the Formula One world champions.

Kimi Raikkonen finished only eighth as Hamilton's McLaren won in Australia, but the Finn's Ferrari showed winning speed in an incident-packed afternoon.

This result is obviously not the best start but I had good pace

Kimi Raikkonen

"We could have gone quicker, so I'm not particularly bothered by Ferrari's pace," Hamilton, said.

"A lot of hype was put on them and they've obviously had a tough weekend, but you can't forget that they are a great team and they have a very good car and two great drivers."

Team principal Ron Dennis added: "It's not their true pace, and we're under no illusions."

Raikkonen, who snatched last year's championship from Hamilton at the final race, was in contention for victory by half distance but an error trying to pass Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen put him to the back of the field.

He was eventually classified eighth after retiring with an engine problem five laps from the end.

Raikkonen said: "It's really disappointing not to finish the race, but at least the point is better than nothing.

"There are many races left and every point that we can get is always a bonus.

"I had an engine problem, which needs to be analysed, but the car was good and I had good pace when I found a free track ahead of me.

"This result is obviously not the best start but we are capable of recovering from far worse situations than this."

It was the end of a poor race for Ferrari, whose other driver Felipe Massa also had an engine failure. The Brazilian had spun on the first lap and collided with David Coulthard's Red Bull on lap 26.

A frustrated Coulthard blamed Massa, saying: "You've got to have your car alongside to pass someone, you can't just ram into them.

Felipe Massa's Ferrari collides with David Coulthard's Red Bull during the Australian Grand Prix
Raikkonen's team-mate Massa had a poor weekend in Australia

"I screwed up last year when I tried a move on (Alexander) Wurz but I took full responsibility for it and I would expect Felipe to do the same."

But Massa hit back: "I don't know why he is not very happy.

"He didn't see me. Next time ask him to watch in the mirrors because I was completely inside.

"I'm definitely not going to speak to him."

Meanwhile, Heidfeld refuted suggestions BMW Sauber had been 'sandbagging' during winter testing, after the German finished second.

Initial testing indicated they may struggle but Robert Kubica qualified second fastest and Heidfeld picked up six points leading to accusations from some quarters that the team had been underplaying their strengths.

He said: "At our first test with the new car, we really were in deep trouble.

"Coming here, we thought we would be the third strongest team, that's what we communicated.

"The whole team, including myself, didn't expect to be that strong here; that comes as a bit of a surprise, and it's very difficult to judge ourselves compared to the others.

"Because we made such big progress over the winter, we really only had the last test in Barcelona to know where we stand.

"I think we are still on the limit of the car, which is very promising."

Hamilton added that winning the race was an important step for McLaren as they try to put the troubles of the last few months behind them.

The team were thrown out of last year's constructors' championship and fined $100m (49m) after being found guilty of possessing confidential Ferrari technical information.

And the shadow of an investigation into their 2008 car by governing body the FIA hung over them until December, when McLaren admitted the Ferrari information had gone further into the company than they had claimed.

Team principal Ron Dennis had been considering stepping down over the winter, only to decide against it shortly before setting off for Australia.

Whitmarsh said the victory was "incredibly important" for Dennis, whose emotions were clearly running high as he went on to the podium to collect the trophy for winning constructor in Melbourne.

Hamilton added: "To me coming into a new season, turning over a new leaf, we really wanted to get off on the right foot, (team principal) Ron Dennis has been through a lot and so has the team, but we've pulled through and really it shows in the results.

"I'm glad he's happy, it's an emotional feeling to win the first Grand Prix of a season, especially with all the winter testing and all the build-up, when you come out on top it's a real relief and great satisfaction."

Hamilton wins dramatic F1 opener
16 Mar 08 |  Formula One
McLaren admission ends F1 spy row
18 Dec 07 |  Formula One
McLaren 'came close to exclusion'
14 Sep 07 |  Formula One

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