Australian GP report

MELBOURNE, March 8 (Reuters) - Mika Hakkinen of Finland continued where he left off in Jerez last October when he drove to victory for McLaren in a stunning season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on Sunday. ...

MELBOURNE, March 8 (Reuters) - Mika Hakkinen of Finland continued where he left off in Jerez last October when he drove to victory for McLaren in a stunning season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on Sunday. Hakkinen finished seven-tenths of a second ahead of his team-mate Briton David Coulthard as the McLaren-Mercedes team dominated the 58-lap race and proved they will be the outfit to beat this season. Their one-two triumph justified all the pre-race predictions that their Mercedes-powered car, equipped with a controversial high-tech braking system criticised by their rivals, was superior to all else in the field. The Finn took the lead from the start until a mistake by an engineer called him in for an unnecessary pit stop. But instead of stopping, he drove straight through the pit lane and back out in second place behind Coulthard. But the Scot, in deference to a pre-race agreement, pulled over and let his team-mate through to win with two laps remain- ing. The two McLarens lapped the entire field and drove with such superiority it looked, as some of their rivals have claimed, as if they were running cars designed for an entirely different form of racing. German Heinz-Harald Frentzen, in a Williams, finished third ahead of Irishman Eddie Irvine in a Ferrari. Defending world champion Jacques Villeneuve of Canada came home fifth, fighting off a powerful challenge by Briton Johnny Herbert in a Sauber- Petronas who finished sixth. Former champion Michael Schumacher of Germany retired his Ferrari on the sixth lap when he suffered an engine failure and only nine of the field of 22 cars finished the race. McLaren team boss Ron Dennis said: "It was David's decision to let Mika through to win. He was respecting an agreement that whoever was first into the first corner should win the race." Hakkinen's win was his second in succession, the second of his career and the first by a car running on Japanese Bridgestone tyres, bringing to an end the American Goodyear company's run of 109 successive victories. Hakkinen said: "It didn't go according to plan. But the overall result, in the end, was what I wanted it to be. There was a lot of confusion, which caused me to make an extra pit stop. It was purely a misunderstanding and it cost me the lead. "But I want to say a big and special `thank-you very much' to David because what he did was very fair and very excellent team work. I am not saying it because I won, but because we have a very special relationship. "I am sure we will look back in history and say there have not been many drivers who have been doing this." Coulthard agreed that the two drivers had an agreement. "We have got a lot closer since the Jerez race and had agreed that whoever got into the first corner first, if the race was normal, would not be challenged by the other one. The team told me what had happened to Mika on the radio and I thought about it and then let him through."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Johnny Herbert , Michael Schumacher , Heinz-Harald Frentzen , David Coulthard , Jacques Villeneuve
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams