A couple more laps, Lewis Hamilton might have been out there all alone. As it was, the McLaren Mercedes sophomore drove from pole position to Australian Grand Prix victory nonchalantly oblivious to calamitous goings-on behind him as most of the ...
A couple more laps, Lewis Hamilton might have been out there all alone. As it was, the McLaren Mercedes sophomore drove from pole position to Australian Grand Prix victory nonchalantly oblivious to calamitous goings-on behind him as most of the field dispatched itself. By race's end, only seven runners were still under way in 100-degree Fahrenheit heat in Melbourne.
Germans Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg joined the victorious Englishman on the podium. Runner-up Heidfeld outlasted his BMW Sauber teammate Robert Kubica, whose front-row start and second-place racing ended ignominiously when he collided with Rosberg's teammate, Kazuki Nakajima 10 laps from the end. Rosberg kept his Williams Toyota out of trouble to land his first podium in Formula One.
"We got away to a really good start," said Hamilton, now a five-time winner. "I looked after the tires and paced myself."
In an ominous note for McLaren's expected major challenger, Ferrari, Hamilton said "the car was a complete dream to drive compared to last year's car." Hamilton and then teammate Fernando Alonso were co-runners-up in last year's World Driving Championship.
Hamilton likened the race, which required three safety car appearances, to his first F1 victory, at Canada last year when four safety car periods were observed. He said his team ran something of a worst-case scenario to pull him in for stops early, which helped him avoid being caught out by safety car rules that don't allow pitting while a safety car assembles the field.
Heidfeld said he thought the race wouldn't go well after the start.
"What I lost on the start I made up on the pit stop," he said of trading places with Rosberg.
For his part, the Williams driver was overjoyed to appear on the podium.
"I'm really, really happy," he said. "The team has worked so hard over the winter."
For most teams, winter work came to naught on the Albert Park course used only annually for this event.
The safety car was deployed on the first lap as several drivers started life without traction control and engine braking by colliding with one another. A coming together of Felipe Massa in a Ferrari and David Coulthard in a Red Bull brought out the saftey car on lap 28, and it was called upon again on the 44th lap after Timo Glock slid his Toyota wide on a corner only to hit a ridge that vaulted him skyward then sent him spinning down a short straight with car bits flying everywhere.
Renault ace Alonso finished fourth after starting 12th. He needed his best effort to stave off McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen in a rich dice on the final two laps. Kovalainen passed the Spaniard then was immediately repassed when, the Finn said, he hit the pit-lane speed limiter while trying to pull a tear-off from his helmet visor.
Kovalainen slipped down the field after being caught out by the safety car for Glock but no one suffered more than Honda's Rubens Barrichello, who pitted before the safety car had organized the field and before race officials had opened pit lane. Barrichello pulled away from his pit stall as instructed but with the fuel rig still attached to his car. He then ran the red light at the end of the pit lane. He was called in to serve a 10-second penalty and was shown in sixth spot behind Kovalainen.
Barrichello was disqualified after the race for running the pit-lane stop light. That moved Nakajima, Sebastien Bourdais and Kimi Raikkonen up a place each, letting Raikkonen edge into the points.
Bourdais was running in fourth in his rookie F1 outing when, at the 56-lap mark of the 58-lap event, his Scuderia Toro Rosso's Ferrari engine took wing, stranding him.
A frantic day for Raikkonen showed he is what is wanted in a world champion. He charged from the start, improving his position eight places on the first lap and keeping out of trouble as others bent things. He was stalled behind Barrichello until he managed to pass. He put a massive move on Kovalainen to reach third, only to go off at the next corner. The engine finally gave up with three laps to go when he was in seventh place. Raikkonen, who won the world driving title with a one-point margin, earned one point with Barrichello's DQ.
Takuma Sato became the race's 11th casualty, halving the field, when his Super Aguri quietly quit, ending a valiant effort in which he gained nine places on the first lap.
Massa pulled an overtaking move on Coulthard that punted the Scotsman off track. The resultant safety car appearance left Raikkonen swerving away from pit lane so as not to incur a time penalty for pitting under a safety car.
Rosberg lost his spot ahead of Heidfeld on a pit-lane release, the pair nearly dicing their way out of the pits.
Hamilton rolled to fast lap after fast lap through the early stages. Kubica's close intent lost ground as Hamilton sped away. Hamilton opened a 14-second lead by the time Kubica stopped on lap 16. Kubica came back in sixth place. Hamilton stopped two laps later and emerged in fourth as his teammate Kovalainen took the lead. Kovalainen later set fast lap for the race, a 1 minute, 27.418 seconds.
Jarno Trulli pitted the Toyota TF108, climbing out quickly after sitting on a heating battery that cooked itself and him.
The first lap produced expected jostling. Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India bumped into Nelson A. Piquet's Renault, and Jenson Button's Honda had a meet-up with Sebastian Vettel's Toro Rosso. Mark Webber's Red Bull and Anthony Davidson's Super Aguri were caught up, as well. Massa's Ferrari wound up off track and into a barrier, necessitating a new nose.
The banging about brought out a safety car. Webber, Button, Davidson, Vettel, and Fisichella wound up out of the race just that fast.
Nakajima received a post-race penalty following his accident with Robert Kubica. The Williams team rookie will serve his penalty in Malaysia this coming weekend after qualifying. Nakajima will lose ten places on the grid.