Normal sevice is resumed as McLaren wins in Melbourne


On the face of it, McLaren will do battle with BMW today - the vast experience of the British team eventually paying off - while Ferrari relies on Felipe Massa to pick up any remaining crumbs that fall from the table. Renault, Williams, Red Bull and Toyota will fight it out for the best of the rest title while Bernie Ecclestone will continue to pile the pressure on race organizers, having probably already decided that he can get a better deal - in terms of money and start time - elsewhere.

However, as we know from experience, not to mention the relentless overuse of the phrase. 'F1 is if backwards' (which it isn't) - anything can, and usually does happen.

Although McLaren and BMW will share centre stage, do not write off Ferrari, and certainly don't dismiss Kimi Raikkonen.

This is the first race of the season, and it is not just any old season. We have a number of rookies, a number of experienced drivers eager to re-establish themselves and a set of new regulations which mean the end of driver aids including traction and launch control. Therefore, we are confident that we will see some fireworks today, and possibly an incident right at the very start.

Starting on the clean side of the track, McLaren has the advantage, and like their Munich rivals the Woking boys will be keen to get to the first corner (and beyond) well ahead of the pursuing pack, which sees several very fast drivers, including the reigning World Champion, starting from the midfield.

Therefore, before we start looking at who's hot and who's not - which isn't easy considering the way the three free practice sessions played out - its worth remembering that this is the first race of a new season, a new season with new rules.

Over the course of the weekend, we've seen reliability issues affecting several teams, and with the F1 circus heading straight off to Malaysia next week nobody is going to want to take any undue chances.

On the face of it, today's race should be about McLaren and BMW, with Felipe Massa upholding honour for Ferrari. However, we're confident that anything can and probably will happen and that the only known factor in F1 is that Bernie Ecclestone will continue to make threats and demands.

Naturally, despite all the preamble, we know that we'd be accused of 'bottling it' should we fail to make some sort of prediction, so here goes. Putting aside the fact that we are confident that there will be at least one incident on the first lap, including a possible pile-up on the start-line, we reckon that it will be a McLaren win with the Ferraris edging out the BMWs. As for the 'best of the rest', it really is a little too close to call, with Renault, Williams, Red Bull, Toyota and even Honda looking good, and then there's Sebastian Vettel.

As previously reported, Adrian Sutil is to start from the pitlane. However, rather than starting in a repaired car - having damaged his chassis on the harsh kerbs here - the German is using a brand new car (and engine).

As the cars arrive on the Melbourne grid - possibly for the last time - the air temperature is 37 degrees C and the track temperature is 51 degrees. It is sunny and very warm, to put it mildly.

As the Australian national anthem is sung, it is interesting to note that one of the flags fluttering in the background is the 'stars and stripes' of the United States, even though America has no representation in F1 this year. Then again, if Bernie has his way will the Australian anthem be heard against in 2009?

On the grid, Hamilton starts ahead of Kubica, Kovalainen and Heidfeld, who is complaining that his 'drink system' has gone wrong - no jokes about Kimi please.

Massa and Raikkonen are among the few drivers starting on the soft compound. Timo Glock appears to be the only other driver starting on the softer compound. A brave gamble, but will it pay off?

The lights go out and Hamilton leads into the first corner, ahead of Kubica, Kovalainen and Rosberg. There's a coming together further back involving Vettel and Fisichella which brings out the safety car.

At the end of the first lap, Nakajima and Massa pit, the Ferrari driver having got all out of shape at the first corner and brushing the barrier. Meanwhile, Raikkonen is in eighth, having made a brilliant start. Problems also for Webber, Button and Davidson, all of whom appear to be out before the race has barely started..

At the end of lap 2, the safety car pulls off; Hamilton, Kubica, Kovalainen, Rosberg, Heidfeld, Trulli, Barrichello, Raikkonen and Coulthard. Massa stops for fuel, having not been allowed to take on fuel during his previous stop. He goes out on softs again.

Hamilton posts fastest lap (28.614) as he extends his lead over Kubica to 2.2s. Meanwhile, Raikkonen is all over Barrichello, Honda's only remaining representative in this race. Behind Raikkonen (eighth), it's Coulthard, Alonso, Sato, Glock, Sutil, Bourdais, Piquet, Nakajima and Massa. The mechanics continue to work on Webber's car but if he does reappear it will be for testing purposes only.

On lap 6, another fastest lap for Hamilton (28.513), as Heidfeld closes in on Rosberg and Raikkonen continues to hound Barrichello. Alonso is also pressurising Coulthard, while Sutil and Glock are running right behind Bourdais. Heidfeld is still complaining about his drinks bottle, a slight mistake sees him lose ground to Rosberg.

Despite all the talk, all the regulation changes, the fact that Raikkonen is unable to nail Barrichello is clear proof that there is still a long, long way to go when it comes to overtaking. The Finn is now 22.2s behind Hamilton and hurting badly whilst stuck behind the Honda. That said, the Finn is on the softs, so he should be in better shape in the closing stages.

Sutil pits at the end of lap 9, driving straight into his garage, as Hamilton posts another fastest lap (28.111). Elsewhere, Nakajima overtakes Piquet to take fourteenth.

A slight mistake sees Raikkonen lose ground to Barrichello, as Kubica falls 8s behind the race leader, Lewis Hamilton. Meanwhile, Massa has passed Piquet to take fifteenth.

On lap 13, Hamilton posts another fastest lap (28.007), as he extends his lead to 9.4s. Interesting to note that Trulli is still running a highly respectable sixth, behind Heidfeld. Next time around, Hamilton dips into the 27s, crossing the line at 27.750. Elsewhere, Glock passes Sato to take eleventh, the Super Aguri driver having made an error.

In the pitlane, the BMW mechanics are waiting. Sure enough, at the end of lap 16, Kubica dives into the pits. 8.6s later he's heading down the pitlane, on mediums, emerging behind the Barrichello/Raikkonen scrap. The Finn makes a fresh move on the Honda but is unable to make it stick, indeed, he gets out of shape and loses ground. Elsewhere, Massa, passes Nakajima for fourteenth.

At the end of lap 18, Hamilton pits, emerging 9.2s later on a new set of medium tyres, behind Rosberg. Meanwhile, Raikkonen has passed Barrichello in a typically audacious move. The Finn immediately pulls away from the Honda.

What a difference a year makes, as Kovalainen leads the Australian GP. It was hear, one year ago, the Flavio Briatore described his F1 debut as "rubbish".

Raikkonen goes quickest in the first sector, as Massa is having problems passing Sato, who is in no mood to give way. And why should he?

Trulli pits, but it's no ordinary stop. The Italian removes his steering wheel and climbs out of the Toyota. It looks to be all over for Jarno.

Massa gets past Sato, who makes a small mistake which allows Nakajima to take advantage also. Meanwhile, Rosberg and Heidfeld both pit, the BMW driver leapfrogging the Williams.

At the end of lap 21, Kovalainen pits. 9s later he's heading down the pitlane with a new set of medium tyres. The Finn emerges in second place, right in front of Raikkonen, who is on a real charge. Elsewhere, Coulthard pits.

At the end of lap 23, Barrichello, who was running fourth, finally pits, which leaves Raikkonen and Alonso as the only Top Ten runners still to stop.

Hamilton, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Kubica, Heidfeld, Alonso, Rosberg, Barrichello, Glock and Coulthard.

The World Champion doing a great job in the Ferrari. The white strip has been stripped from his left-front. Meanwhile, Massa clashes with Coulthard, bringing out the safety car. The replay shows Massa going into the side of the Red Bull as he makes a move under braking. It appears that the Scot might not have seen the Ferrari.

"Fuel mix to 3, fuel mix to 3," Alonso is told, "save as much fuel as you can". The Spaniard, like Raikkonen, will be hoping that the pit lane is opened

On lap 27, behind the safety car, Hamilton leads Kovalainen by 2.6s, with Raikkonen a further 1.4s behind. Kubica is fourth, ahead of Heidfeld, Alonso, Rosberg, Barrichello, Glock and Massa.

As race control gives the OK for lapped cars to overtake, Bourdais pits. Meanwhile, Coulthard is in no doubt as to who was to blame for his elimination from the race.

At the end of lap 29, Kubica, Alonso, Glock and Nakajima all pit, the Spaniard running on fumes. Kubica fits softs.

At the end of lap 30, the safety car pulls off, as Kovalainen rides shotgun for Hamilton. At Turn 3, Raikkonen makes a move on his fellow Finn but it all goes wrong, he is lucky not to run into the barriers as he runs across the gravel. Meanwhile, to add to Ferrari's Melbourne misery, Felipe Massa has stopped out on track, his race over.

Raikkonen pits at the end of lap 31, having dropped to twelfth. Elsewhere, Piquet's car has ground to a halt with what appears to be a clutch problem. Meanwhile, Sato pulls off at the end of the pitlane, which leaves us with just eleven runners.

Hamilton leads Kovalainen, with Heidfeld third, ahead of Rosberg and Barrichello. However, Bourdais (sixth) and Kubica (seventh) have both made their second stops. That said, Kubica is under all kinds of pressure from Alonso, the Pole struggling with his softs.

On lap 34, Hamilton goes quickest in the second sector, he's running 0.7s faster than anyone else. Raikkonen, running eleventh, is 42s behind the race leader, and running 1.2s off his pace.

Another fastest lap for Hamilton on lap 39, the Englishman posting 27.452. Meanwhile, Alonso is suffering as he fails to get past Kubica. Raikkonen is now 4.6s behind Glock.

While Kubica is struggling, teammate Heidfeld continues to shadow Kovalainen, the pair separated by 1.8s. Alonso is told to "have a go" at Kubica. Rosberg is also setting a great pace, 3.4s down on Heidfeld, and still posting personal best times.

As Heidfeld goes quickest in the first sector, closing to within 1.7s of Kovalainen, Raikkonen closes right in on Glock. The Finn makes a move, he goes a little wide and he spins… it simply isn't his day, or Ferrari's.

Hamilton and Rosberg both pit at the end of lap 43, as Kovalainen posts the fastest lap of the race (27.418). Next time around, Heidfeld pits.

A big accident for Glock which brings out the safety car, again. The replay shows the German going very wide at Turn 12. The car is launched into the air, but thankfully lands right side up but spinning helplessly, the German merely a passenger. Elsewhere, disaster in the pits for Honda as Barrichello's (illegal?) stop goes awry, ending up with one of the mechanics being pulled to the ground as the Brazilian exits without the fuel hose being fully removed.

Therefore, after 45 laps, and with the safety car on track, Kovalainen leads Hamilton, with Heidfeld third, ahead of Barrichello, Rosberg, Bourdais, Kubica, Alonso, Nakajima and Raikkonen.

Race official announce that the pitlane is open, which means that Barrichello's stop was illegal. The Brazilian is informed that he got all the fuel that he needed, however, it's academic as he is sure to be punished (points-wise) anyway.

At the end of lap 46, Kovalainen pits, as does Alonso. They drop to ninth and tenth places. With 11 laps to go, it appears to have gone pear-shaped for both drivers.

At the end of lap 48, the safety car pulls off, as Kubica and Nakajima both pit, both drivers missing bits from the front of their cars. The Pole climbs out of his BMW, a lousy end to a race which promised so much.

As Barrichello comes in for a penalty, Kovalainen loses a place to Alonso as the Finn gets caught out by the Nakajima incident.

With 8 laps remaining, there are just nine runners. Hamilton, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Bourdais, Alonso, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Barrichello and Nakajima. Raikkonen's car sound's rough, as Ferraris day goes from bad to worse. He is lapping in the 1:34s compared to Hamilton who is running at 1:28.8.

As the laps count down, Bourdais under intense pressure from Alonso and Kovalainen. Barrichello is advised that Raikkonen has a problem, the Brazilian currently 12s behind the Finn.

Kovalainen is all over Alonso, which eases the pressure on Bourdais, who looks set to finish fourth on his F1 debut. Elsewhere, Kimi Raikkonen finally calls it quits.

And then there were eight.

Hold the front page!!! As smoke pours from the back of the Toro Rosso it appears the Ferrari powerplant has given up the ghost. A dreadful disappointment for the Frenchman, who deserved so much more from today.

Kovalainen and Alonso are side by side, but the Finn holds ground. However, on the main straight it appears the McLaren has problems as the Spaniard pulls out of his slipstream and sweeps past.

Hamilton takes the chequered flag, the fifth of his eighteen race career, with Nick Heidfeld finishing second, ahead of Rosberg, Alonso, Kovalainen, Barrichello and Nakajima. Bourdais has stopped on track but will almost certainly be credited with eighth place.

"Normal service is resumed," a McLaren crew member tells Hamilton over his radio, "another seventeen races like that and it's in the bag".

Thing is, on today's form, certainly when one looks at the dreadful performance from Ferrari, another seventeen wins is not entirely out of the question. It was a flawless performance, and proves, as if proof were needed, that 2007 was no fluke. No disrespect to Nick, Nico or Fernando, had the cards fallen a little better, it would have been a McLaren 1-2.

On a day of high drama, certainly in terms of reliability and mistakes, McLaren and Williams were the only teams to get both cars to the end.

We said that the midfield would be close, and so it proved to be, however, we never thought that Ferrari would be part of it.

We've seen driver errors, poor reliability, bad luck, a little bit of everything today, everything that F1 should be about.

A great start to the season, and with the next race just a few days away, it is likely we'll see more of the same next week.

And those race fans in Europe will surely agree that it was worth getting up for.

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    Published: 16/03/2008
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