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GP Week : Issue 2
25 F1 australia >> L EWIS Hamilton exorcised his and McLaren’s 2007 demons with a show of strength and maturity in claiming victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday. The 23-year-old led all but four laps of the race from pole position to record his fifth career victory ahead of BMW’s Nick Heidfeld and Williams’ Nico Rosberg. Hamilton made a good start from pole position, but was forced to defend heavily into the first corner from the advances of BMW’s Robert Kubica who had also flown off the line from second on the grid. Behind them, the first lap saw Sebastien Vettel (Toro Rosso), Giancarlo Fisichella (Force India), Jenson Button (Honda), Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri) and local hero Mark Webber (Red Bull) all forced into retirement as the winter cobwebs were well and truly blown away. The first of three safety cars was deployed, and when racing recommenced on Lap 3 the order saw Hamilton leading Kubica (BMW), Kovalainen (McLaren), Rosberg and Heidfeld. A spin at the first corner had seen Massa return to the pits for a new nose, but his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was making good progress, sitting eighth after a lightening start. The opening laps saw Hamilton edge out an easy lead from Kubica at almost a second a lap until the Pole pitted on Lap 16. Two laps later and it was Hamilton’s turn to take on fuel and tyres. He emerged in second position, with Kovalainen now leading the field. On lap 21, Rosberg and Heidfeld pitted for the first time, but the BMW driver got the jump on his compatriot at pit exit in a moment which would ultimately prove vital to the race result. One lap later and it was Kovalainen’s turn to pit, and Hamilton was launched back into a lead he would not relinquish again. With the McLarens running 1-2, thoughts fell to further back down the pack, and when Massa’s ill-advised lunge on Coulthard resulted in the inevitable collision, the safety car was back out. Bourdais, Kubica, Alonso (Renault), Nakajima (Williams)and Glock (Toyota) all took the chance to pit when the pit-lane was opened leaving just Raikkonen and a lowly Piquet (Renault) as the only non-stoppers. The race restarted on lap 31, and with Raikkonen looking to pass Kovalainen, the World Champion made his move at Turn 3. Kovalainen covered his ground well, and the champion out-braked himself, sliding off into the gravel but maintained enough speed to keep going. He pitted next time through as Piquet ground to a halt at the back of the track. Lap 43 saw both Hamilton and Rosberg pit for the second and final time, and with Heidfeld making his stop at the start of lap 44, Kovalainen was due to follow Hamilton into the pits on the next lap. Timo Glock’s accident, however, meant the safety car was again deployed, and Kovalainen’s chances of second position evaporated immediately. Rubens Barrichello had worked his way into the points but could go no further without taking on fuel and broke the closed pit-lane regulation to do so. It would eventually see the end of his race (see separate story). When the pit-lane did open, Kovalainen took full advantage along with Alonso, Kubica and Nakajima, the latter of whom were in for repairs after colliding under the Safety Car. We were racing again with just nine laps to go and it was a straight fight to the finish. Hamilton eventually crossed the line 5.4s ahead of Heidfeld, with Rosberg a delighted third. Alonso held on for fourth in front of a determined Kovalainen, who did briefly lead the Spaniard on the penultimate lap, but lost the place almost immediately after knocking his speed-limiter button while removing a tear-off visor. Barrichello finished sixth ahead of Nakajima and Bourdais, who had pulled off with transmission trouble three laps from home. Raikkonen meanwhile had pulled into the pits one lap earlier to retire. Barrichello’s exclusion, however, meant that Nakajima, Bourdais and Raikkonen were all promoted one place, meaning the World Champion didn’t have to suffer the ignominy of failing to score on his first race in defence of his crown.