Hamilton wins in Australia
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton avoided the mayhem around him to open the Formula One season with a pole-to-flag victory in a crash-strewn Australian Grand Prix.
The 23-year-old Briton, last year’s rookie sensation, finished 5.4 seconds ahead of Germany’s Nick Heidfeld in a BMW Sauber.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg celebrated the first podium of his Formula One career with third place for Williams in a sweltering race that saw only seven of the 22 starters still running at the finish and neither Ferrari reach the chequered flag.
“Coming into a new season, turning over a new leaf, we really wanted to get off on the right foot,” said Hamilton, who missed out on the title last year by a single point to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
“It’s quite different to my first win in Montreal, just because that was really not expected,” he added.
“This win perhaps feels better than any because I feel I’ve improved in many areas.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the perfect win… but I think in terms of managing my tyres, controlling my pace and confidence and being comfortable in the car, it’s the best race I’ve had so far,” Hamilton said.
With traction control and electronic driver aids now banned, the safety car was deployed three times. Through it all, Hamilton lapped in a league of his own to chalk up his fifth win in just 18 starts.
Raikkonen retired five laps from the end with an engine problem after a torrid afternoon at the wheel, with the Finn also skidding off on lap 31 after overtaking McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen for second place and rejoining at the back.
The Finn still scored a point however after Honda’s Rubens Barrichello, who had finished sixth, was excluded for exiting the pit lane when the lights were still red.
The Brazilian also sent a mechanic flying when he accelerated away before the fuel hose was detached.
Fernando Alonso, Hamilton’s team mate at McLaren last season, was fourth on his return to the Renault team with which he won his two titles.
Hamilton’s Finnish team mate Heikki Kovalainen was fifth, his hopes of anchoring a one-two on his McLaren debut dashed by a late pit-stop, and set the fastest lap of the race.
Barrichello’s exclusion lifted Kazuki Nakajima to sixth place for Williams, despite the Japanese tangling with Red Bull’s Mark Webber at the start and again with the BMW Sauber of Poland’s Robert Kubica nine laps from the end.
Stewards gave the rookie a 10-place penalty on the starting grid for the Malaysian Grand Prix next weekend.
Four times Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, the first Frenchman to start a season since 2004, joined the elite group of drivers to score on their debuts with seventh place despite his Toro Rosso’s engine blowing two laps from the end.
First corner carnage brought out the safety car on the opening lap and led to the retirement of five drivers including Webber, Australia’s only participant.
Honda’s Jenson Button, one of the immediate casualties after a coming together with fellow-Briton Anthony Davidson and Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, said it had been “mayhem everywhere”.
“Somebody came on the right hand side of my car like a kamikaze and pushed me out,” added Force India’s Italian Giancarlo Fisichella.
Ferrari’s Brazilian Felipe Massa, who started in fourth place, was forced to pit for a new front wing after spinning into the wall.
The safety car was deployed for a second time just before the halfway point when Massa and Red Bull’s David Coulthard collided at the end of the main straight.
The Scot, who had a big accident at the circuit last year when his car flew over the Williams of Austrian Alex Wurz, flew off again and blamed the Ferrari driver.
Germany’s Timo Glock brought out the safety car for the third and final time on lap 44 when he hit a kerb and flew into the air before plunging into the barriers.