Hamilton makes history

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Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Melbourne, podium, 2007After months of hype Lewis Hamilton delivered first time out with a sensational podium finish in his first Grand Prix.

Yes, he had the benefit of a competitive McLaren Mercedes in which to make his first Grand Prix start – something the likes of Michael Schumacher and Hamilton’s own team mate Alonso never had.

But the contrasting fortune of the other driver making his debut for a front running team underlined just how good a job Hamilton did. Heikki Kovalainen looked like a frustrated rally driver more than once during the Australian Grand Prix.

Only a meagre handful of other drivers have been able to start their careers in competitive teams and translate their talent into a podium finish at the first time of asking.

You have to go back over a decade to find a driver who made as bright a start to his career as Lewis Hamilton has. Jacques Villeneuve finished second on his debut for Williams at Melbourne in 1996.

Villeneuve carried significant extra experience into his first race than Hamilton did. He had already won the Indycar championship and the Indianapolis 500 when the series was in its heydey, and undergone a massive pre-season testing programme for Williams.

Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill, Melbourne, Williams-Renault, 1996The 1996 Williams-Renault was an even more competitive proposition, relative to its rivals, than this year’s McLaren. Villeneuve and Damon Hill left the opposition for dead – although Villeneuve came desperately close to beating until until a moment on the grass damaged an oil line and later forced him to yield.

Apart from the competitors in the very first world championship Grand Prix, twelve racers managed to finish on the podium in their first race in addition to Hamilton:

F1 drivers who finished on the podium in their first race

1Giancarlo BaghettiFerrariFrench Grand PrixReims1961
2Alberto AscariFerrariMonaco Grand PrixMonte-Carlo1950
2Dorino SerafiniFerrariItalian Grand PrixMonza1950
2Karl KlingMercedes-BenzFrench Grand PrixReims1954
2Mike ParkesFerrariFrench Grand PrixReims1966
2Jacques VilleneuveWilliams RenaultAustralian Grand PrixMelbourne1996
3Jean BehraGordiniSwiss Grand PrixBremgarten1952
3Cesare Perdisa*MaseratiMonaco Grand PrixMonte-Carlo1955
3Masten GregoryMaseratiMonaco Grand PrixMonte-Carlo1957
3Peter ArundellLotus ClimaxMonaco Grand PrixMonte-Carlo1964
3Reine WisellLotus CosworthUnited States Grand PrixWatkins Glen1970
3Mark DonohueMcLaren CosworthCanadian Grand PrixMosport1971
3Lewis HamiltonMcLaren MercedesAustralian Grand PrixMelbourne2007

*Shared drive with Jean Behra

However, an exceptional performance in a rookie debut is not necessarily a portent of great things to come. Compare the diverse career results of these drivers who feature in the above table:

Alberto Ascari: 2 championships, 13 wins from 31 starts, 140.64 points
Jacques Villeneuve: 1 championship, 11 wins from 165 starts, 235 points
Reine Wisell: 22 starts, 13 points
Dorino Serafini: 1 start, 3 points

Hamilton has made an historic start. But the hard work is only just beginning. The real challenge comes as the grind of the season wears in, against a team mate known for being completely unrelenting.

For those of us privileged to be watching, it’s going to be thrilling to find out just what he’s capable of.

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Tags: f1 / formula one / formula 1 / grand prix / motor sport

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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