Ferrari falter and Hamilton triumphs in Melbourne drama

2008 Australian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton shrugged off the disappointment of losing the 2007 championship at the final round and started the new season back at the front of the title race.

He took a cool-headed win in a chaotic race at Melbourne that was in many ways a re-run of his maiden win in Canada last year: a string of crashes including a very lucky escape for Timo Glock saw several safety car interruptions.

The McLaren team will have drawn satisfaction from an atypically poor performance from Ferrari – neither F2008 was still running at the end due to a combination of drivers errors and technical problems.

Five cars eliminated on lap one

Robert Kubica got a fractionally better start from the front row of the grid than pole-sitter Hamilton, and the BMW driver tried but failed to find passing places as they rounded the opening bends.

Further back all the innuendo about Felipe Massa’s struggles with traction control appeared to be vindicated when the Ferrari driver spun into the wall at the first turn, before heading back to the pits to replace a damaged front wing.

Chaos broke out at the start
Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella all came together at the first corner and got no further into the race. They were joined in retirement by Mark Webber and Anthony Davidson, who collided on the exit of turn three while delayed by Kazuki Nakajima. Nelson Piquet’s car also sustained damage, but he continued.

Nakajima picked up a damaged front wing and headed into the pits while the safety car came out. Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen had taken advantage of the carnage around him to leap from 15th to eighth in one lap.

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Hamilton pulls away

Hamilton easily kept the lead at the re-start and it quickly became clear Kubica did not have the pace to keep up with him. By lap eight Hamilton was 4.3s ahead, and the following lap he pulled another 1.3s clear. His lead had grown to 10.6s by lap 15 and two laps later it transpired that Kubica had less fuel on board as well, as the BMW drier ducked into the pits.

Heikki Kovalainen had held a solid third ahead of Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld. Jarno Trulli then had a short gap ahead of Rubens Barrichello, the Honda driver fending off Raikkonen. The Ferrari driver was carrying a heavy fuel load despite being one of few drivers on the softer compound tyres, and made several attempts to pass Barrichello before muscling past at turn three on lap 19.

Job done, he now began to unleash some of the Ferrari’s speed that we’d seen in practice and expected them to dominate the race with.

Hamilton had pitted on lap 18 but Kovalainen stayed out until the 23rd tour. It’s not clear if the Finn have lasted longer – the fact that he came out just in front of Raikkonen, now third, suggests his moved might have been timed by McLaren to compromise Ferrari.

Raikkonen goes off

Raikkonen appeared to have been thrown a lifeline when the safety car appeared on lap 27 – Massa was in the wars again, this time colliding with David Coulthard as he tried to pass the Red Bull driver.

Clash with Massa ended Coulthard’s race
It was the kind of collision where both driver had the right to feel aggrieved (and feeling on the Live Comments was that blame was shared between the two) but as Coulthard was the one eliminated on the spot he relieved his angry with a four-letter tirade on British television.

Strangely, Ferrari elected not to pit Raikkonen when the pit lane opened again on lap 29. He had by now done half the race on the softer compound tyres, which were showing obvious signs of wear, and was surely not far off needing a fuel stop. Yet they kept him out while Kubica, Fernando Alonso (who, low on fuel, only just made it), Timo Glock, and Nakajima all pitted.

It was another dropped ball from the team who had already compromised their weekend by sending Raikkonen out to qualify with the wrong fuel pump settings. That caused the problem which left him 15th on the grid.

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As strategic blunders go it was not quite on a par with what McLaren did at Shanghai last year, but it certainly contributed to Raikkonen’s mistake at the restart. Trying to pass Kovalainen, he braked too late for turn three and went off, creeping through the gravel trap and back onto the track.

That left him eleventh behind the leading McLarens, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Barrichello, Sebastien Bourdais, Kubica, Alonso, Nakajima and Glock. He was only ahead of Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri, who was about to retire. Also out by now were Massa, Nelson Piquet (the Renault driver having an awful debut) and Adrian Sutil.

Raikkonen quickly caught Glock but made his second mistake of the day trying to pass the Toyota drive at turn three. The world champion put his left wheels on the grass at the entry to the corner and the car got away from him – just as it had in free practice, and just as it had while he was leading this race last yet. Again he gathered it up and kept going.

Glock’s big hit

The race seemed to have settled down again until, on lap 45, Glock’s shattered Toyota slithered into view. Replays showed the car running wide on the exit of turn 12, as drivers had been doing all weekend. But Glock had run over an escape road and the bump thrown the car into the air, breaking front and rear suspension as it landed.

Glock was tremendously lucky not to have been pointing towards the barrier when he hit the bump or he would have had even more violent impact. The safety car was out once again.

This was no problem for Hamilton, who had made his final stop on lap 43, but it spoiled his team-mate’s race as he would now have to pit after the safety car period and fall back into the pack.

While all this was going on Rubens Barrichello came in for one of the worst pit stops ever seen in F1. First he pitted while the pit lane was closed, earning himself a time penalty. Then he pulled away with the fuel hose still attached, knocking his mechanics over. And he left the pits while the red light was on, for which he was later disqualified. This from the man who’s about to become F1’s most experienced driver this year.

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Scramble to the flag

As the safety car peeled in at the end of lap 49 Nakajima walloped the rear of Kubica’s BMW. That ended Kubica’s race but Nakajima was able to continue after pitting for a new nose. The stewards were unimpressed, however, and handed the Williams driver a ten-place grid penalty for next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

The final laps were hectic for all but the top three of Hamilton, Heidfeld and Rosberg. Kovalainen passed Raikkonen for sixth at turn 13, but as the pair ran wide Alonso capitalised and nipped past both of them.

Ferrari’s weekend turned from bad to worse when Raikkonen dropped back with engine trouble, before coasting to a halt five laps from home. However, that didn’t stop him scoring a point.

After Barrichello’s penalty Alonso and Kovalainen caught Bourdais who was running fourth. The Toro Rosso driver kept them at bay until Alonso’s tyres started to go off, after which the gap between them opened up again. But crushing misfortune hit Bourdais two laps from the end when his Ferrari engine also gave up.

Kovalainen seemed to have secured fourth place when he scraped past Alonso on the penultimate tour at turn 14. But on his way down the straight he raised an arm to remove a tear-off strip – and knocked his pit limiter by mistake. Alonso did remarkably well not to hit the McLaren, and swerved past to take fourth place back.

Hamilton had begun the race with one of his old karting rivals alongside him – Kubica – and ended it on the podium with another – Rosberg – who had his first taste of champagne in F1.

Heidfeld did his usual unobtrusive, dependable job in second place, while Nakajima backed Rosberg up with six place (after Barrichello’s disqualification) to put Williams second in the constructors’ points standings.

With the Ferraris self-destructing and the second safety car arriving with perfect timing, the cards fell in Hamilton’s favour this weekend. But after a winter of living with the memory of those costly mistakes at the end of 2007, it was his rivals who faltered in the first race of 2008.

And for the fans, a dramatic first race promises a season of excitement.

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Author information

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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33 comments on “Ferrari falter and Hamilton triumphs in Melbourne drama”

  1. It seems it’s going to be McLaren vs. Ferrari this year again (if we assume they’re not going to mess up every race like today). BMW seems to be slightly behind like last year, can upset them some in quali but can’t keep up in the race.

    As an Alonso fan I’m somewhat hopeful too actually. Ok, he only finished 4th because everyone else crashed out, but despite having quali 2 messed up yesterday by Webber’s crash and both pit stops today by the safety cars he was still driving aggressively and on the edge throughout the whole race. Unlike last year where, for example in Hungary, he would just cruise around if he was stuck in the midfield.

  2. Ferrari’s first race without Jean Todt ends in disaster – coincidence? Clearly the engine department needs some looking at, and Raikkonen and Massa were obviously lacking focus. The pace is there, but the discipline isn’t – Domenicali has a lot of work to do.

  3. I’m very disspointed. Twice in this race safety car has sttoped real fights. First time Kimi and Alonso, both of them with very long first stint strategy, has been pushed to last positions. Second time Heikki was stopped when he was trying to fight the victory to Lewis. I think the pit lane closing rule should be reviewed.

    Excellent job for Lewis. I think he is not good under pressure, but when he has the pole and he runs in the first position he do it perfect. He run when he needed, he brought foward the first stop to protect the position in case safety car comes, and it was a very smart decision.

    Renault car is horrible. In a normal race they should be the fifth team. i don’t think they could overtake any other car, and i don’t think they could defend the position with msot of the other cars.

  4. Heikki  & Lewis get equal cars, but the team strategy will always favour Lewis  if he is able to win. McLaren must have learned that last years championships were thrown away with too much ‘equal status’. This way they do not go back on their word, but maximise their chances of beating Ferrari.

  5. From the replays of Barrachello’s pitstop, the guy holding the lollipop had clearly signalled for Rubens to go.

    I would have thought that made it the fault of the lollipop guy, not Barrachello. 

    As to the red light, it was claimed that Honda were aware of that, but he was going to run out of fuel if they hadn’t pitted immediately, even though it was inevitably going to mean a penalty.

  6. The similarities with Canada last year are striking. To start of with, the podium was almost identical, just Rosberg replacing Wurz in the Williams. Several safety cars with leading contenders forced to refuel when the pit lane was closed and RB taking Fisi’s place failing to see the red light on the pit lane exit. We had the reigning champion throwing his car off the track several times and, finally, a crash where the car was launched into the air over a service road.

    Anything I’ve missed?

  7. I, too, was struck by the similarity to last year’s Canadian GP.  Hamilton and Heidfeld calmly cruising at the front while chaos erupted behind them, it was almost a replay in a different setting.  And thank you, Andrew, for pointing out that Rosberg occupied the position Wurz had in Canada.  Let’s hope Nico’s season doesn’t continue to imitate his old team mate’s…  ;)

  8. It may have just been my impression but from Hamilton’s wobble in Qualifying to Kimi’s multiple wobbles during the race it looked like it was even harder to follow another car that it was last year. Martin seemed to suggest that in Quali it was traction control causing the driver to have to concentrate on too many things when following another driver.

    It’s entirely possible that we only saw so many offs because the drivers were getting used to what they could and couldn’t do overtaking other drivers – something that’s hard to practice in the off season.

    Another faultless drive from Lewis but then he didn’t ever really have anyone in front of him – not that I’m taking anything away from him of course. He was the most skilled in taking pole and that’s what you have to do if you want to win.

    I loved the race! Hope to see more like that.

  9. Rubens entered the pit (and earned the stop/go) because he was low on fuel. But there was no excuse for leaving past the red light.

  10. Barrichello was at fault for the red light exit, but i think he had only a small share of the blame for the timing of the stop (which was probably decided by the whole team), and none at all for the lollipop error. I don’t even know if and F1 car’s wing mirrors allow the driver to see someone in the position of the fueler – in any case, lollipop guy’s #1 job is to make sure everyone’s clear before he gives the ‘go’ signal.

    I’m not letting him off the hook for the red light, but he was almost certainly looking behind him to see if he’d just killed one of his guys, all the while being screamed at to gogogogogo over the radio. Not the best environment for good decisionmaking.

  11. Well, it seems not only Massa, but also Raikkonen had lots of trouble without traction control and engine braking… and that keeps convincing me they’re at the same level…

    Kimi’s mistake against Heikki was acceptable… he outbraked his fellow finn, but, without driver aids, it was too late to hold the line…

    The second, while fighting Timo, was even more stupid than Felipe’s…. Kimi touched the grass BEFORE attempting to pass the Toyota! When Felipe lost the rear at the first corner, at least he was side by side with Heikki, almost ahead of him…

  12. High point of the race: Williams finally on podium. Go Rosberg!!!

    Low point of the race: Kimi, Massa and Ferrari press self destruct button.

    Low point after race: Now i got to read (well i’ll simply skip the next month’s issues) about how great Lewis is. No question he is fast. He has won races. Comparing himself to Prost, Senna, Schumacher and the lot. Erm, he’s going to have to win a slight more races and perhaps championship(s).

  13. Kimi’s mistakes while following Glock dissapointed me so much!… It’s not that he was forced to put 2 wheels on the grass… he simply did a "Kova" move, only by himself!

  14. good race in that errors were widespread – but rubens!! – well he looked – even though the lolipop man gave the go ahead like a amatuer during that pit stop and Ross Brawn has to share some of that – the big guy has the expertise – and Kimi was just so frustrated with his car – I’m sure that’s where the ragged driving came from – but great that 3 different manufacturers shared the podium and looking forward to the next race. ps Keith the online blog was excellent fun – but typing and watching the race – very hard mate – thanks again

  15. For me the best skill of LH is his unvelievable capacity (sometimes luck) to avoid SC traps, crashes or any problem whatsoever.In the most crazy race I remember the guy had quite a calm race.

  16. Great 1st race but lacking manufacturers that can stay on the road. Is ‘alfa romeo’ coming back to f1. Preview of potential alfa is available at

  17. Robert McKay
    16th March 2008, 21:07

    Looks like a mock-up of an F2008 Ferrari with an Alfa Romeo badge to my admittedly untrained eye.

  18. I think that bmw sauber team had good strategy. Nick 5-> 2  Kub 2 -> 0, great team work bmw… Great both cars in that team too… Hamilton pace from the start was quite impresive becouse Kubica egine was off power. Hamilton had fuel +1 lap over Kubica car, 
    so that is nothing.  But i will be looking forward to see Hamilton champion in 2008 at the end.

  19. Well done Lewis. What did Kipling say about keeping ‘your head when all about you are losing theirs’? Too right! You made it look easy.
    Also, congratulations to D.C. for making me nearly spitting my early morning cup of tea out when he said on live TV he was going to kick the excrement out of the diminutive man of questionable parentage….. Well, it was words to the effect!

  20. Sooooperpigdog
    16th March 2008, 22:43

    Lol, Just reading the comments left by others.. It didn’t take long for the Lewis knockers to start moaning… Get a life, he won it easy… Alonso….who???

  21. Nicely put Andy!

  22. I’m no Lewis fan in the slightest but he was fastest all weekend and deserved to be out in front away from trouble. Terrific drive and easily the man of the weekend.

    Hey, how surprising was the pace of Honda? Almost as shocking as the green shorts!

  23. I haven’t got the time to read all coments, but did anyone noticed almost no smoke at all at the start?

    I think we all were expecting a lot of smoke!

    Now that’s what happened to Kovy, damn rookie mistake.
    Poor Kimi, bad luck all over again :(

  24. There may have been no smoke at the start, but the wheels were visibly spinning around before the cars moved … Perhaps Bridgestone supplied the teams with smokeless tyres to comply with the anti smoking laws :-)

  25. it was a disaster down under..
    we can’t expect only 7-8 driver’s to complete all the laps..
    Formula1 governing body change the rules.. otherwise F1 would be race of crashes only

  26. theRoswellite
    17th March 2008, 4:39

    I can’t get a decent grip on the knife to stick in Rubens back on this one……….three mistakes?  If he was low on fuel, and directed by the team, he has to come in(1?); his job is to watch the lollipop, not the mirrors…he did just what he should have done(2?);  then , he misses the red exit light(3-ok), and as ben j has very well commented, he was probably being a bit "emotionally challenged" at that moment.  He drove an excellent race.  If you want to affix some blame, perhaps filing it under "Honda, More-of-the-Same, would be appropriate.

  27. I love it Milos!

  28. Lewis is the undoubted No. 1 at Mac, witness his preferred pit stop strategy; and that is as it should be. Regardless of the ease of his drive, Hamilton will also be tested when he has a less than optimal starting position and has to pass under the stress of competition.

    I’m really trying to like the guy, but his post race actions and comments come off as patronizing and calculating as opposed to natural. Maybe it will get easier as time goes by, we’ll see. But at least we here were not treated to any shots of a gloating Anthony, at least none that I saw.

  29. I don’t think we could have asked for a better opener for the season, and the new rules seem to be working – but one has got me a bit confused, so I’m hoping you guys can help?

    I’m fairly sure that during ITV’s Lewis-Love-Fest  (TM)  build-up to the race, they mentioned something about the first engine change of the season for each driver being penalty free. Then during the race, they talked about the possibility of Kimi sticking it in to the wall, so that he would have convincing damage to show the stewards, to get a penalty free engine change. Then Kimi’s engine gave up completely… so obviously he will be changing it, and he didn’t finish the race – which according to last years rules means no penalty. But then Reubens was disqualified, and Kimi was classified as finishing, couple of laps down, and got a point. So, surely then he does get a penalty?    

    Has the rule changed at all, or did I imagine that? And even if it hasn’t, I’m still confused about Kimi’s position regarding a new engine for Malaysia….

  30. Kimi Raikkonen didn’t get to the flag, so he neither takes a penalty nor uses his get-out-of-10-place-penalty-free card. The rules for classification merely say that you need to complete 90% of the race, but a DNF counts even if a car breaks 10 metres from the flag unless it can be proven to be deliberate.

  31. Thanks Alianora ;-)   I knew someone on here would know!

  32. Get out of 10 place penatly free card?

    When has this turned to NASCAR?

  33. I have always thought that for a driver to get any points he must take the flag.  If you do not finish you should not get any points.  Especially constructor points.  How do you reward a mechanic failure with construction points is beyond me!!

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