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The 2007 Season Review - Part One 26 Oct 2007

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren celebrates his third position with father Anthony.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 18 March 2007 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari celebrates on the podium. Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 18 March 2007. Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2007 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 18 March 2007 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA107.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 17 March 2007 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Saturday, 14 April 2007

Lewis's dazzling debut, Kimi's first red win and a shock for Honda

If all publicity’s good publicity, Formula One racing had one of its best ever years in 2007. Hard-hitting news stories broke with such regularity that newspaper editors and television broadcasters tripped over themselves to get the exclusives.

Rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton was never far from the storyline. After being confirmed alongside reigning champion Fernando Alonso last November, he showed electrifying pace from the outset. His consistency surprised everyone, including Alonso, and the McLaren drivers became embroiled in a sometimes bitter rivalry that helped Kimi Raikkonen steal the drivers’ title from under their noses at the final race.

The constructors’ championship was equally hard-fought between Formula One racing’s two biggest teams and for the first time in living memory, its destiny was decided by events off-track. The so-called ‘spy scandal’ dominated the summer months and rocked the sport to its core. Two extraordinary meetings of the FIA’s World Motorsport Council were needed to establish the facts and resulted in McLaren losing all of their 2007 constructors’ points and receiving a record fine of $100 million.

Elsewhere in the pitlane, Renault struggled relative to their back-to-back world title successes of 2005 and ’06, while the BMW Sauber drivers showed great consistency in their F1.07, standing on every step of the podium, except the middle one.

Here’s how the year unfolded.

March: In Melbourne it’s all smiles at McLaren. “I have a lot of respect for Fernando,” says a fresh-faced Hamilton. “There is a lot I can learn from him.” Or is there?

Throughout winter testing, Hamilton has seemed more at ease on Bridgestone’s new-for-’07 tyres and he lays down an ominous marker when he overtakes his double world champion team mate at the start of the Australian Grand Prix. They finish the race second (Alonso) and third (Hamilton), but it's Hamilton who grabs the headlines.

“I’ve never seen anyone like him,” says triple world champion Niki Lauda.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, kicks off his Ferrari career in style, romping to an easy victory and setting fastest lap by a second. He celebrates by getting a tattoo, much to the alleged chagrin of Ferrari boss Jean Todt.

There are no such celebrations at Honda after their ‘customer’ team, Super Aguri, blows off the factory squad. Neither Rubens Barrichello nor Jenson Button can find a good balance on the RA107, and both drivers are out-qualified by Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato, who makes it into Q3 for the first time in Super Aguri’s history.

The final talking point from Melbourne is the near-miss between David Coulthard and Alex Wurz. Coulthard’s over-optimistic lunge down the inside of Wurz on lap 48 results in his Red Bull sliding over the Williams' cockpit, missing Wurz’s head by millimetres. An investigation into the accident leads to the introduction of higher cockpit sides for 2008.

April: Formula One racing has its first off-track skirmish of the year. During the three-week gap between Australia and Malaysia, the moveable floor on Ferrari’s F2007 is banned. The result from Melbourne stands, but the Scuderia are discombobulated and struggle at Sepang, where Alonso takes his first win for McLaren.

A week later, Felipe Massa and Ferrari bounce back with a dominant win in Bahrain, but the headlines belong to Hamilton. He continues his blistering start to the year by finishing second in Malaysia and Bahrain and, significantly, he beats Alonso fair and square at Sakhir, where the reigning champ comes in fifth.

Nick Heidfeld is the best of the rest at each of the opening ‘fly-away’ races, finishing fourth on each occasion for BMW Sauber. In Bahrain, his brilliant overtaking manoeuvre on Alonso gives German fans missing Michael Schumacher something to cheer.

Williams are also in good shape after Nico Rosberg backs up his seventh place finish in Australia with two Q3 slots in Malaysia and Bahrain. He’s on course for sixth place at Sepang, until retiring with 13 laps to go.

So, with the first phase of the 2007 season complete, the Formula One paddock returns to Europe with Alonso, Hamilton and Raikkonen level on points at the top of the table and Massa just five adrift. An early sign of just how tense the championship is to become.