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Australia race analysis - an afternoon of surprises 17 Mar 2008

The podium (L to R): Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1, second; Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren, race winner; Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams, third.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 16 March 2008 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R28.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 16 March 2008 The GP debutantes (L to R): Sebastien Bourdais (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso and Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 16 March 2008 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2008.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 16 March 2008 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA108 leads Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2008.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 16 March 2008

Three different teams on the podium, just seven cars running at the finish and not a red one in sight - not a prediction many would have made ahead of Sunday’s season opener in Melbourne. After the disappointment of 2007, McLaren made a near-perfect start to their ’08 campaign, while arch rivals Ferrari were left pondering exactly what went wrong.

Williams were also celebrating, after their best result since Monaco 2005, and there were surprises further down the order too. We take a team-by-team look at the Australian Grand Prix…

Lewis Hamilton, P1
Heikki Kovalainen, P5

Pole position, the two fastest laps, and first and fifth places gave McLaren a great start to their season and the lead of the world championship, but things could have been better still had Kovalainen not suffered from the timing of his second pit stop. The team deliberately left him out an extra lap to let him open as much of a gap over the challenging Nick Heidfeld as possible, and they just got caught out by Timo Glock’s accident. Later, after Kovalainen had overtaken Fernando Alonso, he lost momentum on the pit straight when he accidentally knocked on the pit lane speed limiter while reaching to wipe the oil from Sebastien Bourdais’ broken Ferrari engine off his visor.

Hamilton had no problems at all, and described himself delighted with a car that he said was a dream to drive and much better than last year’s MP4-22.

Nico Rosberg, P3
Kazuki Nakajima, P6

It was like stepping back in time, when the points tables were published after the race: Williams in second place to McLaren. Nico Rosberg drove a storming race for the team, always in contention and only robbed of a possible second place finish by superior pit work by BMW Sauber which just - and it really was just - got Nick Heidfeld out of the pits inches ahead of him when they stopped on lap 21. That settled the issue, but Rosberg gave Heidfeld no peace in the closing stages when his FW30 was the fastest car on the track. His best lap of 1m 28.090s was very competitive with the German’s best of 1m 27.739s. And it was within six-tenths of the McLarens. Good progress indeed. With Kazuki Nakajima’s adventurous day earning him an eventual sixth place, Williams ended the day with nine points to McLaren’s 14. A most encouraging start.

BMW Sauber
Nick Heidfeld, P2
Robert Kubica, retired lap 48, collision damage

Like McLaren, BMW Sauber had a bitter-sweet race with Heidfeld finishing an excellent second and setting very competitive lap times, but Kubica losing ground after his first pit stop and later being assaulted by Kazuki Nakajima. Nevertheless, the pace of Heidfeld’s blue and white car confirmed the belief that they are only three-tenths off their silver rivals. It took a while to get the best of the car in practice and qualifying, but the race performance suggests that the avowed aim of a victory this year is realistic.

Fernando Alonso, P4
Nelson Piquet Jr, retired lap 31, accident damage

Fernando Alonso reminded everyone of his class as a driver with his brilliant passing moves on Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen on lap 50. The latter subsequently re-passed him, but the Spaniard overtook again immediately when Kovalainen had his pit lane speed limiter problem on the straight. Fourth place was perhaps a surprise, but with Nelson Piquet making a less than impressive debut and eventually retiring because of the damage he sustained in his part in the opening lap melee, it was not a great day for Renault. Alonso’s best lap, 1m 28.603s, was only the seventh fastest, 1.2s slower than Kovalainen’s best of 1m 27.418s. There is still much work to do here.

Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel, retired lap 1, accident
Sebastien Bourdais, retired lap 56, engine, P7

Like Red Bull, Toro Rosso had a brutal time ‘Down Under’. Sebastian Vettel was a first-corner casualty, and initially Sebastien Bourdais ran well down the field in 15th place. But then he lucked in when the pit lane opened on lap 28 during the second safety car incident, and suddenly he was not only running sixth, but looking good as he fended off, indeed pulled away from, the battling Kubica and Alonso. He appeared to have both of then nicely tucked up when his engine quit in a cloud of oil smoke on the 56th lap. All was not quite lost, however, for Barrichello’s subsequent disqualification elevated him from eighth place to seventh on his Formula One debut.

Felipe Massa, retired lap 30, engine
Kimi Raikkonen, retired lap 53, engine, P8

Well, the pre-race favourite had an awfully tough time in Melbourne, against all expectations, and came away with a single point that was gifted by Barrichello’s disqualification.

Things began badly when Raikkonen qualified only 16th after his electronic fuel pump problem in Q1. He got a place back when Glock was penalised grid places, and was making them up hand over fist with some very aggressive driving in the opening laps. Indeed, by the time of the second safety car it appeared that the race was coming to him against all odds. But then he got a passing move on Kovalainen wrong and dropped to the back of the field. Another mistake saw him spin behind Glock, and eventually engine failure claimed him. Massa, meanwhile, spun on the opening lap, made two corrective pit stops, fought his way back towards the points, collided with Coulthard on lap 25, and succumbed to engine failure five laps later. Indisputably a tough weekend, especially as Raikkonen’s fastest lap was half a second off Hamilton’s.

Jarno Trulli, retired lap 20, battery
Timo Glock, retired lap 44, accident

With Jarno Trulli running happily in fifth place for the first 20 laps, things looked promising for Toyota. But the Italian’s battery was steadily overheating and roasting his delicate parts in the cockpit, and he retired at his pit stop. Glock was the victim of Piquet’s over adventurous opening lap lunge, and was pushed into Fisichella. After that delay he got going and subsequently did well to resist Raikkonen for several laps. When the Finn spun he gained some respite, but later had his nasty shunt on lap 44 when he got off course exiting Turn 12, then found his TF108 hurled around on the unpleasant bumps before it was thrown into a long and damaging spin into retirement.

Red Bull
David Coulthard, retired lap 26, accident
Mark Webber, retired lap 1, accident

Red Bull had a desperately disappointing Australian Grand Prix. Webber was a first-lap victim, but Coulthard was on course for some points when he had his collision with Massa in the first corner on the 26th lap. Both blamed the other, but the upshot was a damaged car for Red Bull and nil points.

Rubens Barrichello, disqualified
Jenson Button, retired lap 1, accident

Honda lost Jenson Button in the first corner melee, but Barrichello drove well in the early stages to keep Raikkonen’s fuel-heavy Ferrari at bay. And the white and green car’s lap times were encouragingly competitive with Williams, Ferrari and Renault. Unfortunately, in the Glock safety car incident Barrichello had to pit even though the pit lane was not officially open, or he would have run out of fuel. Then he rejoined too soon, injuring a refueller, and then compounded the error by exiting the pits on the red light. He was given a 10-second penalty for entering the pits when he shouldn’t have, and was subsequently disqualified for the red light incident. Nevertheless, the team came away encouraged by the pace of the RA108, which was far better than almost anyone had predicted.

Force India
Giancarlo Fisichella, retired lap 1, accident
Adrian Sutil, retired lap 9, loss of hydraulic pressure

Force India came down to earth with a bump in Melbourne, after promising showings in testing. Nelson Piquet’s dive down the inside of Timo Glock at the start triggered the shunt that accounted for Fisichella, who was lucky not to overturn. Sutil started from the pit lane, in a car rebuilt around a new engine and transmission after his qualifying gaffe, and retired after eight laps with loss of hydraulic pressure.

Super Aguri
Takuma Sato, retired lap 33, gearbox
Anthony Davidson, retired lap 1, accident

The fact that Super Aguri even made Australia was something of a miracle thanks to the last-minute deal with Magma Group, but spare parts were thin on the ground and rumour had it that there were only one set of ratios and one gearbox per SA08. Anthony Davidson got boxed in in traffic on the opening lap and damaged a track rod against Takuma Sato’s sister car. Sato made up a lot of places on the dramatic opening lap, but his typically enthusiastic run ended with a broken transmission.

David Tremayne