If you can keep your car on the island when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
If you can fill the unforgiving circuit
With 58 laps’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be on the top step of the podium, my son!
(with apologies to Rudyard Kipling and possibly Anthony Hamilton too…)
A cool-headed Lewis Hamilton has triumphed in an Australian Grand Prix which saw mechanical failure, driver error, racing incidents and a bitter battle of attrition in the 50-degree heat purge the field of all but six finishers.
While defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen appeared to struggle without traction control, and Fernando Alonso fought to get the most out of his second-division car, Hamilton’s race was most remarkable for how little there was to say about him.
As other drivers blew engines, collided with rivals and mis-handled pit-stops McLaren and Hamilton put in the kind of seamless performance more usually associated with their Italian arch-rivals.
The team was rewarded with 14 world championship points – and the useful spectacle of Ferrari scoring just one after Massa quit halfway through the race and Raikkonen’s engine failed in the closing laps, leaving him in a scoring position only after Honda’s Rubens Barrichello was disqualified for leaving the pit lane under a red light.
Speaking after the race, Lewis Hamilton said: “I feel fantastic – what a dream start to the season and my championship challenge. I am sorry not to have Heikki with me on the podium as a one-two would have been a great reward to the team.
“It was a super race which I controlled from the beginning. I was able to drive at a steady pace without feeling any pressure which is always the ideal situation when you are leading.
“The three safety car periods meant that there was never time to relax, and the whole situation was a bit like Canada last year when I claimed my first victory. We constantly had to change our strategy and the strategists were on the ball throughout which was super.
“The car is fantastic to drive and the team has done a superb job. I have prepared much better this year than last, and it’s important that myself and the team continue to push hard in the months to come.”
Unsurprisingly beleagured team boss Ron Dennis had nothing but praise for his young star: “An almost perfect race weekend for us. Lewis drove a faultless race with a strong strategy where his stops were timed in anticipation of possible safety car periods.
“We were keen for Heikki to go an extra lap before his second stop in case he had any problems in the pits so that he could still be ahead of Nick. Unfortunately the last safety car period cost him second place.
“As a team we have enjoyed a competitive weekend but there is a long way to go and we never underestimate our competition.”
Hamilton was the only one of the four British drivers to actually make it through the race.
Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button were skittled off in the first-lap chaos. Then David Coulthard mistook himself for Ricky Hatton and, live on ITV1, threatened Felipe Massa with fisticuffs in a blue-tinged outburst for the offence of driving in his blind spot.
Their cars collided on lap 28 and DC ended up at the side of the track with his RB4 wrecked while Massa zoomed off, unhurt (although he did end his race parked on the gravel just one lap down the road.)
The Red Bull race report gives the following version of Coulthard’s comments: “I can understand that Felipe was in a quicker car and was trying to overtake.
“But you’ve got to have your car alongside to pass, especially in a corner like turn one, you can’t just ram into [other cars]. Felipe took a lunge from too far back and turn one is a corner where you have to turn in early.
“It’s not like turn three, which is a hairpin and the door’s open for a long time. I screwed up last year when I tried a speculative move on Alex (Wurz), but I took full responsibility for it and I would expect Felipe to do the same today.”
(To read the bit they haven’t seen fit to repeat, just take a look at the Lap 28 entry of our Australian GP liveblog…)
Team boss Christian Horner said the race was “massively disappointing” and “one of those weekends where nothing seems to go right.” He said the team would be looking forward to the Malaysian race rather than dwelling on Melbourne.
Jenson Button described his first-lap retirement thus: “I got a good start off the line, getting past Alonso and running alongside Vettel. Unfortunately it was just a racing incident that caused the damage as we were going three or four cars abreast down to the very narrow and quick first corner.
“I tapped Vettel in the sidepod which seemed to spin him and then he turned in and hit my rear wheel as I was going past. I thought that I could get back to the garage and see if the car could be fixed, but the damage was too bad to continue as the rear left corner trackrod was broken.”
Asked what positives he could take from the weekend, he said: “It’s been a good opening weekend for us. We’re encouraged by our performance and I’m now looking ahead to Malaysia next week and getting back in the car there.”
Team principal Ross Brawn, when asked to sum up the Honda car’s performance, said: “In qualifying we saw that the pace was in the midfield and today’s race confirmed that we have the potential to fight for points, which is our target.
“The aerodynamic package for Melbourne has worked well but a further step is required to move us up the grid and enable us to be a regular contender in Q3.”
After the uncertainty of whether he would have a race drive with Super Aguri at all this year, Anthony Davidson was, predictably enough, disappointed with his failure to complete a single lap.
He said: “I am really frustrated that I couldn’t do the laps that I wanted to today and finish the race, as that was my main aim.
“We haven’t had much time in the car this weekend or in testing and it was really important to get that done today, so it is gutting not to have done that.
“I feel that through no fault of my own I was sandwiched between two cars, trying to avoid the inevitable. I tried to brake to get away from it and the cars right and left just rode over my front wheels, so there was no where for me to go.”
Team principal Aguri Suzuki added: “I would like to thank all my staff and drivers as I know that it was a very difficult winter period for the team.
“We are now here in Australia and although we have not completed enough pre-season testing, I think that everyone has done an excellent job this week, even though we had limited running in Friday’s practice, qualifying and in the race.
“Anthony was very unlucky after the start, but Takuma had a good start and showed well in the race. We did not finish both cars, but we are here, we have started the 2008 season and our fighting spirit has not diminished.”