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Hamilton off to flying start

Latest update : 2008-03-17

Lewis Hamilton won the opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, after an accident-strewn race where only seven of the 22 cars on the grid crossed the finishing line. The Briton finished ahead of Germany's Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton avoided the mayhem around him to open the Formula One season with a pole-to-flag victory in a crash-strewn Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.

 

The 23-year-old Briton, last year's rookie sensation, finished 5.4 seconds ahead of Germany's Nick Heidfeld in a BMW Sauber.

 

Germany's Nico Rosberg celebrated the first podium of his Formula One career with third place for Williams in a sweltering race that saw only seven of the 22 starters still running at the finish.

 

"Coming into a new season, turning over a new leaf, we really wanted to get off on the right foot," said Hamilton, who missed out on the title last year by a single point to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.

 

"It's quite different to my first win in Montreal, just because that was really not expected," he added.

 

"This win perhaps feels better than any because I feel I've improved in many areas.

 

"I wouldn't say it's the perfect win... but I think in terms of managing my tyres, controlling my pace and confidence and being comfortable in the car, it's the best race I've had so far," Hamilton said.

 

Neither Ferrari reached the chequered flag, with Raikkonen retiring five laps from the end after a torrid afternoon at the wheel. Double world champion Fernando Alonso was fourth for Renault.

 

With traction control and electronic driver aids now banned, the safety car was deployed three times. Through it all, Hamilton lapped in a league of his own to chalk up his fifth win in just 18 starts.

 

New Finnish team mate Heikki Kovalainen was fifth, his hopes of anchoring a one-two on his McLaren debut dashed by a late pitstop.

 

SAFETY CAR

 

 

Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, who failed to score a point for struggling Honda last year, opened his account immediately with sixth place ahead of Japan's Kazuki Nakajima in a Williams.

 

The Japanese tangled with Red Bull's Mark Webber at the start and again with the BMW Sauber of Poland's Robert Kubica nine laps from the end.

 

Four times Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, the first Frenchman to start a season since 2004, joined the elite group of drivers to score on their debuts with eighth place despite failing to reach the finish in his Toro Rosso.

 

First corner carnage brought out the safety car on the opening lap and led to the retirement of five drivers including Webber, Australia's only participant.

 

Honda's Jenson Button, one of the immediate casualties after a coming together with fellow-Briton Antony Davidson and Germany's Sebastian Vettel, said it had been "mayhem everywhere".

 

"Somebody came on the right hand side of my car like a kamikaze and pushed me out," added Force India's Italian Giancarlo Fisichella.

 

Ferrari's Brazilian Felipe Massa, who started in fourth place, was forced to pit for a new front wing after spinning into the barriers.

 

The safety car was deployed for a second time just before the halfway point when Massa and Red Bull's David Coulthard collided at the end of the main straight.

 

The Scot, who had a big accident at the circuit last year when his car flew over the Williams of Austrian Alex Wurz, flew off again but blamed the Ferrari driver.

 

"I believe it was his fault," he said of Massa, who retired a few laps later. "I tried a lunge at Alex last year and it was completely my fault. I would say this was completely his (Massa's) fault."

 

Germany's Timo Glock brought out the safety car for the third time when he hit a kerb and flew into the air before plunging into the barriers with debris littering the track.
 

Date created : 2008-03-16

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