Hamilton dominates Down Under
Hamilton: on top
McLaren star on top as Ferrari rivals lose out in Melbourne
Britain's Lewis Hamilton has made a flying start to the 2008 Formula One season after scoring a lights-to-flag victory in the Australian Grand Prix.
BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld finished second in Melbourne, with Williams driver Nico Rosberg taking the final podium position ahead of Renault's Fernando Alonso and Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Heikki Kovalainen.
Rosberg's team-mate Kazuki Nakajima finished sixth ahead of Toro Rosso debutant Sebastien Bourdais - latter retiring shortly before the chequered flag was waved.
But pre-season pacesetters Ferrari had a disastrous visit to Albert Park, with world champion Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa both retiring from an incident-packed race which produced just seven finishers.
Whether those incidents were brought about by F1's ban on driver aids such as traction control is open to debate, but there can be little argument about the cool manner in which Hamilton took the fifth victory of his career.
Starting from pole, he led BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and Kovalainen off the line, with Massa falling right down the field to 17th after spinning at the first corner and Raikkonen conversely bolting up from 16th to eighth.
Meanwhile, the first corner also saw plenty of action towards the rear of the field, with Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India almost overturning after being assaulted by Sebastian Vettel - Jenson Button also out after being struck by the Toro Rosso.
Elsewhere, Red Bull's Mark Webber was clipped by the Super Aguri of Anthony Davidson, with both drivers also forced into opening-lap retirements.
Massa pitted for a new front wing as the safety car was introduced and, upon resumption, Hamilton took control of the race, setting fastest lap after fastest lap as he built an 8.4-second lead by the end of lap 12.
He also led Raikkonen by some half-a-minute, the latter's progress being halted by the presence of Honda's Rubens Barrichello in seventh place.
Kubica was the first of the leaders to stop on lap 17, the Pole rejoining in eighth behind the Honda-Ferrari battle; Hamilton stopped two laps later and rejoined in fourth behind Heidfeld.
Raikkonen then found a way past Barrichello on the run down to turn three, while a promising run for Jarno Trulli in sixth place ended in retirement when his Toyota suffered a battery leak.
Smart work from his mechanics then saw Heidfeld pass Rosberg - who had been fourth - when both made their opening stops, the Williams driver subsequently also passed by Alonso for sixth.
Hamilton built a 12.5-second lead over Kovalainen by lap 25, with the Finn by now busily fending off compatriot Raikkonen - the Ferrari heavily fuelled for its first stint.
Raikkonen had a chance to pit when team-mate Massa had a sizeable coming together with David Coulthard when disputing 10th place on lap 26 - the Red Bull lurching drunkenly into retirement with its left front and right rear wheels awry.
However, while the Scot made his feelings about the incident abundantly clear on live television, Raikkonen stayed out as the safety car back came in on lap 30.
Looking to pass the heavier Kovalainen on the run down to turn three, Raikkonen instead ran wide and lost ground; as Massa retired following his collision, Ferrari's nightmare was complete as his team-mate rejoined in 12th place.
With Hamilton leading Kovalainen by 4.7 seconds - and Raikkonen by 40 - Bourdais had quietly climbed to sixth place ahead of Kubica and Alonso, the BMW Sauber's performance dropping considerably on soft-compound tyres.
Team-mate Heidfeld was having no such worries keeping Kovalainen honest in third place, with Rosberg fourth and Barrichello fifth.
Lap 43 saw both the world champion spinning as he attempted to pass Timo Glock for 10th and Hamilton making his second stop; the Toyota then retired in fairly spectacular fashion exiting turn 12, bringing out the safety car for the third time.
A refuelling mechanic was then pulled down by Barrichello's car as he was released from his pit box prematurely. Not that the Brazilian should have been there as the pit lane was not officially open at that point.
Like Barrichello, the pit lane rules meant that Kovalainen and Alonso were in danger of running out of fuel; unlike him, they stayed out on track but lost position heavily after finally stopping.
Thus, as Kubica pulled into the pits to retire after being hit from behind by Nakajima, Hamilton led Heidfeld and Rosberg at the restart.
Bourdais was by now fourth, with Alonso fifth ahead of Kovalainen - the Spaniard passing his McLaren replacement at the restart as the latter in-turn passed the misfiring Raikkonen.
The latter retired soon after, with another Ferrari engine failure accounting for Bourdais just three laps from the end. Alonso and Kovalainen thus moved up a place and proceeded to trade places twice on the final lap.
However, Raikkonen was later handed a championship point after Barrichello, who finished sixth on the road, was disqualified for exiting the pitlane illegally through a red light.
Race classification from the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne on Sunday:
1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren 1:34:50.616
2. Nick Heidfeld (Germany) BMW Sauber +00:05.478
3. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Williams - Toyota 00:08.163
4. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Renault 00:17.181
5. Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) McLaren 00:18.014
6. Kazuki Nakajima (Japan) Williams - Toyota 1 lap
7r. Sebastien Bourdais (France) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 3 laps
8r. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 5 laps
r. Robert Kubica (Poland) BMW Sauber 11 laps
r. Timo Glock (Germany) Toyota 15 laps
r. Takuma Sato (Japan) Super Aguri - Honda 26 laps
r. Nelsinho Piquet (Brazil) Renault 28 laps
r. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 29 laps
r. David Coulthard (Britain) RedBull - Renault 33 laps
r. Jarno Trulli (Italy) Toyota 39 laps
r. Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India - Ferrari 50 laps
r. Mark Webber (Australia) RedBull - Renault 56 laps
r. Jenson Button (Britain) Honda 57 laps
r. Anthony Davidson (Britain) Super Aguri - Honda 57 laps
r. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 58 laps
r. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Force India - Ferrari 58 laps
DSQ Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Honda +00:52.453
(rank: r = retired, nc = not classified)
Fastest Lap: Heikki Kovalainen, 1:27.418, lap 43.