2007 got off to a flying start in the early hours of this GMT morning. At approximately 3am our time 22 cars left the grid and headed down down to turn one at Melbourne’s makeshift Albert Park circuit. And 58 laps later, it was Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari who was leading , followed by 2006 World Champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren new-boy Lewis Hamilton. It was a race that saw many errors from drivers, a fair few retirements, overtaking a-plenty and a confirmation that this years title will be dragged out between Maranello and Woking.
After taking a sensational pole on Saturday, the iceman looked ever cooler in the monocoque of his F2007. With little concern over his rivals, Kimi made a casual start to his Sunday leading the pack down to turn one on lap one. From therein, and aside from pitstops, Kimi led the rest of the race without drama. There was no extension of gaps beyond a few comfort-seconds, and while Kimi totally dominated the Australian Grand Prix, he didn’t exactly make the race a thriller for everyone else.
That job came down to the McLaren, who had fans on their feet as Lewis passed his much rewarded team mate around the outside of turn one. Following Hamilton’s move, Alonso had little choice but to hold station and keep the Brit in his sights. The two managed to swap places after the second round of stops, bringing order to McLaren’s feisty young chargers, and ensuring Fernando has every chance of keeping Kimi honest.
BMW were looking to be on form, and although Nick Heidfeld ran his first stint on the softer compound (as opposed to everyone else who ran hard initially), both Heidfeld and Robert Kubica drove the wheels off their German motors. With Nick finishing fourth the team picked up five points, and despite running as high as the McLaren’s, Robert retired after his car got stuck in fifth on lap 37.
Renault had a less-than-great weekend, and the performance of debutant driver Heikki Kovalainen has caused a barrage of comments from team boss Flavio Britore, who after comparing Heikki’s debut to Hamilton’s, chose to speak to the press in the only way Briatore knows.
Heikki’s performance? I think everybody was watching on TV. I don’t need to protect anybody. It was rubbish, what can I say? If I tell you it was good, I am a complete idiot. It was no good. When you start like that, you don’t have any problem in getting better. Flavio Briatore.
Giancarlo Fisichella also had a quiet race, and didn’t really feature in any of the battles, placing his R27 in fifth place for the chequered flag. Flavio believes that the Renault will improve over the next few races, but I fear it won’t be enough if Renault want to compete for the World Championship.
Felipe Massa had a storming drive after the diminuitive Brazilian started from dead last – he chose to have his engine replaced after his disastrous qualifying – and eventually finished the Australian Grand Prix in sixth. It wasn’t quite the drive that would have had Michael Schumacher on the edge of his seat, but it was a hard earned three points and deserves credit, particularly as his team mate was up front receiving the applause. Felipe spent a lot of time stuck behind the Hondas, and only managed to pass after pit stops.
Honda? Well at least Rubens Barrichello finished ahead of the lead Super Aguri piloted by Takuma Sato. The team did not perform well in Australia, and it is a weekend that should be forgotten. The embarassment of being almost outclassed by the junior team is unforgivable, and Honda need a firm kick before the team slump ever further behind. The RA107, though reliable, is woefully undrivable, and watching Jenson Button from his onboard camera, the Somerset lad is barely keeping the car on the black stuff through corners. Ususally adorned with the most smooth title in Formula One, Button was reduced to opposite lock and traction control for much of the race, and holding up team mate Rubens Barrichello for the entire first stint didn’t help the team effort.
Super Aguri completed a much improved weekend, and although they are being taken to court by Spyker over the alleged customer chassis affair, the team performed well to finish twelfth and sixteenth. However, after a coming together between new-boy Anthony Davidson and Adrian Sutil (in a Spyker, funnily enough), the British driver appears to have damaged his back, and finished the race in much pain. It has been reported that Davidson went to Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital to be checked out. I’ll report more on this when more news becomes available.
Mark Webber finished the race in 13th, but Red Bull Racing’s weekend really came to a close when David Coulthard retired his RBR3 following a little intimacy with Alex Wurz in his Williams. Coulthard was attempting a pass, although from a fair way back, and it appeared that Wurz did not see the Scot and turned into the corner. Coulthard’s Red Bull lept in to the air and shot across Alex’s monocoque. From the on-board camera, Wurz was lucky as Coulthard’s tyre came so very close to Alex’s head.
I tried to pass Alex and I crashed – my fault, not his, it was just one of those things. David Coulthard.
All in all, the Australian Grand Prix was a superb race, and although the racing was a little boring, the Aussies put on a fantastic show to open up the 2007 Formula One season. Despite having to stay awake all night, the street circuit in downtown Melbourne caught out a few drivers, in particular Barrichello who swapped tyre paint for wall paint (and survived!), Button who was caught speeding in the pitlane and Webber who managed a spin while entering the pitlane.
Hats off to Hamilton for holding his own against the mighty Alonso, Massa for driving through the field, and Raikkonen for showing his true class in a reliable and fast car.