Kimi Raikkonen completed the perfect start to his Ferrari
career by waltzing to victory in the Australian Grand Prix, and adding fastest lap to his pole position for good measure.
The Finn got the jump at the start and, with Nick Heidfeld
and Lewis Hamilton
both slotting in ahead of Fernando Alonso, was able to make an early break. A series of fastest laps emphasised his - and Ferrari's - advantage, and Raikkonen only ceded the lead during the two pit-stop windows that followed.
The Finn's only concerns came in the closing stages, when the Ferrari
crew - unable to reach its driver by radio - began hanging a series of warnings over the pit-wall in an attempt to get Raikkonen to back off and conserve the engine ahead of its second race, in Malaysia, in three weeks' time. With team-mate Felipe Massa
having had to add an engine change to the recurring gearbox problem that affected his qualifying, Ferrari
was taking no chances with Raikkonen's machine, although the Finn will have been pleased to escape the sort of mechanical misfortune that blighted his McLaren
With the Ferrari
out front and easing away from the rest, attention returned to the all-McLaren battle for supremacy. Although Heidfeld initially trumped both Hamilton and Alonso, running second to Raikkonen for the opening 15 laps as he took advantage of the greater pace provided by the softer Bridgestone rubber, he also pitted earlier than anyone, leaving the two silver machines to scrap over second.
Hamilton appeared to have the edge on his double world champion team-mate for much of the first two thirds of the race, lapping on a par with the Spaniard, if not a little quicker. A minor error on lap six - the rookie's first of an exemplary weekend - could have caused problems, but the MP4-22 survived being launched over a kerb and Hamilton continued to run ahead of Alonso through to the second round of stops.
The Briton even led laps on his Formula One debut, taking the point when Raikkonen pitted marginally ahead of the McLarens, and proved that his qualifying pace was genuine by stopping a lap after Alonso for his first tyre change and refuel. This, however, was partly where the race was decided, for Alonso's stop was longer as he took on a greater quantity of fuel for his second stint.
The Spaniard duly slotted in behind Hamilton, and quickly lost touch with the Briton as the confident debutant put the hammer down, grazing the walls in his eagerness to get away. Alonso, however, had five seasons of F1 experience to call on and was back with his team-mate towards the end of the stint, ideally placed to capitalise on any slip-up. Cool under pressure, however, it took someone else to thwart Hamilton, the Briton finding himself caught up behind Takuma Sato as the pair attempted to pit at the same time on lap 43.
The initial hesitation allowed Alonso to close right up on the back of the #3 machine and, with Hamilton having to take on marginally more fuel to complete the race, the world champion hammered his next three laps to open up a gap that his shorter stop was able to exploit. The Spaniard returned to the track comfortably ahead of his rookie colleague, and enjoyed an eleven-second advantage at the flag as Hamilton eased back. Neither, however, could do anything about Raikkonen who, despite his own throttling back, still cruised to a seven-second win.
At half-distance, BMW
Sauber was poised to claim a brace of top five positions but, in the end, it was only Heidfeld who saw the chequered flag. The German's tactics had seen him fall behind team-mate Robert Kubica
as well as the top three after his early stop, but he remained in touch with the Pole and, when Kubica's F1.07 succumbed to gearbox problems on lap 37, moved up to a lonely fourth place, even holding position through his second stop.