Lewis Hamilton has described this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne as 'one of my best-ever races' as he stormed through the field from 18th place to third - admitting afterwards that he had 'wrung every last ounce of pace out of the car' and 'absolutely raced my heart out'.

Having initially qualified 15th following a gearbox failure at the beginning of Q2, the reigning Formula 1 World Champion had then been demoted five spots for having to change it before the race, but he gained two of those places back again following the dual Toyota punishment.

From there, the 24-year-old set about making up ground no sooner had the starting lights gone out, immediately attacking and - on low fuel - forcing his way up into the top then within only five laps, by dint of his commitment, celebrated overtaking prowess and the benefit of his McLaren-Mercedes' KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) power boosts.

A long first stop on lap eleven preceded another charge up through the order into fifth, with evidence of his push clear to see, in the form of several opposite-lock moments on successive laps out of turn nine of the demanding Albert Park street circuit. That would also be the scene of his lap 54 pass of former karting sparring partner Nico Rosberg for sixth, and he profited from the Sebastian Vettel-Robert Kubica collision and Jarno Trulli's 'off' under the safety car in the closing stages to rise up to third - a result he admitted that prior to race day he could barely even have dreamed about.

"We scored way more points than we could have realistically expected," the Stevenage-born star enthused. "I was looking to try and get one point, so to get six is a great achievement. We've definitely not forgotten how to win; our strategy was perfect and the team did a fantastic job.

"Considering the package we've got, I wrung every last ounce of pace out of the car, drove one of my best-ever races and absolutely raced my heart out - I'm so satisfied. Also, my heartfelt congratulations to Jenson [Button, race-winner] - he's driven brilliantly all weekend and both he and his team really deserve this success."

Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen's race was rather more short-lived, the Finn starting from twelfth but finding himself caught up in - some would say perpetrator of - the first corner m?l?e that left a number of cars missing pieces of bodywork and culminated in the Finn's premature retirement with damaged suspension.

"Obviously, my race was very short," the 27-year-old rued. "[Mark] Webber had a moment at the first corner and his front wheel hit my left-front. It was a racing accident - these things unfortunately happen."

Nonetheless, for a team that had arrived Down Under looking to be in all sorts of trouble, third place was beyond McLaren's wildest expectations - and what's more has left the Woking-based outfit in second spot in the constructors' standings, well ahead of chief rivals Ferrari and BMW-Sauber who both failed to score.

"Today was one of those days on which Lewis demonstrated very clearly just what a fantastic racing driver he is," underlined the former multiple world championship-winning concern's team principal Martin Whitmarsh. "Throughout the race he showed great speed and tenacity, tempered when necessary by commendable patience.

"The car we supplied him wasn't as competitive as we'd have liked it to be - we've made no secret of that - but we're working flat-out, night and day, to improve it. The points Lewis scored today are of course very welcome - and, as and when we regain our form, we hope they'll take on a greater significance still.

"As for Heikki, he started with a heavy fuel load and could also have scored points today but, sadly - and blamelessly on his part - his race was ended early on when he happened upon an incident involving two other cars. Lastly, well done to all at Brawn GP - and of course also to Mercedes-Benz, whose superb engines powered the first three cars."

"Lewis finally in third place and the best car with KERS," summarised Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "This is more than we had expected after starting 18th. He drove an excellent race under very difficult circumstances and proved his world champion class. During the second safety car period, Trulli had an 'off' and Lewis overtook him for third place. He let Trulli past again, but the stewards' decision after the race gave him back third place.

"It's a shame for Heikki; without the first corner multiple-car collision which was not his fault, he also could have scored a solid result in this turbulent race. Congratulations to Brawn GP, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello on their one-two victory - three Mercedes-powered cars in the top three makes us happy. Our customer team did a great job and we helped to 'Keep the Customer Satisfied'!"