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 career.

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.

A massive 28 seconds followed until the next car crossed the line, and there was little wrong with Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault for the Italian was again being urged to up his pace by those on the pit-wall. Fisichella had managed to keep Kubica in sight early on, but the R27 simply did not have the speed to trouble the BMWs and was left to its own devices for much of the afternoon.

In the closing stages, however, Fisi began to fall into the clutches of the recovering Massa, who had come from the very back of the grid after taking a ten-place engine change penalty overnight to run sixth. The Brazilian had initially found himself embroiled in a train being held up by the ailing Honda of Jenson Button but, once clear of the obstruction, quickly made ground on those further up the road. Despite opting to one stop in an attempt to gain as many points as possible - and suffer from having to run half the race on the softer rubber - Massa was right with Fisichella in the final few laps, but could not quite overhaul the Renault driver, missing out by 0.3secs at the line.

Although there were plenty of pretenders to the final points positions - Jarno Trulli, Takuma Sato, Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen among them - they were eventually filled by Nico Rosberg and Ralf Schumacher.

Overlooked for much of the event, Rosberg rose from twelfth on the grid to run on the fringes of the top ten before taking advantage of misfortunes ahead of him to edge closer to the points. The German was not letting the race simply come to him, however, and, finding the Toyota-powered Williams to his liking, also put a gutsy move on the similarly-engined 'works' car of Schumacher to take seventh on lap 37. The move was good enough to secure two points - Williams' first for 13 races - as few positions changed hands in the second half of the race, although Rosberg was the first of the lapped runners at the flag.

Schumacher, meanwhile, could have lost his point as the Toyota's lap times suddenly rose by a matter of seconds in the closing stages, giving brief hope to team-mate Trulli and Renault rookie Kovalainen, who rounded out the top ten in the closing laps. In contrast to Hamilton, the Finn endured a torrid first appearance, qualifying poorly and then going on to drive a ragged race, including one high-speed spin at turn one which allowed Massa into points. A handful of grassy moments thereafter hampered Kovalainen's recovery and he had to settle for tenth.

With Button going backwards as his Honda succumbed to worsening understeer and a drive-thru' penalty, Rubens Barrichello upheld some sort of honour for the Brackley team, although coming home ahead of Sato's Super Aguri was small potatoes in consolation to not scoring a point. The Brazilian had complained of being held up by his team-mate in the early stages, and the rate at which he pulled away once free seemed to prove the fact, but the RA107 seldom looked like a pointscorer, with Barrichello eventually salvaging eleventh.

That put him one place ahead of Sato, who pace was good if not good enough to capitalise on his fifth row start. The Japanese driver will probably make as many column inches for his involvement in Hamilton's race as for the encouraging performance of the new - if already protested - SA07, and twelfth will probably come as some disappointment to the minnow team, especially as team-mate Anthony Davidson was unable to add anything to the cause after his car suffered a 'getaway' problem.

The Briton, making his fourth appearance in a grand prix with his third different team, struggled to get off the line at the start and had similar problems at his two pit-stops, leaving him towards the tail of the field. A clash with fellow newcomer Adrian Sutil on lap two also did little to help his afternoon, although Davidson will take some comfort in finally getting to see the chequered flag after three previously thwarted attempts.

The Briton eventually tailed former karting rival and BAR/Honda team-mate Button across the line, both also behind Webber and Tonio Liuzzi in the only Red Bull cars to make the finish. Webber had looked comfortable in seventh early on, maintaining his grid position, but dropped down the order at both his pit-stops and appeared unable to make up the lost ground in between. Liuzzi, meanwhile, drove a quiet race, determined to make the flag as the Toro Rosso team sought to learn as much about its new machine as possible.

Their respective team-mates - David Coulthard and Scott Speed - both suffered dramatic exits, the Scot involved in an accident with fellow veteran Alex Wurz and the American claiming that an exploding right front tyre had forced him off and out. While Speed emerged unscathed after a bumpy ride across the grass, DC took to the air after an optimistic lunge on Wurz's Williams. Admitting to being at fault for the incident - 'I was going too quickly for the corner', he said - Coulthard probably wasn't aware just how close his rear wheel came to making contact with the Austrian's helmet, before the RB3 bounced into the gravel trap, its left-front corner re-arranged.

Wurz also retired, despite having got his car going again, joining Kubica, Speed and Christijan Albers in civvies before the race ended. After a pre-season in which the Spyker team had praised the reliability of its new car, Albers had the ignominy of being the year's first race retirement, and probably its most bizarre, claiming that he had missed his braking point for turn three when his earplug cable became tangled in the cockpit.

Remarkably, given past experiences, there as no call for the safety car on a sunny Melbourne afternoon. Had it appeared, however, it was unlikely that - even being a Mercedes - it would have ruined Kimi Raikkonen's walk in the park.