The first race of the season sent out clear signals: “Ferrari is Red-Hot, though Ice-Cold McLaren is not far behind.” Kimi Raikonnen got off to a great start in a new car and a new season, but so did McLaren Mercedes’ new drivers – the defending champion Fernando Alonso and the debutant Lewis Hamilton. The Ferraris were by far the fastest, and only a gearbox problem and engine-change pushed Raikonnen’s partner Felipe Massa to sixth, a creditable finish considering his Ferrari started the race at the end of the grid.
Lewis Hamilton was definitely the toast of Melbourne; his strong third place finish will only increase the expectations from him, especially from Britons who will finally have another driver to support along with Honda’s Jenson Button. Button, however, will be wondering if Honda can ever provide him with a car that can vie for the championship, after finishing a disappointing 15th. The BMW Saubers also had a good start to the season, with German Nick Heidfeld finishing in fourth. Compatriot Robert Kubica also did well till a gearbox problem forced him to retire on Lap 38.
2006 Constructors Champion Renault had a sluggish start, with the Italian Giancarlo Fischella finishing in fifth and debutant Heikki Kovalainen in tenth. Team boss Flavio Briatore was extremely critical of the Finn’s performance, a race where the promoted test driver made too many mistakes. Toyota’s Jarno Trulli finished ahead of Kovalainen in ninth place, with team-mate Ralf Schumacher rounding up the points table in eighth place. Nico Rosberg placed seventh in his Williams, which has Toyota as its engine-supplier. ‘Comeback Man’ Alexander Wurz’s race was cut short due to damage done to his Williams during an overtaking manoeuvre by Red Bull’s David Coulthard, who fortunately walked away uninjured after going airborne and landing in the gravel.
However, the man to watch is the one who quietly collected points from this race. Raikonnen may have won the race and Hamilton stolen the limelight, but Spain’s double F1 champion Fernando Alonso was the man in between the two, finishing second. It’s true that team-mate Hamilton led him till the final round of pit-stops. But the champion still ended with eight points, from what can be described as an ‘average race.’ The same trait also helped him see off the challenge put forth by Michael Schumacher last year. Kimi Raikonnen - Schumacher’s replacement at Ferrari – may have the best car on the track, but he needs to have consistent finishes in the points to win his first F1 championship, and perhaps add a new chapter to his rivalry with Alonso.