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Hamilton captures Australian Grand Prix

Mar 16, 2008 - 7:32 AM MELBOURNE, Australia (Ticker) -- Lewis Hamilton got his bid for the 2008 Formula One world championship off to a perfect start Sunday with victory in a frenetic Australian Grand Prix.

The McLaren driver dominated from the pole position, overcoming three safety car periods to take the checkered flag 5.4 seconds ahead of BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld. Only seven cars made it to the end of the 58-lap race.

"(The technical team) did a fantastic job," Hamilton said. "The car was phenomenal, a dream to drive compared to the car we had last year."

Nico Rosberg finished an impressive third for Williams, but it was a disastrous day for Ferrari as both Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa failed to finish.

After capturing the pole in Saturday's qualifying session, Hamilton made a clean getaway at the start of the race. The lack of traction control was not a problem for the 23-year-old, as he moved across the track to cover the inside line and keep Robert Kubica at bay on the way into the first corner.

"I got away to a great start but had a bit of wheel spin, so it was close going into the first corner," Hamilton said. "I had to keep cool and look after the tires from then on, but I just paced myself and didn't overdo it. I had plenty of time and used that to my advantage."

The Pole was on his tail through the first chicane before the safety car was deployed after Giancarlo Fisichella was launched into the air, ending the Italian's race.

The first-corner problems also saw Massa pit after depositing his Ferrari into the barrier as he lost out in a battle for third with Heikki Kovalainen. Four other cars, including Jenson Button's Honda and Anthony Davidson's Super Aguri, were forced to retire.

The main beneficiary was Raikkonen, who managed to move his Ferrari up to eighth after starting a disappointing 15th. After the safety car came in at the end of lap two, Hamilton put his foot down and quickly established a commanding lead over Kubica, setting fastest laps in quick succession to open up a 7.6-second gap by lap nine.

Massa, meanwhile, managed to rejoin the race but was well down the field.

Kubica pitted at the end of lap 16 and slipped down to fourth before Hamilton made his first stop on the following lap and rejoined in fourth, behind Heidfeld.

"The teams look at all angles and analyze exactly what could go on in the race and plan for the worst," Hamilton said. "We have a great strategic team, and putting me into (the pits) early was great."

Raikkonen was hounding Rubens Barrichello, attempting one pass down the outside of turn three before eventually getting his man down the inside at the same place to claim sixth.

Hamilton regained the lead when Heidfeld, Rosberg and Kovalainen all came in for fresh tires and fuel, the latter managing to get out in front of the hard-charging Raikkonen for second place after his stop.

Massa then punted David Coulthard out of the race while trying to take 10th place up the inside of turn one, a move that brought out the safety car for the second time on lap 26 and eroded Hamilton's 12-second advantage over his McLaren teammate.

Massa eventually called it a day soon thereafter.

After the restart, Raikkonen managed to pass Kovalainen at turn three. But he could not prevent his Ferrari from careening into the gravel trap and was forced to pit before rejoining in 12th.

Undeterred, Hamilton set about re-establishing his cushion in trademark fashion, setting a new fastest lap on lap 39.

Heidfeld had moved up to third in his BMW, while Rosberg was enjoying a strong outing for Williams in fourth.

Raikkonen then spun on lap 42 as his Melbourne woes continued before Hamilton made his second stop, an 8.6-second effort as he fed in behind Heidfeld in fourth again.

The German was next to stop before the safety car again came out on lap 45, where Timo Glock ran wide at turn 12 and his car began to disintegrate down the straight after hitting bumps in the grass.

Barrichello pitted from third and drove off with the fuel hose still attached but incurred a 10-second stop/go penalty for pitting under the safety car anyway. The Brazilian still finished a solid sixth.

Kovalainen was forced to come in from the lead, a move that saw the Finn slide down to ninth, before the safety car came in at the end of lap 47.

Fernando Alonso then passed Kovalainen before Raikkonen, who was enduring an eventful afternoon, again stopped in the pit lane four laps from end - not far from the spot where he came to rest in yesterday's qualifying session.

Sebastien Bourdais was on course for an incredible fourth place in his Formula One debut before retired with smoke coming out the back of his Toro Rosso near the end, although he still was classified eighth.

Kovalainen then passed Alonso, but the Spaniard retook the position on the home straight as they finished fourth and fifth, respectively,.

Rosberg claimed third, 8.1 seconds behind Hamilton, with Kazuki Nakajima seventh in the other Williams.

But nothing could stop Hamilton's serene progress to a fifth career victory and an excellent start to the new season.

"I feel fantastic," he said. "I never thought it would have been physically as much of a breeze as it was out there. It's great preparation for Malaysia (next week). Bring it on."

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