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A breeze in Melbourne for Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton Lewis Hamilton got his Formula One world championship attempt off to a perfect start with an easy win in the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne.

Hamilton dominated from pole position, with only seven cars finishing the 58-lap race. He won 5.4 seconds ahead of BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld.

Nico Rosberg finished third for the Williams team.

It was a disastrous day for Ferrari with both Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa failing to finish the race, which was marred by some spectacular crashes.

Hamilton told the McLaren team on his radio, “Fantastic job. The car was incredible. Thanks very much.”

The British McLaren driver made a clean start from pole position. First corner problems also saw Ferraris’ Felipe Massa head for the pits as he lost out in a battle for third with Heikki Kovalainen.

Four other cars, including Jenson Button’s Honda and Anthony Davidson in the Super Aguri, were forced to retire.

But it was Hamilton’s day, and the season gets off to a familiar start — at least if last season’s opening races are anything to go by.

“It was a super race and I dominated it from the beginning,” Hamilton said later. “I was able to drive at a steady pace without feeling any pressure. The three safety car periods meant there was never a time to relax and the whole situation was a bit like Canada last year when I claimed my first victory. We constantly had to change our strategy and the strategists were on the ball throughout. The car was fantastic to drive and we must keep on pushing because Ferrari are a great team and will do a good job.”

The first three were :

1. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 58 laps one hour 34 minutes 50.616 seconds
2. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber +5.478 secs
3. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota +8.163

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Technical Rumblings from Melbourne

One race done and already the muttering about cheating has started. Ron Dennis has been hinting that Ferrari’s speed can be partly attributed to a flexible floor on the cars. Since the scrutineers had a good look at this during their inspection, it may be that Ron made sure that they heard a rumor.

Ron

McLaren boss, Ron Dennis

The point is that, if the floor moves downwards at speed, it can alter the under-car aerodynamics and lessen drag, thereby allowing more speed on the straights. That would show up on the speed traps but you could disguise it by increasing the wing angles, thus slowing the car to a believable speed on the straights but reaping the benefit of extra downforce in the corners. All of which would be illegal under the “no moveable aerodynamic devices” rule.

The scrutineers passed the cars in Melbourne but this does not necessarily mean that something underhand is not going on. Apparently, they test at the moment by looking only at upward flexing of the floor – but it would be downward pressure that would clear the matter up once and for all.

Naturally, a lot of people are saying that it’s just Ron looking for excuses for his own cars not being as fast as the Ferraris. But that presumes that he knew before the race that the McLarens would be beaten. It is far more likely that his concern is genuine, having noticed the complex arrangement for keeping the Ferrari’s floor in place at the front.

Probably, Ron hopes that the rumor will activate the FIA and they will have a quiet word in Ferrari’s ear to tell them to get rid of the system. That would be the most sensible way to proceed, avoiding any possibility of legal action and a continuing unseemly fight throughout the season. F1 has had enough of those, surely, with the mass damper fiasco fresh in everyone’s mind and the customer car row about to enter litigation.

This is the kind of thing that happens when the rules become so all-embracing and extensive, however. With the importance of aerodynamics and every constructor having wind tunnels, the cars get ever closer in design and performance increases become a matter of subtle and sometimes dubious tweaks. Since every designer is looking for ways to gain an advantage, it is no wonder that they work in areas that are not completely dictated by mandatory measurements.

And that means they push the boundaries of legality on occasion, thereby forcing the FIA to be even more stringent on what they will allow. It is an endless cycle of increasing complication that needs to be stopped before the rules become so limiting that there is no difference at all between the cars, apart from the color scheme and badge on the front. How do you do that?

Well, you could start by simplifying everything immediately; extend the flat bottom from nose to tail, for instance, and let the designers work out how they are going to cope with that. But it’s a long subject and I could best sum it up with the philosophy of “We need less regulation, not more.”

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A Friday in Melbourne

First practice day of the new season and form in testing is confirmed on the track so far. The two Ferraris fastest, Massa ahead of Raikkonen, the McLarens quick, with Hamilton third and Alonso seventh, it’s business as usual. Well, apart from a few minor anomalies, that is.

Melbourne

There’s Fizzy in fourth, for instance – wasn’t he supposed to be blown away by Kovalainen this season? But Renault had a disastrous practice, so maybe Heikki didn’t get a decent run. Neither did the Fizz but we’ll ignore that for the moment. None of this is very meaningful anyway, it being very early days yet.

Moving down the list, the Beemers are up there in fifth and ninth, Heidfeld ahead of Kubica, but yesterday’s man (in more ways than one), Alex Wurz, grabbed sixth fastest, thereby beating the more fancied Nico Rosberg and giving hope to the Williams faithful. Nothing wrong with the Toyota engine, it would seem, so what are the factory team (12th and 16th) doing wrong?

With David Coulthard unpredictably completing the top ten, we begin to see a pattern emerging – today was the day of the (unofficial) number two drivers. Well, okay, Heidfeld is down as number one for BMW but you know we all think Kubica will beat him this year. And everyone (except me) backs Kovalainen to beat Fisichella, whoever is supposed to be number one at Renault. Never forget that Flavio knows how to light a bomb under his drivers…

And, speaking of lighting bombs, it looks as though Berger’s patent explosive has done wonders for Speed as well – over a second quicker than Liuzzi. Well done, Scott. Just keep it up all season and I won’t have to resort to statistics to prove you’re quicker than your Italian buddy.

Everything else is pretty much as expected except that Super Aguri have almost guaranteed themselves a court case by grabbing the midfield – 11th and 13th (Davidson quicker than Sato, please note). They also beat the Hondas so run the risk of the factory team asking for their cars back. At least Toro Rosso had the sense not go faster than the boss’ cars.

Now we all wait to see what will happen in qualifying. There will be some shuffling around, no doubt, but I think we’ve seen the basic order today – for the first ten slots anyway. To me, it seems a good sign that the first day of the 2007 season has been the day of the underdogs – we should be in for some furiously-fought races if this carries on.

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