Formula One 2007 – Ferrari emphatically takes the first battle

Formula One 2007 – Ferrari emphatically takes the first battle
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March 18, 2007 The first round of the 2007 Formula One championship got underway at Albert Park in Australia today, with Kimi Raikkonen claiming an emphatic first victory for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. Ferrari F1 supremo Jean Todt said, “a new chapter in Ferrari's history has got off to a very good start,” and well he might. Raikkonen led from pole to his first pit stop, briefly handed the lead to the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes of talented rookie Lewis Hamilton, then was never headed again. When the pace was at its hottest, he was close to a second a lap faster than his rivals. For McLaren Mercedes, two podiums secured it the manufacturers championship lead with 14 points, but Massa’s drive from last place into sixth means Ferrari trails by just a point.

Jean Todt was understandably ecstatic. "That was an exciting Grand Prix! We started with our drivers at opposite ends of the grid, with Kimi on pole and Felipe in last place because of an electrical problem in the gearbox management that had hampered his qualifying yesterday. Both of them put on a great performance. Kimi maintained his first place after the start and then did a very good job of managing the race, while Felipe staged a great climb through the field to take him up to sixth place. A new chapter in Ferrari's history has got off to a very good start. The chassis-engine package proved to be competitive, the team worked with dedicated professionalism and the drivers were impeccable. This all means that we can look forward to the rest of the championship with prudent optimism, even if we have seen there is some very strong and well prepared opposition and some very talented young drivers. We have not yet reached the desired level of reliability and we have to do a lot of work on this as well as on improving our performance. I was very happy to get two telephone calls, the first from Michael as I was going up to the podium, which I handed to Kimi and the other from Luca di Montezemolo who was jumping for joy as if this was our first win in a decade. And indeed that is the feeling for us all!"

The normally reserved Raikkonen showed more enthusiasm than normal in his tenth career win, indicating that Ferrari’s essence is beginning to win through. "A fantastic victory! It is great to be winning again with my new team whom I want to thank for giving me a great car. The race was not as easy as it might have looked from the outside, partly because shortly after the start, the radio failed so it was almost impossible to talk to the pit wall. Fortunately we had prepared well for the race and I knew what I had to do, but there were a few difficult moments. I was not flat out all the time, adapting my pace to the way the race was going. It was nice to hear my national anthem again on the podium as it had been a while. I have to say that last year it seemed to be the Italian one I was hearing usually. This is a great way to start the championship. We know we have a very competitive package but we still have to work to make it even better and above all, reliable."

Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton finished today's Australian Grand Prix in second and third places respectively achieving an almost perfect start to the season for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team. Lewis' third place was the best performance from a rookie driver since 1996 and the Englishman even led the race for a few laps.

Defending World Champion Fernando Alonso was buoyant despite the loss. "What a great way to start the season and my career as a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver. Of course it's always better to win but Kimi was a little bit quicker than us today, however we scored the maximum points that were possible, and I'm really pleased. My start was a bit strange with both BMWs being very quick off the line, and I was so busy defending my line from Heidfeld on the outside that it was not possible for me to stay ahead of him. I was then behind Lewis for a while and was just focusing on keeping up with him and sometimes dropping back to allow the car to cool down. I took second after the second pitstop as I was able to stay out for an additional two laps. Originally it was meant to be one lap but because I was behind Lewis I managed to save enough fuel for one more lap. Both of the Bridgestone Potenza tyre options worked well. We will now continue to work hard to give us the best opportunity to beat Ferrari at the Malaysian Grand Prix."

Lewis Hamilton made a dream start to his career and looks set to be able to handle the pressure of beginning his career in Formula One with such a high profile team. Hamilton looks to be superstar material. He famously introduced himself to McLaren boss Ron Dennis at an awards night (Hamilton had won a national karting championship) when he was just ten years of age, telling him his ambition was to one day drive for McLaren, to which Dennis replied, “come back in a decade.”

Three years later, after noting the focus of the young man on the night and subsequently watching him take a string of national titles, Dennis called Lewis’ parents and offered Hamilton a scholarship, taking on a mentoring role and ensuring the gifted youngster got the financial backing to fast-track his way to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Hamilton appears the ideal student. He has been focussed on developing all the skills required to become an F1 driver, on and off the track, for more than a decade despite his tender years. "I'm absolutely ecstatic – today's result is more than I ever dreamed of achieving on my Grand Prix debut. A big thank you to the team who have worked so hard during the winter to make sure I was as prepared as I possible could be. I made a good start but the BMWs were quick off the line and Kubica managed to get past.”

“There was no room on the inside so I got on the left and managed to outbrake both Kubica and Fernando coming into the first corner to take third. The race was intense, and I was working very hard. I made a few mistakes but nothing major and really enjoyed myself. It was great to lead the race for a few laps, but I knew it was only a temporary thing. Fernando got past me at the second pitstop as he was able to stay out a bit longer and I lost some time behind backmarkers. We now have a lot of work ahead of us with the Malaysia test and the rest of the season, but there is no doubt that we can build from what has been achieved today."

One of the hardest men in a sport full of hard men, Ron Dennis’ press conference showed no signs of his emotional and personal triumphs. "Of course as always we came to Australia to win, but a somewhat unexpected strategy adopted by BMW was very disruptive to our race. Following Heidfeld's first pitstop the gap was just too big to realistically close it and the additional range from our strategy was subsequently wasted. Both drivers did an excellent job giving us a narrow lead in the Constructors' Championship. A special thank you to the test team and the workforce back at the McLaren Technology Centre who have worked so hard during the winter and contributed so much to the faultless reliability that we have enjoyed throughout the weekend. The coming Malaysian test should give us every opportunity to further improve the competitiveness of our cars."

Mercedes’ Norbert Haug: "The season started well with Fernando and Lewis scoring 14 points out of 18 possible on their debut race for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. Fernando showed with his performance exactly why he is the double world champion whilst Lewis made a perfect start to his Grand Prix career and proved absolutely worthy of the confidence we have had in him for the past ten years. Although we still have to work hard to further improve our technical package we showed today that throughout the winter we have made improvements. We will now focus on the Malaysia test and are looking forward to the next race. Thanks to everybody in the team in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart, all their efforts will pay off."

The BMW Sauber F1 Team started the 2007 season off in Melbourne with fourth place for Nick Heidfeld. In its second season as a full factory outfit rather than an engine supplier, the team appears to have almost bridged the gap from also-ran to the leading teams. It is ironic that the new seamless-shift gearbox which is reportedly worth at least a quarter of a second a lap around Albert Park should have cost the team points but it did. A gearbox problem caused Robert Kubica to retire on lap 36 while lying in fourth place.

Nick Heidfeld’s fourth place bodes well for the prospects of the team this year. "I had a very good start, which was an even better one than Kimi and managed to pass Fernando,” said Heidfeld. “Of course I hoped to stay in front of him, but realistically I knew the McLarens were quicker than us. Thinking about how happy we are, you should not forget where we came from as we started last season eighth in the constructors' championship. Our pace is really good and fourth is a super start to the season. I feel very sorry for the team with Robert's retirement, as he was also very strong. My tyre strategy to take the softer ones first was riskier. I knew after the first stop there was the danger of getting stuck in traffic, and this is what happened, but I took the risk anyway. The race was a lot of fun, but in the final laps I was a bit lonely. Mechanically my car was perfect." Mario Theissen (BMW Motorsport Director): "Nick drove a good race and his fourth has earned us five points in the season curtain raiser. He was on soft tyres for the first stint and we didn't think they would last very long. In hindsight, we could have done a longer first stint. Robert was strong and showing the same pace as Nick when his gearbox stuck in fifth on lap 36. Now we have to focus on getting our reliability sorted out. The most important lesson today is we have been able to match our testing performance. We have clearly been the third fastest team, and that is a good baseline for the next races."

Willy Rampf (Technical Director): "Nick's fourth place is a very good result and reflects our qualifying performance, as we were the third quickest team in that. We ran our cars on different strategies as the new tyre regulation stipulates you have to use both compounds in the race. Another reason was the new Safety Car rule which says the pit lane will be closed until the cars are in their proper order on the track. You have to make sure you don't go into such a period with the cars on the same pit stop strategy. Nick was on the softer compound for the start and Robert would have used it at the end, which obviously didn't happen. Both our drivers were quick and strong."

For fifth-placed Renault, the prospects of another drivers championship already look slim as it does not appear to have the drivers to regularly get on the podium, let alone win races now that Alonso has flown the coop.

Giancarlo Fisichella is now the team’s lead driver, who reflected on his afternoon thus: “It was a busy one! I did not have a moment’s respite. I made a good start even if I didn’t gain any places. Then I adopted my rhythm to the strategy we’d decided on, but I have to say that this grand prix was tougher then expected.”

“We thought that our race performance would be better; that we would be closer to the leaders. The long runs on Friday showed that we were on the pace, but today we were a bit further back. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

“Like Heikki I chose hard rubber for my first two stints then soft tyres for the third. Kimi, the winner, used the same strategy, as did the McLarens.”

When asked if he was satisfied with his performance, Fisichella said, “I think I’ve got every reason to be.”

“I reckon I got the maximum out of the package at my disposal. I also managed to fend off Felipe Massa’s attacks in the closing laps. The positive thing is that I’m happy with the car’s balance and reliability today. All we’ve got to do now is to find more speed and the team will soon get down to doing just that.”

Ferrari’s second driver, Brazilian Felipe Massa began the race from the absolute rear of the field and ran a one-stop strategy to show he can deliver speed in even the worst circumstance – running a heavy car on a track with limited overtaking opportunity. "After what happened in qualifying yesterday it would have been difficult to do any better than this sixth place. I was able to run at a good pace even with a full fuel load facing a race that would be one long climb through the field. The F2007 was very competitive and so I am optimistic about the next few races. But I cannot forget the disappointment for the failure in qualifying, which meant I had to start from the back of the grid. If not for that, I would definitely have been fighting for the win. But I am happy with the overall result in terms of what it means for the team and I am happy for Kimi who won on his debut with Ferrari."

Ferrari’s Luca Baldisserri: "This is a very important result for the whole team, as it is the result of the hard work from everyone in the Gestione Sportiva throughout the winter. We took on a significant reorganisation and seeing its efforts rewarded like this is further motivation for pushing on even further. We picked up thirteen points thanks to extraordinary performances from our two drivers. Starting from pole, Kimi was able to control the race right from the start, while Felipe, hampered by yesterday's gearbox failure in qualifying, started last and put on a really impressive climb up the order to finish sixth. The F2007s were competitive and the only problem was a radio malfunction on Kimi's car, which happened soon after the start. Now we must carry on working to improve still further our competitiveness and to get the overall reliability that is still eluding us."

Panasonic Toyota Racing will leave Melbourne with a solitary point courtesy of Ralf Schumacher’s eighth place at today’s Australian Grand Prix. Jarno Trulli was next home in 9th place, just outside the points on a sunny day at Albert Park when track temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius. After yesterday’s strong performance in qualifying, Trulli and Schumacher lined up in 8th and 9th on the grid. Schumacher made it in front into the first corner and the pair ran in line astern for most of the first stint. The race spaced out after that but they ended up coming home in the same positions. The 2007 rules state that all cars must use both types of tyre during the race and both drivers used the softer tyre for their final stint. Towards the end of the race Schumacher started to lose pneumatic pressure in his engine but he made it home to kick off the team’s account for 2007.

Ralf Schumacher: “We had expected to be in the top ten but to bring two cars home is a good result in the first race. The conditions were good for the race but the car was a little difficult so it was hard work at times. Towards the end of the race we had a problem with pneumatic pressure but we made it to the finish and it’s good to come away with a point. We became faster towards the end and the strategy worked well, we just need to work on the speed now. We have some performance to catch up so we have to develop our car to get closer. I remain confident because the chance is there to improve. It will just be a matter of concentrating on each area and working hard.”

Jarno Trulli: “That was a difficult afternoon for me and it was a pity that I just missed out on the points. The car made a poor start and I lost two places into the first corner. I made a good move to gain one back on the first lap but then I was held up behind Ralf for the first stint. I lost more time when Fisichella pulled out of the pits in front of me. I couldn’t get past him and because he was heavy on fuel I lost ground. From then on I was unable to make much more impact. The balance of the car was not too bad but there was no way to gain places. Later I had trouble with my brakes so my pace dropped further. Still, we made the finish and after our hard winter of testing it has been a reasonable weekend.”

Tsutomu Tomita, Toyota Team Principal: “After the first race of this season we have a valuable one point from Ralf so that is a good start. The starting grid positions were not bad but the race pace of both cars was not quick enough compared to the front-runners. So we are definitely too far away compared to where we want to be and we have some work to do. Jarno had an oil spillage as he left for the parade lap but that was not a major issue. Later on Ralf had a pneumatic consumption problem and it was marginal to reach the finish. Jarno also had trouble with his brakes but in the end it was successful because they both finished the race. After our trouble with reliability during winter testing that is gratifying. The tyres were good but there was some degradation during the final stint on soft tyres. Nevertheless, in good track conditions and good weather, we were not competitive enough so we have to keep working hard to develop our cars.”

Pos Driver Constructor Race Time

1 Kimi Raikkonen Scuderia Ferrari 1h25m28.7702 Fernando Alonso Vodafone McLaren Mercedes +7.2423 Lewis Hamilton Vodafone McLaren Mercedes +18.5954 Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber +38.7635 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault +664696 Felipe Massa Scuderia Ferrari +66.8057 Nico Rosberg Williams F1 +1 lap8 Ralf Schumacher Toyota +1 lap9 Jarno Trulli Toyota +1 lap10 Heikki Kovalainen Renault +1 lap11 Rubens Barrichello Honda Racing +1 lap12 Takuma Sato Super Aguri +1 lap13 Mark Webber Williams F1 +1 lap14 Tonio Luizzi Toro Rosso +1 lap15 Jenson Button Honda Racing +1 lap16 Anthony Davidson Super Aguri +2 laps17 Adrian Sutil Spyker F1 +2 laps

Fastest Lap: K Raikkonen 1m25.235Albert Park, Melbourne, Sunday 18th March 2007

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