“NORMAL SERVICE has resumed. Another 17 races like this, and the title is in the bag” — the crackling voice of the team engineer on the radio said it all.
With one masterly display of Formula One racing, Lewis Hamilton had erased the bitter memories of losing the world championship title — on debut – by a margin of one point last year.
The 23-year-old Briton led from start to finish and won an incident-filled Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park street circuit on Sunday.
On an extremely successful day that must bury the ghosts of the 2007 spying scandal for McLaren, Heikki Kovalainen of Finland came fifth after jointly dominating the field with teammate Hamilton for the most part of the race.
It could have been easily a McLaren 1-2 but Nick Heidfeld (BMW-Sauber) and Nico Rosberg (Williams-BMW) demonstrated their potential by occupying the remaining two places on the podium.
Spain’s Fernando Alonso, back in a Renault, came fourth while Ferrari’s defending champion Kimi Raikkonen very nearly failed to score a point.
Indian hopes may have to wait a week longer after Force India’s both the cars failed to finish.
Italian Giancarlo Fisichella’s chances were dented on the very first corner, where he was caught up in a mayhem. It not just eliminated him but also acted as a precursor to a string of events that led to the ouster of over two-thirds of the drivers. Only seven completed the race, including Honda’s Rubens Barrichello, who was disqualified later.
Sutil too disappointed as he could manage just eight laps. He climbed his way up to 13th before hydraulics problem stalled him and that meant Force India got off to a disappointing start.
“Well, it is sad but we knew things would be difficult in the first race,” said Force India boss Vijay Mallya.
But Mallya sounded optimistic. “We have 17 more races to go. First one is always tricky,” he said.
In the rarest of rare instances, neither Ferraris could complete the race. Felipe Massa retired midway, while Raikkonen, who had suffered a fuel pump failure during qualifying and had to start from 15th position, came to a halt with five laps remaining.
But since he had completed 90 percent of the 58-lap race, he was classified as finished ninth, and following Rubens Barrichello’s disqualification for jumping the red light when coming out of the pit lane, earned a point.
It was wizardry of the highest class as Raikkonen made a quick getaway and quickly made his way to third position, just behind the McLaren duo. But then, trying to overtake Kovalainen, he over-braked and skidded into the gravel. From then on, he lagged behind as his engine made a weird noise before grinding to a halt.
Hamilton was immaculate as he lead from start to finish, overcoming three safety car periods. The Briton’s teammate Kovalainen helped him ward off the Raikkonen threat, before the Finn committed the hara-kiri.
Fernando Alonso started in the midfield but towards the end was in the reckoning for a podium finish. With two laps left, the double world champion lost his fourth position briefly to Kovalainen before regaining it with a brilliant overtaking manoeuvre of his own.
1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren; 1:34:50.616)
2. Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber +00:05.478)
3. Nico Rosberg (Williams-Toyota; 00:08.163)
4. Fernando Alonso (Renault; 00:17.181)
5. Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren; 00:18.014)
6. Kazuki Nakajima (Williams-Toyota; 1 lap)
7. Sebastien Bourdais (Toro Rosso-Ferrari; 3 laps)
8. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari; 5 laps)
Ecclestone wants F1 title to be decided by wins
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone wants to change the rules to make sure the driver who wins the most races takes the title.
“It is my intention to push this idea through in the coming weeks,” Ecclestone told Britain’s Mail on Sunday.
The newspaper said Ecclestone wanted to have the title decided on race wins to force drivers to take more risks, rather than a system that awards 10 points for a win and eight for second place.
“I want to see winner of the most number of races as champion, and second places only to be used if the top two finish with the same number of wins," he said. “Constructors would keep the existing system.”
Ferrari boss calls for calm
FERRARI TEAM boss Stefano Domenicali called for calm on Sunday after the Formula One champions made their worst start to a season since 1992.
“The results speak for themselves. Unfortunately it was really a dreadful weekend,” Domenicali said after his first race as principal since taking over from Frenchman Jean Todt last year.
“Nothing went as planned in all respects. It was tough and difficult.”
Neither world champion Kimi Raikkonen nor teammate Felipe Massa reached the chequered flag, both cars pulling over with engine problems on an afternoon of rare mayhem.
Only the subsequent disqualification of Rubens Barrichello, lifted Raikkonen to eighth place.
“We need to analyse all the details of what has happened...and of course the main concern is to understand the problems of reliability,” said Domenicali.
“We have two engines that failed so this is the main issue we have to understand. “We need to stay cool, calm and concentrated. We need not to be too emotional now because it's very easy to go down that route. We need to stay very rational.”
No tobacco ads in Singapore
SINGAPORE’S STRICT laws banning tobacco advertisements will apply to the city-state's first night Formula One Grand Prix on September 28, a report said Sunday.
A Ministry of Trade and Industry spokesman told the Sunday Times “the publication or display of any acknowledgement of sponsorship of a tobacco company would, as a general rule, be prohibited.”
"The F1 teams are aware that they have to abide by the laws of the countries in which they race in," he said, adding "this includes regulations on tobacco advertising.”
Tobacco companies have traditionally been huge sponsors of F1 teams but these have reduced significantly in recent years amid moves by authorities, especially in the European Union, to bar such sponsorships.
Singapore has some of the toughest anti-smoking measures in place.
Since July 2006, smokers have been barred from lighting up in outdoor eateries and cafes. They can only smoke at designated smoking corners at the premises.
The smoking ban was extended last year to entertainment outlets including pubs,nightclubs and karaoke lounges as part of a campaign to cut tobacco-related diseases.
Smoke screen in Formula One
Germany was the first country to ban tobacco sponsorship in motor sports in 1976. The United Kingdom in 1984 took the lead and France followed suit in 1992. A blanket ban across Europe came a few years back.
As governments across the world tighten the noose on tobacco sponsorship in sports, F1 teams have tried to become less sependent on the same.
In 2000, Williams F1 became the first major team to break their bonding with tobacco. Since then, McLaren have replaced the ‘West’ brand on their cars and Renault have ended their deal with ‘Mild Seven’.
Ferrari are the only team to still have a tobacco sponsorship, with ‘Philip Morris’, and display the ‘Marlboro’ brand wherever and whenever they can.
F1 has set itself a deadline of 2009 for removing tobacco sponsorship.