Kimi has a great start

AP

The season-opener had the youngest ever podium in Grand Prix history with an average age of 24.6 years. It also witnessed the best ever performance by a GP rookie, Lewis Hamilton, in the last 10 years. Peter Auf der Heyde reports.

Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher was the first to congratulate Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari's new driver, for winning the opening race of the 2007 season, the Australian Grand Prix.

The Finn led from start to finish to clock one hour 25 minutes and 28.770 seconds over the 58 laps, beating world champion Fernando Alonso, in a McLaren-Mercedes, into second place by 7.2 seconds.

Raikkonen, who posted his 10th career victory, was given a mobile phone by his team principal Jean Todt shortly after alighting from the car. "It was Michael, but the line was not very good, so I could not understand," Raikkonen said. Even though Raikkonen led from start to finish, he did not have it all his own way. The former McLaren driver said that the radio broke down shortly before the start of the race and that it had not been an easy race as a result. "I did not have to push too much, but even though I knew that if everything went well we should win, I was a bit worried because of the radio."

The Finn had a slight problem towards the end of the race as he slipped off the track for a brief moment. "It was totally my fault. I was not concentrating and I looked at something else. That happens if one is not too worried about what is happening."

Grand Prix rookie Lewis Hamilton, in the second McLaren, came in third, while German Nick Heidfeld (BMW-Sauber) finished fourth. Giancarlo Fisichella in a Renault was fifth.

The second Ferrari of Brazilian Felipe Massa, who started from last place on the grid after having to change his engine, was sixth while Germans Nico Rosberg (Williams) and Ralf Schumacher (Toyota) finished in seventh and eighth place respectively to pick up the final points.

The podium was the youngest-ever in Grand Prix history, with an average age of 24.6 years (Raikkonen 27, Alonso 25 and Lewis 22), while Hamilton's performance was the best ever by a Grand Prix rookie in the last 10 years. It came close to equalling Jacques Villeneuve's performance in 1996, when the Canadian finished second in a Williams at the Australian GP.

"I am feeling ecstatic. It is a fantastic feeling and then to be able to finish with a podium place in my first race is just unbelievable," Hamilton said. Raikkonen had no problems winning the start, but Alonso slipped back to fourth as he was put under pressure by Heidfeld and was also passed by team-mate Hamilton as he had to hold back to avoid a collision with Heidfeld's BMW.

Heidfeld was the first to go into the pits for fuel, followed by Raikkonen shortly afterwards. This allowed Hamilton to lead the race in his first-ever GP.

Raikkonen regained the lead shortly afterwards when Hamilton and Alonso had to refuel and then cruised to victory.

Alonso managed to overtake Hamilton during their second pit stop. "I am not quite sure what went wrong at the second stop. I got a decent start, but was then later held up by slower cars. I made a few mistakes during the race and I will just need to keep on learning," Hamilton said.

Raikkonen is the first championship leader of the season with 10 points, while Alonso and Hamilton follow with eight and six points respectively.

McLaren lead the Constructor's Championship with 14 points — one more than Ferrari.

The next race, the Malaysian GP, is scheduled for April 8.

DPA