Lewis wins crash-marred Australian Grand Prix from pole

Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren-Mercedes on Sunday won a crash-marred Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in which just seven of the 22 cars finished. ( dpa )

The race also saw three safety car phases.

Germany's Nick Heidfeld in a BMW-Sauber was second ahead of his compatriot Nico Rosberg in a Williams, who scored his first podium finish.

Hamilton, who won in a time of one hour 34 minutes 50.616 seconds over the 58 laps of 5.303 kilometres for a total of 307.574 kilometres on the Albert Park course said that it was the perfect way to begin the season.

"We now have to continue with the momentum that we have. We could have been even quicker, so I am looking forward to the next race in Malaysia.

"We got off to a really good start. I was able to pull a good gap on the first corner and from then on I just paced myself, I had plenty of time and I just wanted to look after the tyres."

He compared the race with last year's Canadian Grand Prix, where he won his first race. "We had four safety car phases and this time it again worked very well. The team did a wonderful job working out all the strategies."

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in a Renault was fourth, while the second McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen finished fifth. Rubens Barrichello in a Toyota was sixth, ahead of Kazuki Nakajima in the second Williams.

The final point in the championship went to Rookie Sebastien Bourdais in a Toro Rosso, who had to pull out two laps from the end as he was lying fourth, but had by then completed enough laps to be considered a finisher.

World champion Kimi Raikkonen retired in ninth place near the end of the race, while his team-mate Felipe Massa pulled out on the 30th lap after a collision.

Several cars were involved in a collision on the first lap and as a result the safety car had to come out for the first time and several cars including the Honda of Jenson Button, Mark Webber's Red Bull and the Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella had to withdraw.

Hamilton continued putting a gap between himself and the challengers after the safety car withdrew and when Robert Kubica, who started from second in the second BMW-Sauber pitted, Kovalainen managed to overtake.

Kubica then fell behind as Raikkonen, Heidfeld and Rosberg also found themselves in front of the Pole after their first petrol stop.

On the 26th lap Massa in the Ferrari attempted to overtake David Coulthard, but crashed into the side of the Red Bull, prompting the safety car to come out for a second time.

Coulthard, whose car was a virtual write-off, later blamed Massa for the accident. "His car is faster than mine, but just like everybody else, he needs to pass me. I think it was his fault.

"The rear-view mirrors also made things no better as I can only see cars that are far behind, not close. The positioning is done for aero-dynamic reasons and that makes no sense."

Raikkonen, who started 15th, but had worked his way up to third by the 30th lap, attempted to overtake Kovalainen at the end of the second safety car phase, but slipped off the track and had to rejoin the race as 11th.

The safety car had to come out for a third time with 12 laps to go after Germany's Timo Glock in a Toyota slipped off the track and flew into the air as he came back onto the track and drove over a barrier and badly damaged the car.

Heidfeld benefited from the safety car phase as he had just come out of the pits after a petrol stop and managed to close the gap immediately and then took over as second once Kovalainen went into the pits for petrol.

The Finn also lost ground on Rosberg and Alonso.

Kubica and Nakajima in a Williams touched after the safety car pulled off and Kubica had to retire as a result.

There were no further incidents in the race as Hamilton comfortably maintained his position to give him the lead in the drivers' standings with 10 points from Heidfeld on eight and Rosberg on 6.

Heidfeld said after the race that he did not expect to do so well. "After the start I thought I would not have a very good race, but what we lost at the start we managed to make up in the pits and even though I benefited from the safety car I think we deserved second place.

"It could not have been a better race."

The next race is the Malaysian Grand Prix on 23 March in Kuala Lumpur.

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