The 2008 Australian Grand Prix (officially LXXIII ING Australian Grand Prix) was the first race of the 2008 Formula One season. It took place at the Albert Park Circuit on March 16 2008. The race was won by McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton with Nick Heidfeld for BMW Sauber in second and Nico Rosberg of Williams-Toyota in third.
The race was notable for being the first since the 2001 San Marino Grand Prix without traction control, resulting in a number of incidents, and only seven cars finishing the race (with one of those disqualified). The race resulted in Hamilton and McLaren taking an early lead in the drivers' and constructors' championships respectively.
The Grand Prix was held from 14 March until 16 March at Albert Park Lake, Melbourne, Australia. It was the 13th race at the circuit, and the 24th Formula One race in the country. 2007 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen had won the previous year's race, and no major changes had been made to the circuit since the previous race.
The race saw the debut of the Force India F1 team, who had bought Spyker at the end of the 2007 season. Two drivers also made their debut at the Grand Prix, in triple world champion Nelson Piquet's son, Nelson Piquet, Jr. and four time Champ Car champion Sébastien Bourdais. GP2 champion Timo Glock also made his return to Formula One with Toyota.
Kimi Räikkönen set the fastest time with his Ferrari in the first free practice session of the race weekend on Friday, with McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa of Ferrari second and third. McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen set the fourth-fastest time, with the other teams and drivers further off the front-running pace.
In the second practice, Hamilton was fastest, almost a second ahead of second-placed Mark Webber. Massa and Kovalainen were third and fourth. Räikkönen was sixth, but his time in first practice was faster than Hamilton's fastest in second.
In the sole free practice session on Saturday, the two BMW Sauber drivers were fastest, with Robert Kubica leading Nick Heidfeld. Fernando Alonso was third for Renault, with Nico Rosberg (Williams) behind in fourth. After an unpredictable sixty minutes, the Ferrari and McLaren drivers were all further down the order than on Friday.
The new rules for 2008 extended the first qualifying session by five minutes, but still eliminated the six slowest drivers as it had in previous seasons. Super Aguri drivers Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson failed to advance to the second session, as did both Force India drivers and newcomers Sébastien Bourdais and Nelson Piquet, Jr.. Reigning World Champion Kimi Räikkönen suffered fuel pressure problems on his second flying lap and coasted to a halt in the pit lane entrance. He was prohibited from contesting the second session as the marshals, and not his Ferrari mechanics, had to push his car back to the Ferrari garage.
A further six drivers were eliminated from the second session of qualifying. Following Räikkönen's problems, he was eliminated by default and consequently only five drivers would not progress to the next round. Australian Mark Webber had an accident on his flying lap after a front right brake problem, and the session was temporarily stopped. Honda drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello also failed to advance, as did Williams driver Kazuki Nakajima and former World Champion Fernando Alonso.
The new rules for the season shortened the third session to ten minutes, as well as requiring drivers to start the race with whatever fuel they had left at the end of the session, rather than deciding on their race strategy and allowing them to refuel in advance. This was a decision designed to stop drivers from going through a "fuel burn" phase where they did not set competitive lap times in an effort to make their cars lighter and therefore set faster times on their flying laps. Polish driver Kubica briefly held fastest time, despite an off-track excursion, but was demoted to second place by 2007 championship runner-up Hamilton moments later. Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Vettel also failed to set a lap time due an oil problem, leaving him in tenth place.
At the start Kubica failed to capitalise on his second place start, while Sebastian Vettel was slow away from the line. Nelson Piquet Jnr made contact with Italian Giancarlo Fisichella at the first corner, putting Fisichella out of the race. Felipe Massa spun and grazed the wall, forcing him to pit for a new front wing. In another incident at turn three Mark Webber, Anthony Davidson, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel came together, putting all three out of the race. The safety car was deployed in response to the accidents. At the front Lewis Hamilton took the early lead, followed by Kubica and Rosberg. Massa's team mate Räikkönen elevated himself from fifteenth to eighth on the first lap.
The safety car came in on lap three and Hamilton quickly opened up a lead from Kubica in second. Räikkönen was stuck behind Rubens Barrichello, finally passing him lap 19 for sixth place. During the first set of pit stops Toyota driver Jarno Trulli was forced to retire due to electrical problems.
On lap 26 Massa attempted to pass David Coulthard. The two collided; Coulthard retired from the race with serious damage to his car. This brought the safety car out for the second time. Massa retired on lap 29 with Ferrari's first engine failure of the race. Räikkönen, who had been about to pit, had to stay out. Despite this he did not pit when the pit was re-opened two laps later, preferring to move up the field as other drivers pitted.
The race re-started on lap 30. Räikkönen braked very late while trying to pass Heikki Kovalainen for second place and went right off the track, losing several places. Another mistake two laps later forced him back to last of the 11 cars left on the track. He went off the track again on lap 42.
On lap 44 Timo Glock ran wide onto the grass and the bottom of his car hit two substantial bumps, the second of which caused it to briefly fly up in the air and land with force sufficient to break the suspension, leaving the monocoque in contact with the ground and unable to be stopped, resulting in a sizable accident. Glock spun twice and came to rest against the wall further down the track. He was forced to retire and the safety car came out for a third time. On the same lap, due to a false signal from the chief mechanic, Barrichello left a pit stop before the fuel hose had been removed from his car. Several mechanics suffered minor injuries. He would also serve a ten second penalty for this pit stop as it was taken while the pit lane was closed. Ultimately he was disqualified for exiting the pitlane while it was closed.
The race re-started on lap 47 and one lap later Kubica was forced out of the race after a collision with Kazuki Nakajima. Fernando Alonso was able to move up the field as a result of the high number of retirements and overtaking of Kovalainen and Räikkönen in a single move, and was fifth with eight laps left. However Kovalainen threatened to pass him in the last few laps. Räikkönen retired with Ferrari's second engine failure of the race on lap 54, after driving slowly into the pit lane.
Sébastien Bourdais's first Formula One race ended on lap 56 after suffering an engine failure (Ferrari's third of the race). He was running 4th place in the Scuderia Toro Rosso at the time and had completed his final pit stop. With just over one lap to go Kovalainen finally passed Alonso into fourth, but Alonso regained the place on the straight shortly afterwards later when Kovalainen accidentally hit the pit lane speed limiter, slowing the car momentarily.
Seven cars finished the race, but Barrichello was later disqualifed for passing a red light at the pit lane exit. Lewis Hamilton won, having led all but 5 laps of the race. Nick Heidfeld came second and Nico Rosberg recorded his first podium in third. Kazuki Nakajima was the final car to finish, but was later given a ten-place grid penalty for the next race after hitting Kubica under safety car conditions.
- First Race: Sébastien Bourdais, Nelson Piquet Jr.
- First Podium: Nico Rosberg
- First Points: Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Bourdais
- First Fastest Lap: Heikki Kovalainen
- Lap Leaders: Lewis Hamilton (50: 1-17, 22-42, 47-58) and Heikki Kovalainen (8: 18-21, 43-45)
- Rubens Barrichello was disqualified from 6th place for ignoring a red light at the pit exit. He also received a stop-and-go penalty during the race for refuelling when the pit lane was closed during a safety car period.
- Only six cars finished the race (with Barrichello disqualified). This was the lowest number of drivers to finish a Grand Prix since the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix, where only three cars finished the race, and tied the result at the 2005 United States Grand Prix, where only six cars competed due to safety issues revolving around the Michelin tyres.
- This was the first Grand Prix since the 1994 Portuguese Grand Prix featuring neither of the brothers Michael and Ralf Schumacher.
- Kazuki Nakajima was handed a 10 place grid penalty for the Malaysian Grand Prix for the collision with Robert Kubica.
- This race marked the equal best result at the time for BMW Sauber with Nick Heidfeld's second place. The other race being the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix.
- For the first time ever, the top three finishers are former champions of the International F3000 series or GP2 series.
- Official Australian Grand Prix results from FIA website from Formula 1 website
- Detailed Australian Grand Prix results
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