Michael Schumacher had retired but Kimi Raikkonen ensured Ferrari fans in Melbourne were celebrating again at the 2007 edition of the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix.
The retirement of seven-time world champion Schumacher after the 2006 season opened up a seat at Ferrari and Raikkonen filled it, hoping his switch to the Maranello-based team would help him win his first world title.
Raikkonen had finished second in the world championship in both 2003 and 2005 and his move was one of many in a busy off-season.
McLaren had an entirely new pairing of two-time reigning world champion Fernando Alonso and highly rated rookie Lewis Hamilton, replacing Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Filling Alonso’s spot at Renault, alongside Giancarlo Fisichella, was Heikki Kovalainen, while Australian Mark Webber swapped Williams for Red Bull in just some of the other changes.
After a temporary move due to the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne was back to the start of the Formula 1® calendar in 2007 and so it was with a mixture of excitement and the unknown that the motorsport world congregated in Australia.
Raikkonen looked immediately at home in his Ferrari and qualified quickest, with Alonso next best.
Both drivers were desperate to impress on their debuts for their new teams, while BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld would start from third, alongside Hamilton on the second row.
There was no such joy for Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, who experienced gearbox issues and would start the race from 22nd.
Hamilton gave an indication of his ability when he quickly overtook Alonso on the first lap and there would, of course, be several more reminders about that in the coming years.
There were the usual collisions and retirements at the back of the field, with Christijan Albers the first after he crashed into a wall.
Massa was quickly moving up the field but it was his Ferrari teammate who was comfortable in the race lead, regularly adding to his advantage.
A scary incident occurred on lap 49 as Red Bull driver David Coulthard’s car narrowly missed the head of Williams Toyota’s Alexander Wurz in an ugly crash.
Both drivers retired, while Raikkonen continued to impress en route to a start-to-finish triumph.
He finished more than seven seconds ahead of Alonso, becoming the first driver to win on Ferrari debut since Nigel Mansell achieved the feat in 1989.
More records tumbled, too, as Hamilton drove superbly to finish third and become the first driver to get on the podium on debut since Jacques Villeneuve in 1996.
Heidfeld was fourth and Fisichella fifth, while Massa’s strong race day drive saw him end the race in sixth, seven positions ahead of local favourite Webber.
Victory was the first of six for Raikkonen in 2007, as he edged a thrilling race for the world title by a solitary point.
The Finn won the last two races of the season to finish with 110 points, just ahead of both Hamilton (109) and Alonso (109).