Fuelled by his near-miss at the end of the 2007 Formula 1® season, Lewis Hamilton arrived in Melbourne in 2008 with a point to prove.
The McLaren driver nearly achieved the remarkable feat of winning the world championship in his first year in Formula 1®, pipped by Kimi Raikkonen in agonising circumstances.
Ferrari’s Raikkonen won the last two races of the season to finish one point ahead of both Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, setting up a much-anticipated start to the 2008 campaign in Australia.
Alonso moved in the build-up to the season opener, leaving McLaren after just one year to re-join Renault, the team he won both the 2005 and 2006 world titles with.
Heikki Kovalainen, formerly of Renault, swapped places with Alonso, while confidence among the BMW Sauber ranks was growing after both Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld impressed in 2007.
Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil would represent new team Force India, too.
The rules and regulations were tinkered with again, as traction control was banned, while engine development was restricted.
Gearboxes now had to last for two consecutive races, too, like engines.
Raikkonen’s title defence was off to a terrible start when he was left stranded in qualifying following fuel pump failure, Hamilton taking advantage to win pole.
Kubica would start with the young Brit on the front row, with Kovalainen and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa just behind. Local hope Mark Webber was way back in 14th after a qualifying accident.
Massa hit the barriers on the very first lap on Sunday but continued on racing, but a collision between Giancarlo Fisichella and Nelson Piquet ended the Italian’s day.
Another accident saw Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Anthony Davidson ruled out of the race, and the carnage continued as Massa then collided with Coulthard, an incident that led to another Safety Car appearance.
That meant Coulthard’s day was done and the Ferrari man’s poor race finally came to an end when he suffered engine issues.
At the top of the field, Hamilton was untroubled and led the way, ahead of Kovalainen, while Ferrari’s day went from bad to worse as Raikkonen had to pull out with engine issues of his own.
A scary spin ended Timo Glock’s day and saw the Safety Car required again, and further accidents saw the field reduce in size once more.
It had little impact on Hamilton, though, as he cruised through to win by more than five seconds ahead of Heidfeld.
Rosberg also won his way onto the podium, with Alonso and Kovalainen having to settle for fourth and fifth respectively.
Hamilton went on to win five races in 2008 and after missing out on the previous year’s title by just one point, triumphed 12 months later by the same margin.
That was despite runner-up Massa winning his home race in Brazil in the last event of the season, with Hamilton’s fifth-placed finish enough to give him the first of his six world titles.