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Hamilton exceeds his wildest dreams
March 18, 2007 21:38 IST
Lewis Hamilton lived the dream in Australia on Sunday with a Grand Prix debut that ranked as one of the most impressive in Formula One history.
Niki Lauda, three times a world champion, said the 22-year-old Briton is simply the best rookie driver he has ever seen.
"It was the best. I've never seen anything like this," the Austrian said.
Hamilton lived up to the hype and exceeded it, leading for four laps before a controlled drive to third place in a race won by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.
"I was ecstatic. I still am," he said after spraying champagne on the podium like an old hand.
"It's something I've been working towards for so many years. All the hard work has paid off.
"I think this is probably beyond my dreams. Obviously to be in Formula One was a dream, but to go into your first race and have such a smooth start is something you don't expect but something we've been working towards.
"I'm loving it."
From the moment that the Briton overtook double world champion and McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso round the outside at the first corner, it was clear that he was not going to be overawed by his surroundings.
In fact that was already obvious from the opening day in Melbourne, when he was the fastest non-Ferrari driver in practice, and from Saturday when he qualified on the second row of the grid.
Hamilton lost out to Alonso only at the second pit stop. Without traffic holding him up, he might have been second.
"To lead my first Grand Prix was a fantastic feeling," he said.
"It was extremely tough. I had Fernando behind me for a long time and it's pretty tough when you have the two times world champion behind you in your first race."
Hamilton is the first to finish on the podium in his debut race since Canadian Jacques Villeneuve finished second in Melbourne 11 years ago and the first Briton to do it since Mike Parkes at the 1966 French Grand Prix.
Yet he managed to contain the excitement at a post-race news conference.
"It was just another learning curve for me," said the Briton, whose grandfather emigrated from Granada to Britain in the 1950s to work on the London underground and whose father named him after US sprinter Carl Lewis.
"For the last five laps... I didn't really have the pace to keep up with Fernando. I knew that the key was to bring the car home. At the end of the day, I think I had done enough for my first race.
"I was pushing as hard as I could but I wasn't able to keep up or to close the gap on Fernando. So that was that."
McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh marvelled at the manner in which Hamilton had handled the pressure and his coolness in the cockpit.
"No one here has any doubts about whether Lewis can get the job done," he said.
"You start listening to him on the radio and you just think 'this is incredible' -- how articulate, intelligent, insightful, the gravitas that he was commanding from the driver's seat was truly amazing.
"The great drivers always find a little bit more and this weekend has been truly, truly remarkable really. We know he had absolute greatness.
"I have considerably less experience than Mr Lauda, of course, but in my humble opinion, yes -- it is the most impressive debut that I have ever witnessed," Whitmarsh added.
"I think sometimes we felt more pressure than him."
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