Kimi Raikkonen became the first Ferrari driver since Nigel Mansell in 1989 to win on his debut with the legendary Italian team on Sunday, barely putting a wheel wrong in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. His only problems were one minor off when he lost concentration on lap 46, and the lack of a radio throughout the race.

“The weekend has been very good, but today the race was not that easy,” he reported. “Maybe it looked like it but I didn’t have the radio as it stopped working before the start, so it was quite complicated. But we had our plan so I knew what had to do even if it was not the ideal situation.”

As the Finn sped into the distance, setting a string of fastest laps, the focus of attention fell on Lewis Hamilton and his sensational debut for McLaren. Beaten off the line by Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber, the 22 year-old Briton simply drove round the outside of the Pole – and team mate Fernando Alonso who found himself trapped behind Nick Heidfeld in the other BMW – and held a confident second place ahead of the double world champion until the final pit stops. He even led the race for a couple of laps when Raikkonen made his first pit call.

After being blocked by Takuma Sato just prior to his second refuelling stop on lap 43, Hamilton lost second to Alonso when the Spaniard rejoined from his own stop on lap 45. Thereafter he dutifully followed his team leader home to finish an excellent third on his debut. He did a terrific job.

“It’s been fantastic, to lead in the race in my first Grand Prix,” a remarkably fresh-looking Hamilton said, “but it was extremely tough having the two-time world champion right behind you! The team have done a fantastic job here and back at the factory.

“I got a pretty decent start but the BMWs were very quick off grid and Robert got past me. There was no way to stay on the inside so I thought I would dive back to the outside, and there I managed to out-brake nearly everyone. Obviously leading Fernando was then extremely intense, and for sure I made a couple of mistakes, but it’s been another new experience and I am ecstatic be here on the podium in my first race.”

Heidfeld brought BMW Sauber fourth place after a very strong showing, but it was a bittersweet result as the team lost Kubica to mechanical problems when fifth also seemed likely.

That place ultimately fell to Giancarlo Fisichella, but only just. The Italian kept his Renault a bare 0.3s ahead of the closing Felipe Massa at the end, the Brazilian recovering strongly after losing huge amounts of time bottled up behind the slow Hondas early on. Once he was clear of them he was able to make the most of a single-stop strategy after starting from the back of the grid following an overnight engine change. They were the final unlapped runners.

The final points went to Nico Rosberg and Ralf Schumacher, for Williams-Toyota and Toyota respectively. The former pulled an aggressive overtaking move on the latter on the 36th lap to settle the matter once and for all.

Jarno Trulli brought the second Toyota home ninth, inches ahead of Heikki Kovalainen who had an incident-packed debut for Renault that included a spin and a couple of off-road adventures. Inevitably he was overshadowed by Hamilton.

Rubens Barrichello was the leading Honda in only 11th place, despite brushing a wall early in the race. Team mate Jenson Button had a terrible run which included a drive-through penalty for pit-lane speeding, and could only manage 15th, separated from Barrichello by Sato, Mark Webber and Tonio Liuzzi. The Japanese driver had his usual boisterous run and several adventures, while Webber was off the road once and spun his Red Bull in the pit lane during his second stop. Liuzzi was Toro Rosso’s only finisher after Scott Speed went off the road while running ahead of him.

Anthony Davidson’s debut with Super Aguri got off to a bad start when he was all but left on the grid and then got turfed off by Spyker’s debutant Adrian Sutil. The German was given a drive-through penalty for that and compounded it by speeding in the pit lane and getting another penalty. Davidson led him home, in 16th and 17th places.

David Coulthard accepted responsibility for a dramatic collision with Alex Wurz in Turn Three on lap 49, neither having featured strongly prior to that.

Besides Speed, the other retiree was Christijan Albers, who crashed his Spyker in Turn Three early in the race.

The result leaves Raikkonen atop the driver standings, while McLaren’s double podium means they head the constructors’ championship from Ferrari.