Yes, he had the benefit of a competitive McLaren Mercedes in which to make his first Grand Prix start – something the likes of Michael Schumacher and Hamilton’s own team mate Alonso never had.
But the contrasting fortune of the other driver making his debut for a front running team underlined just how good a job Hamilton did. Heikki Kovalainen looked like a frustrated rally driver more than once during the Australian Grand Prix.
Only a meagre handful of other drivers have been able to start their careers in competitive teams and translate their talent into a podium finish at the first time of asking.
You have to go back over a decade to find a driver who made as bright a start to his career as Lewis Hamilton has. Jacques Villeneuve finished second on his debut for Williams at Melbourne in 1996.
Villeneuve carried significant extra experience into his first race than Hamilton did. He had already won the Indycar championship and the Indianapolis 500 when the series was in its heydey, and undergone a massive pre-season testing programme for Williams.
The 1996 Williams-Renault was an even more competitive proposition, relative to its rivals, than this year’s McLaren. Villeneuve and Damon Hill left the opposition for dead – although Villeneuve came desperately close to beating until until a moment on the grass damaged an oil line and later forced him to yield.
Apart from the competitors in the very first world championship Grand Prix, twelve racers managed to finish on the podium in their first race in addition to Hamilton:
F1 drivers who finished on the podium in their first race
|1||Giancarlo Baghetti||Ferrari||French Grand Prix||Reims||1961|
|2||Alberto Ascari||Ferrari||Monaco Grand Prix||Monte-Carlo||1950|
|2||Dorino Serafini||Ferrari||Italian Grand Prix||Monza||1950|
|2||Karl Kling||Mercedes-Benz||French Grand Prix||Reims||1954|
|2||Mike Parkes||Ferrari||French Grand Prix||Reims||1966|
|2||Jacques Villeneuve||Williams Renault||Australian Grand Prix||Melbourne||1996|
|3||Jean Behra||Gordini||Swiss Grand Prix||Bremgarten||1952|
|3||Cesare Perdisa*||Maserati||Monaco Grand Prix||Monte-Carlo||1955|
|3||Masten Gregory||Maserati||Monaco Grand Prix||Monte-Carlo||1957|
|3||Peter Arundell||Lotus Climax||Monaco Grand Prix||Monte-Carlo||1964|
|3||Reine Wisell||Lotus Cosworth||United States Grand Prix||Watkins Glen||1970|
|3||Mark Donohue||McLaren Cosworth||Canadian Grand Prix||Mosport||1971|
|3||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes||Australian Grand Prix||Melbourne||2007|
*Shared drive with Jean Behra
However, an exceptional performance in a rookie debut is not necessarily a portent of great things to come. Compare the diverse career results of these drivers who feature in the above table:
Alberto Ascari: 2 championships, 13 wins from 31 starts, 140.64 points
Jacques Villeneuve: 1 championship, 11 wins from 165 starts, 235 points
Reine Wisell: 22 starts, 13 points
Dorino Serafini: 1 start, 3 points
Hamilton has made an historic start. But the hard work is only just beginning. The real challenge comes as the grind of the season wears in, against a team mate known for being completely unrelenting.
For those of us privileged to be watching, it’s going to be thrilling to find out just what he’s capable of.
- ‘First black Formula One driver?â?ó?óÔÇÜ?¼?é?ª’
- F1 2007 Preview: A rookie winner?
- Australian Grand Prix 2007 race review