1st: Kimi Raïkkönen (Lotus Renault) Total time: 1hr 30m 03.225s
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) gap: 12.451s
3rd: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) gap: 22.346s
Kimi Raïkkönen (Lotus Renault), 1:29.274 = 213.845 km/h on lap 56
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:27.407 = 218.412 km/h
Lotus blossoms, Ferrari off to a flier, but don’t write Red Bull off
Kimi Raïkkönen’s speed and his Lotus Renault’s kindness to its tyres combined to bring them a comfortable victory in the opening round of the 2013 World Championship season. Two stops on laps 9 and 34 were enough for the 33-year-old Finn to establish his superiority in his 20th career win, the second of his F1 comeback and his second in Melbourne to set alongside his Ferrari success in 2007. Leading by over six seconds in the closing laps, Raïkkönen had enough up his sleeve to set the race’s fastest lap of 1:29.274 on the 56th of the 58 laps but said “I was still taking it pretty easy”.
Second was a big step forward from last year for Fernando Alonso and Ferrari, determined not to leave themselves an unbridgeable gap to the front-runners as they did in 2012. "At the end I am extremely happy,” said the 32-year-old Spaniard. “We had an extremely difficult start to the season two years ago and last year and this year is very different. We are very optimistic and have an interesting season ahead."
Alonso led briefly after Raïkkönen’s second stop but admitted he was unable to match the Flying Finn’s late-race pace. "It was a fantastic, fantastic race, fighting all through the race," said Alonso. "The race was action every lap and I personally enjoyed it, obviously. At the end it was a little bit sad not to be able to win the race, but Kimi was fantastic today, the Lotus as well.”
World Champion Sebastian Vettel was miffed not to win from the 37th pole of his career but the 25-year-old German put a brave face on his third place for Red Bull. “I think you’re always a little disappointed when you start first and don’t finish first,” said Vettel, who three-stopped but confessed he was “a little too aggressive” with his tyres. Disarmingly, Vettel said he hadn’t even factored Raïkkönen into his strategy because the Lotus was so far ahead. “He was too quick and Fernando jumped us at a vulnerable time,” he added, “but we can be happy with third.”
Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari made a bit of a statement when he fought off his teammate in the early laps and briefly led through the pit stops, with fourth place bringing the 31-year-old Brazilian a decent chunk of points to kick-start a crucial year for him at the Scuderia. Massa’s form – possibly a better guide to Ferrari’s real strength than the never-say-die Alonso’s – suggests that the Scuderia has got it right with the F138, or at least more right at this stage than last year’s car.
Also making a point was Lewis Hamilton. The 2008 World Champion, who raised more than a few eyebrows when he uprooted himself from McLaren to join Mercedes, put in a strong showing to finish fifth in his first outing for the Silver Arrows. Long-time friend and former karting sidekick Nico Rosberg’s sister car was out after 26 laps with an electrical problem. “It’s much better than we expected for the first race of the season,” said Hamilton, who switched strategies from a two-stopper to three. “The important thing is that we have a car that we can really work with.”
And what of Mark Webber? Same old, same old, some will say after Red Bull’s Australian lost the advantage of a front-row start and was seventh by the end of the opening lap. But telemetry trouble on the grid and the loss of his KERS (sound familiar?) proved a double handicap, which was then compounded by a clumsy pit stop when the front jack gave way. Sixth, in the end, was a reasonable if disappointing return: “We salvaged something in the end,” said Webber ruefully, “but that was Melbourne today and it was disappointing not to get more out of it.”
Not much luck either for Dan Ricciardo. Toro Rosso’s Aussie was out after 39 laps, victim of an exhaust-related failure. “I reported back to the pit wall that I could hear strange noises and I tried to fix it by changing a few functions, but it was not to be,” he said. Ricciardo, who described his early stint as “horrendous”, thinks Toro Rosso – like most teams – have more homework to do on the 2013 tyres.
One of the great stories of the day revolved around Adrian Sutil. The 30-year-old German, back with Force India, was brilliant in the opening half of the race, using a strategy that was diametrically opposed to most. They ran him on the Medium tyres for two stints to make his stay on Supersofts as short as possible at the end. It was brave, and successful at first: Sutil led the race (for the first time in F1) for seven laps before pitting after 21, delayed his second stop till lap 46 – and was then a passenger as the short-lived red-walled Pirellis left him a sitting-duck.
“What a fantastic race and a great feeling,” he said. “My final stint was much more difficult because the tyres started graining, but fortunately they came back to me for the final few laps so I could save the seventh place.”
Next race: round 2, Malaysia, March 24
Lotus, it would seem, have ousted McLaren (Button 9th, Perez 11th) from the top three – and Mercedes may have done the same. Will the Woking team revert to last year’s car, or at least an evolution of it, while they try to cure MP4-28’s mysterious lack of pace? And is Fernando Alonso right to be concerned about the Lotus position – on its Pirellis? The Italian company’s Paul Hembery said the Lotus performance was “a true masterclass in tyre management”.
“It is a worry, yes," Alonso said. “Lotus did a very good job and Kimi was driving fantastically and could do two stops. So we have to analyse it. We have only four days to the next race and we have tough opponents.”
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