Kimi Raikkonen shocked many with victory in the season opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park today.
The 2007 World Champion made perfect use of a two stop strategy and a great start to leap frog Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to make a perfect start to his 2013 Championship tilt, and back up the pace showed by Lotus in pre-season testing.
Alonso and Vettel did battle for second place, with the Spaniard coming out ahead of Vettel after his second stop. Vettel on the other hand was unable to convert his pole into victory, but still was satisfied with a podium finish.
The start once again saw a typical Mark Webber reverse job, as the local hope went from second to eighth in a matter of seconds. Both Ferrari’s jumped Lewis Hamilton, as did Raikkonen and a four way battle for the lead ensued. Vettel pulled out ever so slightly but Felipe Massa edged over closer and was impressive in keeping Alonso behind him.
The first pit stops soon followed; with the rapidly degrading Pirelli super soft tyres causing the front runners to change over to the medium compounds. This allowed the Mercedes drivers of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to run first and second before they eventually would pit, handing the lead to an impressive Adrian Sutil. Sutil had started the race on the medium compound and made great use of the strategy to lead a Grand Prix for the first time, something that he would do again after his first pit stop brought him level with the three stopping teams.
By this stage Raikkonen was in second ahead of Hamilton, and Alonso was ahead of Vettel and Massa. Hamilton looked on target for a podium finish on debut for Mercedes but a flat spot on his tyre forced him to make a pit stop, dropping him to his eventual finishing place of fifth.
Sutil at the front soon suffered fast degrading tyres and was passed by Raikkonen for the lead, forcing him to pit with ten laps remaining. The German tried to hang on to a podium place but couldn’t, and was passed by Hamilton and Webber to finish in seventh place. It was still a very impressive drive on his first race in over a year.
Meanwhile Raikkonen held a seven second advantage over Alonso and many expected the Finn to pit, something he wouldn’t do and cruised home to take the victory. Raikkonen after the race claimed the win was ‘easy’, and a shocked Alonso and Vettel were left to wonder how the tyres worked better on the Lotus than their own cars.
Massa finished fourth in a fairly impressive drive by the Brazilian. He was disappointed after the race not to have finished ahead of Alonso, and will be hoping he can continue on with good form for the remainder of 2013. With Hamilton in fifth, Webber took sixth at his home race with the Australian once again suffering bad luck in Melbourne.
Paul di Resta came home in eighth behind his team-mate Sutil and drove a fairly quiet race to give Force India an encouraging double points finish. McLaren on the other hand leave Melbourne with heaps of work to do, as Button could only manage ninth and Sergio Perez finished out of the points in 11th place. Romain Grosjean took home the final point for Lotus.
Outside the points, Jean-Eric Vergne drove an uneventful race to finish in 12th. Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t finish his second home Grand Prix, and was forced to retire with mechanical issues. Esteban Gutierrez was the best placed rookie, as he came home in 13th, with his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg also failing to finish the race. In fact the German didn’t even start, with Sauber withdrawing him with a fuel issue before he could line up on the grid. Interestingly enough it was the third Australian Grand Prix that Hulkenberg has failed to complete a lap at.
Valtteri Bottas was disappointing in 14th, getting in the way of several drivers whilst being lapped to end a dismal weekend for Williams. The team which had shown impressive pace in pre-season testing were nowhere all weekend at Albert Park, and Pastor Maldonado beached his car in the gravel to add to their woes.
On the other side of the impressive scale was Jules Bianchi for Marussia. The Frenchman on debut finished 15th, but was only one lap behind Raikkonen and set a fastest lap that was less than a hundredth of a second off the time by Sebastian Vettel in third place. Bianchi’s team-mate Max Chilton finished in 17th, while the Caterham’s of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde were 16th and 18th. The only other retiree was Nico Rosberg, who suffered electrical issues on lap 26.
With only a week’s turn around till Malaysia, it’ll be interesting to see if Raikkonen can make it two in a row or if Ferrari and Red Bull can bridge the gap.
(Images copyright Getty & Sutton Images)