Kimi Räikkönen drove to a commanding win in the season-opening race of the 2013 Formula One season at Melbourne’s Albert Park street circuit. “I told you [the Lotus] was a good car,” said the famously uncommunicative Finn, who added confidently, “It was one of the easiest races of my wins.”
The World Champion of 2007 executed a two-stop strategy to perfection to defeat Ferrari and Red Bull, whose muscular performances over the weekend had threatened to dominate the race — Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber had locked out the front row in the morning’s qualifying session. The 33-year-old Räikkönen said afterwards:
“Our plan was to do two stops. It’s always difficult in the first races to know when to stop. We got it exactly right. We had a plan, we followed the plan, and it worked out perfectly for us.”
“I could save the tyres and I could go fast when I wanted. Hopefully we can have more races like this.”
Australia was an impressively strong GP for Scuderia Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso coming home second (he was a miraculous fifth here a year ago, with a dog of a car) and Felipe Massa fourth. After securing pole position with a remarkable lap of 1m 27.407s in weather-delayed Q3 qualifying, and streaking away at the start, defending three-time titleholder Vettel was unable to manage his Red Bull’s tires and had go be content with third place on the rostrum.
Kimi Raikkonen produced a thrilling victory here on Sunday to win the first grand prix of the season.
With his tyres falling apart, and with two great drivers, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel in his mirrors, Raikkonen held on for the 20th win of his career.
It was a triumph for Lotus, who proved that they not only have a fast car but are also light on their tyres; Raikkonen made just two pit-stops while the six cars behind him made three. Even though there was rubber hanging from his car, Raikkonen was still quick enough to post the fastest lap of the race just before the end.
“I told you it was a good car,” said the infamously incommunicative Finn. When he last won, in Abu Dhabi, he told his team: “Just leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.” They made a T-shirt out of it. Yesterday there was not much chatter between driver and team until it was all over. Then he said: “I’m happy with the win but it’s only the first race.”
Vettel said: “When you have pole you want to win the race but it was clear in the first few laps that our tyres were falling apart. I thought that Kimi did the best job today. And Ferrari were also strong. I’m happy with third but we will have to do some homework in the tyres.”
It was certainly a strong race for Ferrari, with Alonso coming home second (he was a miraculous fifth here a year ago, with a dog of a car) and Felipe Massa fourth.
The qualifying session in the morning, held over from the night before, had suggested a dominating performance from Red Bull, and perhaps a podium place for a revitalised Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. But it certainly didn’t work out that way.
Vettel was third, three places ahead of Mark Webber. But Hamilton will still be happy with his fifth place. His new team-mate Nico Rosberg dropped out on the 27th lap with electronic problems and his old team McLaren struggled, as predicted, with Jenson Button ninth and Sergio Pérez 11th.
Vettel streaked away when the lights went out but his team-mate Webber must have felt he was going backwards at the start of the race. The only driver who made a worse start than Webber was Nico Hulkenberg, who didn’t even make it onto the grid after being forced out with a fuel problem.
Alonso, like Vettel, made a stunning start, going through on the inside of Hamilton to take third and then putting one over on his team-mate Massa to take second. But Raikkonen was also impressive in the first lap, moving up two places from seventh to fifth.
The leading drivers started with super-softs in order to pit early and get down to business with the harder tyres. Adrian Sutil did not come in for a change until after 21 laps. It was a good race for Force India, with Sutil coming seventh and Paul di Resta eighth.
It looked good for Alonso when he pitted a lap before Sutil and Vettel and managed to leapfrog both. But in the end it was Raikkonen’s two-stop strategy which paid off. “It was one of the easiest races I did to win,” he said. Without smiling.
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