Kimi Räikkönen has claimed a tactical victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix to lead Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel home in an interesting – although far from ‘edge of the seat’ – Grand Prix at Albert Park.
Effective tyre management was the Finn’s key to victory, with the Lotus driver making one less pit stop than most of the field to maintain track position over his three-stopping rivals.
While many (including us) had predicted Red Bull Racing would cakewalk the race, that proved far from the case once the first sequence of pit stops. Before that, Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber made an appalling getaway from second place, once again bogging down the car and losing six places before the first turn. His race was ruined from that point and – stuck in traffic for much of the race – he finished a disconsolate sixth.
Vettel controlled the early proceedings, keeping the chasing Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso at bay, both of whom had managed to overtake Hamilton off the line.
Räikkönen also snuck by the Mercedes driver early on to make it a four-way scrap for the the lead, and with the fastest ten starters shod with rapidly-wearing Super Soft Pirelli tyres, they all peeled into the pits early on to move onto the more durable Medium compound tyres.
The foursome continued in that order while Mercedes team-mates Hamilton and Rosberg staged a one-two, and were now faced with the challenge of fighting their way through the midfield starters who had kicked off their race on Medium-compound tyres.
Once the Silver Arrows pitted at the quarter-distance mark – both clearly aiming for two-stop races – it was F1 returnee Adrian Sutil who now led in the Force India, marking an excellent return to the sport for the German.
He managed to keep Vettel, Massa, Alonso and Räikkönen at bay until he eventually made his first pit stop – on the same lap that Vettel made his second stop – to bring him back on the same pit stop sequence as the leaders.
Alonso, meanwhile, had pitted the lap before Sutil and Vettel, and used his out-lap to great effect to get ahead of both, before Vettel passed Sutil into Turn 3 a lap afterwards.
Massa now had his turn at the front for a few laps, but that gamble didn’t pay off and he would emerge behind Sutil; his pit stop gave Räikkönen second place, while Sutil reclaimed first place.
Alonso was able to pull clear of Vettel and started to close on Hamilton – who was now running as the sole Mercedes after team-mate Rosberg retired with a terminal mechanical failure – and the Englishman tried, briefly, to keep the Spaniard at bay.
Hamilton was also clearly targeting a two-stop race, and in his quest to keep Alonso behind, he flat-spotted his tyres and had to pit, taking him out of contention for a win when faced with the unrealistic prospect of trying to run the final 28 laps of the race on a single set of tyres.
Just before he did so, Räikkönen got by as the German’s tyres started to fade, and he pitted with ten laps to run, leaving Alonso with a seven-second deficit to close on the Lotus driver shod with older tyres.
Ultimately, Alonso was unable to do it as Räikkönen put in a series of personal best and fastest laps to thwart the Spaniard’s charge. Alonso’s cause wasn’t helped by poor backmarker behaviour from both Charles Pic and Valtteri Bottas, both of whom wandered into his path as he tried to lap them and chase down the leader.
That left Räikkönen to cruise towards his “easiest” – to use his own words – victory, finishing 12.4 seconds ahead of Alonso, while Vettel brought the car home in third.
Both were bewildered at how Räikkönen was able to manage his tyre wear much better than they had been able to, and the problem will give their respective teams (not to mention the rest of the field) plenty of headaches as they head to Malaysia just a week later.
Massa came home fourth after showing some combative racing skills early on – his defence against Alonso in the early laps was particularly impressive – while Hamilton was fifth; no doubt left to rue a lack of discipline in his defence that ultimately forced him onto a three-stop strategy. A podium, possibly, was on the cards.
Behind the disappointing Webber – whose hometown ‘yips’ are no longer news – came Sutil, who managed to hold on against his rapidly-closing teammate Paul di Resta.
Having predicted that McLaren would only compete for the lower realms of the points, Jenson Button delivered exactly that in his MP4-28 with ninth place, while Romain Grosjean was tenth, summarily outperformed by teammate after making a poor start. He was never really a factor, and only just managed to claim the final point from Sergio Pérez and Jean-Éric Vergne.
It was a disappointing race for the debutantes, out of whom Esteban Gutiérrez finished as the best-placed runner in thirteenth. He was the sole Sauber runner, as teammate Nico Hülkenberg failed to take the start after his team discovered a terminal fuel system issue when parc fermé conditions were lifted in the hour before the race’s scheduled start. The German has failed to complete a single lap in anger at Albert Park, and will have to wait to Malaysia before he can (hopefully) kickstart his 2013 campaign.
Valtteri Bottas showed a bit of race rustiness en route to finishing fourteenth in his Williams, which has not shown any of the pace it promised in pre-season testing. Rather predictably, teammate Pastor Maldonado was the only driver-induced retiree, throwing his FW35 into the kitty-litter at just over one-third distance.
Daniel Ricciardo was the fourth and final retiree, capping off a disappointing day for the Australian fans when he pulled into the pits and retired his Toro Rosso. Like Webber, the West Australian made an appalling start, falling to last place after overcooking it into Turn 1 on the opening lap.
Both Marussia and Caterham managed to get both of their respective cars home, with new boy Jules Bianchi finishing as best of the bunch, only one lap down in fifteenth place. His compatriot Charles Pic was one spot behind in the Caterham.
Max Chilton also finished in the second Marussia, damaging his front wing in the first-lap shenanigans, although it was unseen by any broadcasting cameras at the time. Fellow rookie Giedo van der Garde was the last finisher, delayed by a tyre problem early in the race.
2013 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (58 laps):
|1.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E21||58||1:30:03.225|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F138||58||+ 12.451|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||58||+ 22.346|
|4.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F138||58||+ 33.577|
|5.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||58||+ 45.561|
|6.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||58||+ 46.800|
|7.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM06||58||+ 1:05.068|
|8.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM06||58||+ 1:08.449|
|9.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||58||+ 1:21.630|
|10.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E21||58||+ 1:22.759|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||58||+ 1:23.367|
|12.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||58||+ 1:23.857|
|13.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber Ferrari C32||57||1 lap behind|
|14.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Renault FW35||57||1 lap behind|
|15.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia Cosworth MR02||57||1 lap behind|
|16.||Charles Pic||Caterham Renault CT03||56||2 laps behind|
|17.||Max Chilton||Marussia Cosworth MR02||56||2 laps behind|
|18.||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham Renault CT03||56||2 laps behind|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||40||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||26||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW35||24||Spin|
|DNS.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sauber Ferrari C32||0||Fuel System|