Kimi Raikkonen proved he and Lotus have what it takes this year to become Formula One world champions after storming to victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix over the weekend.
Lotus suggested during winter testing they had taken a step forward from last season, and they underlined that around Melbourne’s Albert Park as the Finn took the chequered flag for the 20th time in his F1 career.
The 2007 world champion was joined by two-times title winner Fernando Alonso and reigning three-times king Sebastian Vettel on the podium to at least dispel early claims the German and Red Bull would again run away with it this campaign.
On his debut for Mercedes, after ending a 13-year career with McLaren at the end of last term, Lewis Hamilton had to settle for fifth, with Force India’s Paul Di Resta eighth and Jenson Button down in ninth in a struggling McLaren.
Unsurprisingly, given the new range of Pirelli tyres that now degrade quicker than their counterparts from last season, this curtain-raiser under cool Melbourne climes was all about who could make them last.
Despite Red Bull blowing away the field in qualifying as they locked out the front row, their race pace fell away in comparison to Raikkonen and the Ferraris.
You would have expected, following a trademark start from Vettel as the German was away smoothly and cleanly from the 37th pole position of his F1 career, that from there he would have had the victory in his pocket – but not a bit of it.
Instead, Felipe Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen kept his rear wing in their sights in the early laps to ensure they were in position to make the correct strategy calls and tyre choices.
Raikkonen grabbed the win on the back of a two-stop strategy compared to the five drivers who finished behind him, with Massa fourth ahead of Hamilton. “Our plan was to do two stops,” said the Finn. We got it exactly right, the team worked extremely well, we had a plan and it worked out perfectly for us.”
As for Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber, his home race in Australia was again agonising – and it was his own poor start that again proved his undoing.
Throughout the 58 laps the lead changed hands many times as the pit stops unfolded, with even Force India’s Adrian Sutil front-running for a number of laps after starting out on two runs of medium tyres.
On his return to F1 after a year out following his release by the team at the end of 2011, a potential podium fell by the wayside as his forced run to the finish on the supersoft tyres saw him ending up seventh, just ahead of Di Resta.
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