Kimi plays his cards right in Melbourne

While it won’t necessarily go down in the history books, the 2013 Australian Grand Prix was nevertheless a good way to start off what looks set to be a very exciting season.

I want to begin this by saying that my race reports won’t just be a summary of the events of the Grand Prix, because that’s what we have “record” buttons on our TV remotes for. I’ll let you know the race results,obviously, but I won’t bore you. Instead, I’ll give my thoughts on people’s performances and what may come in the races ahead.

To start off with the winner, it is safe to say that Kimi Raikkonen is certainly a force to be reckoned with this season. He proved last year that he has the speed to win races, but now, with a full season with Lotus under his belt, he has proven he doesn’t need to rely on others’ reliability issues to win.

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Starting from 7th on the grid wasn’t ideal, but given the conditions in qualifying, there wasn’t a whole lot Kimi could have done. He made the most of those conditions and at least put himself in contention to fight at the front of the field. His brilliant start on race day arguably paved the way for his excellent end-of-race result, with the Lotus proving today that it can fight at the very front on a consistent basis, while, crucially, looking after its tires. This all-important trait carried over from the E20 chassis of 2012 will prove a handy weapon throughout the season. The car wasn’t the only thing at the top of its game, though. Lotus’s strategy department was the class of the field today, as it exquisitely placed Kimi in the right spot at exactly the right time. This allowed Kimi to push when he wanted to without having to worry about his tires going off or people threatening from behind. Indeed, by around lap 45, it was fairly obvious that he was going to win the race.

While not nail-bitingly thrilling, this race did feature some terrific driving from the likes of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton while in battle. Strategy allowed for the drivers to always have someone to fight with for position, providing some great entertainment. Speaking of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, their races were arguably the next best after Kimi’s. For the former, the general consensus was that he would struggle a bit to really take the fight to the Red Bulls, and Sebastian in particular. However, Fernando Alonso in his 200 times better Ferrari proved to be not only a match for those blue and yellow cars, but he showed he was their superior. Once ahead, Fernando was able to keep Vettel at bay while also controlling his tire degradation. The signs point to a very close fight between Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull.

As for Lewis, his race was also something of a surprise. Certainly, his qualifying performance was not entirely shocking, the Mercedes driver’s one lap speed a scary weapon in any car. Personally, though, I did not expect him to keep up in the race as well as he did. I expected the Mercedes’ tire gremlins to work their way into the strategy and ruin any chances of good points. Lewis’s ability to make his tires last was one of the more impressive features of the race today.

Finally, I believe the feel-good surprise of the day was the drive by Adrian Sutil. I’m not particularly a fan of the F1 returnee, but there is no denying that he performed commendably today, showing no signs of rustiness that characterized the early-season returns of Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher. Maybe Adrian could have qualified better given his teammate’s position, but in all honesty, the real reason Adrian finished where he did was because he didn’t make Q3.

On the other end of the scale, we find those who did not perform as well as we, and certainly they, expected.

Red Bull stormed to the front row of the grid, sending ominous signs to the rest of the field that a repeat of 2011 was on the cards. However, come the race, the Red Bulls, particulary Webber, were surprisingly underwhelming. That isn’t to say they were slow, as Vettel finished on the podium, but they definitely didn’t perform with the sort of dominance they were hoping for. Vettel was always in contention for the win (up until the last 20 laps or so), but what particularly hurt the German was when Fernando Alonso emerged from his second stop ahead of him. This set the tone for the rest of the race, as Vettel struggled to match the Spaniard’s ultimate pace in a bid for the top step of the podium. As for Webber, another atrocious start left the Australian stranded in the lower end of the top-10 for most of the race. His only savior was late-race pace on the medium tire. These race starts are arguably losing Mark a significant amount of points, and possibly some race wins. Whether there is a fundamental problem with Mark’s car (unlikely given this is a year-on-year issue) or if his feel for the bite point in the clutch is not as in tune as the others, he will need to sort out the problem fast if he is to help his team to a fourth consecutive title.

Williams at least, expected to do poorly this race. Signs in testing were overwhelmingly positive, though this potential was never apparent at any point this weekend. The Williams just had a fundamental lack of pace that neither of the drivers could cope with. Valtteri Bottas made a valiant effort throughout the race to come home in 14th. Pastor Maldonado made a very stupid mistake as he got a wheel on the grass in the run-up to the first corner towards the end of the race. He beached the FW35 in the gravel trap with no way of getting out.

The same low expectations went for the Mclaren team as they braced themselves for a painful weekend at the lower end of the points. Another case of a lack of fundamental speed scuppered any chances of starring this weekend. Jenson Button did a good job to hold back a charging Romain Grosjean in the latter stages of the race to take 9th place, but there is a lot of work to be done if the Mclaren is to become competitive once again. It will not be a quick fix. The chance of the team reverting back to the 2012 car seems to grow ever more likely.

All-in-all, this was a quality, if not entirely thrilling, way to start the 2013 season. All the signs point to another close championship with three standout title contenders already apparent. Whether more will come to the fore will only be determined as the season goes on.

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Brace yourselves, this season is going to be a good one.

Race Results:

PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS

The Australian Grand Prix
Albert Park, Australia;
58 laps; 307.574km;
Weather: Cloudy.

Classified:

Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1h30m03.225s
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari + 12.451s
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 22.346s
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari + 33.577s
5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes + 45.561s
6. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault + 46.800s
7. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1m05.068s
8. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1m08.449s
9. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes + 1m21.630s
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault + 1m22.759s
11. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes + 1m23.367s
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1m23.857s
13. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
14. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault + 1 lap
15. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
16. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault + 2 laps
17. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
18. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault + 2 laps

Fastest lap: Raikkonen, 1m29.274s

Not classified/retirements:

Driver Team On lap
Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 40
Nico Rosberg Mercedes 26
Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 25
Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1

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