Kimi Raikkonen drew first blood in the fight for the 2013 world championship by winning the Australian Grand Prix in clinical fashion.
Raikkonen used the superior tyre management of his Lotus to his advantage as he completed the race by making one less stop than his rivals.
Fernando Alonso finished second, showing strong pace throughout, while world champion Sebastian Vettel began his title defence with third place.
Felipe Massa drove a strong race to come home fourth, underlying the vast improvement Ferrari have made over the winter, ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber, whilst an extremely impressive Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta, Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean completed the points.
At the start polesitter Vettel got away well and led into the first corner, but behind him it was the Ferraris who were the big movers, Massa moving from fourth to second and Alonso gaining one place to lie fourth at turn one, which became third when he overtook Lewis Hamilton at turn three. It was a nightmare start for local favourite Webber, who got an appalling getaway from second and dropped five places on the opening lap.
Massa and Alonso had a great scrap for second towards the end of first lap, and it was the Brazilian who came out on top, total parity being used between both Ferrari drivers in this very early stage of the season.
After lap one, you could have been forgiven for thinking that this race would turn into the typical Vettel walkover, but the world champion began to struggle on the super-soft tyres and both Ferraris began to reel him in. Close behind, Raikkonen had passed Hamilton and then began to make inroads on the front three.
With the super-soft tyres being beset by graining and high degradation in the opening stages, the frontrunners were keen to get away with using them for as little time as possible, and this showed in the timing of the first stops. Webber and Button made the first visits on lap five, followed by Vettel on lap seven, Massa on lap eight and Alonso and Raikkonen a lap after that.
There was no change amongst the frontrunners after the first stops, but the top four had been joined by an unlikely contender in Adrian Sutil. The Force India driver, returning to his old team after a year’s absence from F1, started on the medium tyres and by not having to pit when the leaders did, was now in first place. Not only that, but he incredibly began to lap faster than Sebastian Vettel, despite having much older tyres.
It was clear that Vettel didn’t have the pace that most suspected, and the Ferraris once again began to climb all over his gearbox. Alonso noticed this, and jumped into the pits a lap before anyone else second time around. With the benefit of fresh mediums, the Spaniard leapfrogged the cars in front of him and took the net lead of the race.
Or that’s what we all thought. For Raikkonen, having followed the leaders into the pits the first time around, stayed out much longer than anyone else. It soon became apparent that the Lotus had been switched to a two-stopper and it was the Finn who established himself as the favourite for the win.
Vettel finally dispatched Sutil with a bold overtaking move up the inside of the Force India at turn three, but he didn’t have the pace of Alonso, who was leaving the other three-stoppers for dead. His passage past the two-stoppers was eased when Nico Rosberg retired with an electrical problem, and he got the better of Hamilton after a thrilling battle on lap 31.
Raikkonen made his final stop on lap 34, which handed Alonso the lead of the race, but despite the Spaniard setting a series of quick lap times, he was unable to leapfrog the Finn when he made his third and final stop, the Iceman retaining an advantage of around ten seconds.
Alonso began to eat into Raikkonen’s advantage, taking upwards of two seconds a lap as he closed the gap to around four seconds, but he appeared to take the life out of his tyres in doing so and the Lotus then began to pull away. The car from Enstone looked incredibly easy on its tyres, and Raikkonen proved this fact in emphatic fashion by setting the fastest lap of the race just two laps from the finish.
Although the tyres may have been no concern for Raikkonen, they made life hell for Sutil in the closing stages. Having driven a flawless race for the first 47 laps, Force India brought him in far too early for the troublesome super-softs, and the German then flew down the field almost as quickly as he’d risen up it earlier in the race. Hamilton and Webber both passed him on lap 52, and only the probable intervention of his team prevented Sutil from losing seventh to teammate di Resta in the closing stages. A disappointing finish to what had been a stunning drive.
But out front there were no such worries for Raikkonen, who calmly drove out the remaining laps to take the first win of the season and his second victory in Australia.
Raikkonen’s win has given him the early lead in the drivers’ championship, the first time he has been in that position since the 2008 Turkish Grand Prix, while Ferrari leave Melbourne at the head of the constructors’ standings.
1) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – 1:30:03.225
2) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – +12.451
3) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – +22.346
4) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – +33.577
5) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – +45.561
6) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – +46.800
7) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – +1:04.068
8) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – +1:07.449
9) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – +1:20.630
10) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – +1:21.759
11) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – +1:22.367
12) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +1:22.857
13) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – Lapped
14) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – Lapped
15) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – Lapped
16) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – Lapped
17) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – Lapped
18) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – Lapped
19) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – Retired
20) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – Retired
21) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – Retired
DNS) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari