Kimi Räikkönen may be better known as The Iceman but the Finn was certainly flying in Melbourne as he trounced the early pacesetters to win the Australian GP effortlessly. A silent killer throughout the race, the Lotus driver never appeared to challenge or be challenged for the race, pumping out quick laps off the cameras to emerge ahead of the usual contenders at the end.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso pulled a quick one on his teammate Felipe Massa and nemesis Sebastian Vettel, successfully jumping the two at the second round of pit stops to finish second overall. Fourth placed Massa had been fast all weekend, at times faster than Alonso, signalling that it is 2008-spec Felipe back at the wheels, not the impostor we’d seen in the past few seasons.
Betraying the form book, Vettel and his mighty Infiniti-liveried Red Bull could only manage to take the last step of the podium, finishing as the meat of a Ferrari sandwich. He was by far the quickest man/machine across Friday practice and duly claimed his 37th career pole in the rain-delayed qualifying.
In the race however, the Red Bull domination everyone was expecting dulled away as he appeared to be holding both the Ferraris back in the two opening stints. At one point he even struggled to keep pace with the two-stopping Sahara Force India of comeback-kid Adrian Sutil, giving Alonso the opportunity to undercut and leapfrog the leaders.
Mark Webber suffered an abysmal home race, as always. Having qualified along side his teammate on the front row, Mark webbed his start and fell back into the midfields. Through the race he had issues with KERS, loss of car-to-pit telemetry and even a pit stop error, which left him a distant sixth at the end. That elusive home podium remains a dream for Webber.
Just ahead of the ageing Australian was Lewis Hamilton, in his maiden race for Mercedes AMG Petronas. The Brit was running as high as third and ahead of eventual winner Kimi before his car’s lack of pace and appetite for tyres pulled him back to fifth at the chequered flag.
Still, that’s far better what than Lewis’ old team managed. McLaren’s new number one Jenson Button struggled with balance all weekend, leaving him behind the two Force Indias in ninth place. Young upstart Sergio Perez, who replaced Hamilton, wrestled with tyre wear all race long and finished just outside the points in eleventh.
A McLaren win here last year seems like a distant memory, and any intentions to make Lewis regret his decision to jump ship fell astray with the MP4/28’s inherent aerodynamic and set-up issues.
Romain Grosjean grabbed the last point in an ill-handling Lotus, making it a bittersweet event for the Enstone team. Further back, twelfth placed Jean-Eric Vergne in the leading Toro Rosso led home a train of F1 rookies: Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez, Valtteri Bottas of Williams and Jules Bianchi in a Marussia. Other first years Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde ended up plum last behind the Caterham of Charles Pic.
The casualty rate was uncharacteristically low for the Australian GP. Nico Hulkenberg didn’t even get to the start line after his Sauber developed a pre-race fuel-line problem. Only Pastor Maldonado (spun off at Turn 1), Nico Rosberg (electrical problem) and Daniel Ricciardo (mechanical issue) joined him in the retirements list.
Kimi Räikkönen now takes an early lead in the drivers standings from Fernando Alonso, while Ferrari, with two cars in the top four, takes charge of the Constructors Championship with 30 points. Lotus-Renault is four points behind, three ahead of reigning champions Red Bull. Mercedes and Force India have 10 points each, while McLaren lies sixth with a dismal two points.
Next in the 19-race calendar is our own Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit this coming weekend. F1 fanatics and budding fans in the house, what do you think of the 2013 season opener?