Raikkonen makes winning start Down Under
Updated: Sunday, 17 Mar 2013 09:09
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.
Lotus suggested during winter testing they had taken a step forward from last season, and they underlined that around Melbourne's Albert Park as Raikkonen 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.
To underline Raikkonen's form since he returned to F1 at the start of last season after a two-year sabbatical competing in rallying, the 33-year-old has now finished in the points in his last 19 races.
Only seven-times champion Michael Schumacher and Vettel, with runs of 24 and 19 respectively, can boast a better record.
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.
One thing is clear, however. 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 over the early laps to ensure they were in a position to make the correct strategy calls and tyre choices when it mattered most.
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.
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, as has so often been the case in the past.
Webber went backwards once the five red lights disappeared to signal the start of the 64th F1 campaign, and by the end of lap one was down in seventh, recovering one place to sixth by the conclusion.
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 drop out of the reckoning, ending up seventh narrowly ahead of Di Resta.
For McLaren and Button, a winner three times in the past four years prior to today, their issues run very deep as team principal Martin Whitmarsh has already made clear.
On his maiden outing for the team Sergio Perez missed out on a point by 0.6secs to Lotus' Romain Grosjean, with the Mexican down in 11th.
As for another new boy in Max Chilton, the 21-year-old from Reigate was 17th, two laps down, and at least not last as he had Giedo van der Garde in his Caterham behind him.
That meant there were four retirements - Daniel Ricciardo in his Toro Rosso, Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, Pastor Maldonado for Williams and Nico Hulkenberg in his Sauber.
Hulkenberg, on his debut for the team, did not even make it on to the grid for the installation lap due to a fuel system problem