Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Lotus GP took the laurels in the battle of the first Grand Prix in the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship. The Finn seized victory at the Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne, Australia, to lead the driver’s championship table after the first race.
Raikkonen exploited his car’s easier nature on its tyres to make just two pit stops in the race, while his rivals were forced to opt for three.
Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, the reigning World Champion, took pole in a qualifying session delayed by rain and consequently led the race early on, but was unable to escape from the chasing Ferrari duo of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. Mark Webber, driving in his 12th home Grand Prix, made a terrible start from 2nd and slipped down the order into 6th. The Australian is notorious for having a Melbourne "curse" that has never seen him set foot on the podium in front of his loyal home supporters.
While many front-running drivers struggled with their fast-degrading Pirelli tyres, Raikkonen remained under the radar in a quiet 5th place as the first round of pit stops began. Jenson Button, who had qualified his woefully-poor McLaren MP4-28 in 10th place, was the first to submit to his rubber after just four laps of the Grand Prix. Others quickly followed suit, leaving F1-returnee Adrian Sutil out front in his Force India, which had started the race 12th on the harder, slower but more durable medium compound Pirelli tyres.
Although Vettel quickly reeled him in, he was unable to find a way past and was further compromised when he inadvertently followed the Force India into the pits when the second pit stops began on lap 28. This made him easy prey for Fernando Alonso, who took the opportunity to post some fast lap times and leap-frog his 2012 Championship nemesis for position. Felipe Massa had lost out when Ferrari kept him out on worn-tyres for 2 extra laps.
Mercedes meanwhile had attempted to make just two stops but quickly realized it wasn’t going to work; both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg pitted, but the German didn’t get much farther before his car expired with an electrical failure.
It soon became apparent Raikkonen was planning just one more stop, sending his rivals into quick-calculation mode to see if they too could bridge the distance to the end of the 58 lap race. None could, and as his opponents dropped by the wayside with lack of grip or admitted defeat and took to the pit lane, Raikkonen kept on marching up the order. On lap 43 he caught and passed the struggling Sutil and never looked back, finishing the race a comparatively massive 8 seconds ahead of Alonso.
“I’m happy for the team and for myself also. We’ve had a quick car all weekend and there were no issues with it either, so we could just focus on trying different things and getting the setup how we wanted.” said the Lotus driver soon afterwards.
“You can’t start the season much better than winning the first race, and of course we hope we can be fighting at the front of the Championship, but there’s a long way to go still and we need to keep pushing hard all the way.”
Team Principal, Eric Boullier, was equally delighted.
“I’m very happy. After Kimi’s great start we were hoping that we could achieve a podium finish, then as the race unfolded and we saw the other teams pitting — showing that they were on three-stop strategies — our position became stronger and stronger. It’s a fantastic feeling to open the season in this way. Kimi drove impeccably all weekend and gave the team his all.”
“We head to Malaysia in the best position we could be."
Formula One will return next weekend in Kuala Lumpur with the Malaysian Grand Prix.