Australian Grand Prix team analysis: Lotus prove importance of strategic racing

The 2013 season has kicked off with a bang, and already it’s looking good – no one team holds a decisive advantage over the other.

Raikkonen’s victory today was assisted by excellent strategic calls in the pit lane, showing how absolutely crucial tyre management will be in 2013. Let’s have a look at how each team managed in Melbourne:

Lotus

With no response from their rivals after the final set of stops, it is already clear that long distance race pace is Lotus’ strong point. Tyre conservation appears to be particularly manageable, as Kimi completed a 25-lap stint on the mediums without much difficulty.

Their qualifying pace requires work, though. A fourth row lockout may have been enough today, but in future races they will not have the opportunities like they did in Melbourne.

Raikkonen was calm and relaxed as always, and he is now a sure-fire contender for the championship. Grosjean, on the other hand, I’m not sure about. He reported possible damage to his car, but even still he never was close to his teammate’s pace.

Ferrari

The F2013 is eons ahead of the F2012, which is the most important thing for the Scuderia. With Alonso on top form, and Massa resurgent, Ferrari are possibly the biggest threat in both championships.

A smart call to pit early by Alonso allowed him to leapfrog Vettel, giving him his best shot at victory. Massa opted not to follow suit, and paid the price, although you could argue that he should have been able to make the call himself as well.

Nevertheless, both drivers performed very well, and Ferrari now have one of the most solid packages on the grid.

Red Bull

What looked to be a complete domination today failed to materialise, and instead Sebastian Vettel is now slightly on the back foot.

However, a podium finish is enough at the moment, and Red Bull can now stand back and analyse how to repond to Lotus’ and Ferrari’s pace. One issue that needs to be solved is the RB8′s heavy tyre wear, a factor that lost Sebastian a place to Alonso during today’s race.

Webber, meanwhile, had absolutely no impact on the race, and proved once again why he has been unable to win a title.

Mercedes

Clearly playing down their chances over the winter, Mercedes aren’t in the worst position at the moment. A storming performance from Rosberg in Q1, as well as Hamilton’s great race pace, is enough to show the team’s potential.

Tyre conservation is a valuable asset, with both drivers managing more than double the amount of laps on the super-softs than the Red Bulls. Raw pace is lacking, and it will remain to be seen can the team finally keep up in the development race.

Force India

Adrian Sutil’s commendable drive today showed that Force India were not wrong to re-sign the German. He led the race twice, and managed to pull away from Vettel on older tyres – a feat that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Paul di Resta, though, is now under pressure. Having failed to match his teammate’s pace across 90% of the Grand Prix, he will now have to deflect claims that he is only an average-grade driver.

The VJM06 is the perfect tool for him to do it though, as it threatens to worry the big boys at the front.

McLaren

The loss of several high-profile figures over the winter hurt McLaren badly. And with the level of competitiveness at the front, they may struggle to ascend up the order.

Sergio Perez performed decently on his first race for the team, and was able to keep close to Button’s pace. However, it doesn’t mask the fact that the MP4-28 is grossly uncompetitive, and the squad may even look to 2014 to bring the team back to the top.

Toro Rosso

Excellent qualifying performances by both drivers in Q1 was encouraging form. While it failed to materialise into points, the team look more competitive than last year, at least.

Jean-Eric Vergne finished within half a second of Perez’s McLaren at the finish, which is enough to indicate how much the field has changed since 2012. Without a flat-spotted tyre earlier in the race, he could have even challenged Romain Grosjean for a points-scoring place.

Sauber

The plucky underdogs received no luck in Melbourne, with star driver Hulkenberg out before the race even began.

After that, it was up to debutant Esteban Gutierrez to entertain any hopes of a good finish, but it wasn’t to be. Still, 13th place on his first ever F1 race isn’t too bad, so we’ll see how the Sauber really fares next weekend.

Williams

It’s the same story 95% of the time at Williams – full of talk about how much they’ve improved, only to be miles off the pace as usual.

Valtteri Bottas was the last of the midfield drivers to be classified, while a spin for Maldonado ended his race early. How the car actually fares against Sauber and Toro Rosso we don’t know yet, but it’s not looking good.

Marussia

Encouraging news for the struggling team after a topsy-turvy winter – they have made good gains on the midfield, and appear to be outperforming Caterham for the first time ever.

Jules Bianchi is also a hugely impressive driver, leaping up to 13th briefly at the start, and utterly thrashing teammate Max Chilton. I wouldn’t be so bold as to predict a points finish for the Frenchman, but I’d sure as hell imply it.

Caterham

Meanwhile, Caterham are down in the doldrums, with an underperforming car, and neither driver looking like they can match Bianchi at the moment.

Charles Pic performed decently today, but Giedo van der Garde is still an unknown, as I think his pace was masked with his battle against Chilton. Nevertheless, it looks to be another depressingly poor season for the fledgling team.

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2 responses to “Australian Grand Prix team analysis: Lotus prove importance of strategic racing

  1. David L March 18, 2013 at 13:32

    Put Petrov into Gosjeans seat and see them go !

  2. David L March 18, 2013 at 13:34

    Kobayashi and Petrov two talented drivers lost to F1.

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