Raikkonen takes surprise triumph in Melbourne thriller

Kimi Raikkonen has taken the first victory of the 2013 Formula 1 season, employing a stellar strategy to sneak ahead of the rest of the field.

Pole sitter Sebastian Vettel struggled for pace slightly, and could only manage 3rd position. Ferrari confirmed their excellent race pace with 2nd and 4th for Alonso and Massa, while Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Sutil put in brave drives for their teams. Here’s the breakdown of what happened:

A typical Webber start

At the start, Mark Webber made yet another disastrous start, falling to 9th by the end of the first lap. The Ferraris stormed past Webber and Hamilton, with Massa fending off Alonso for 2nd.

Having qualified a brilliant 3rd, Lewis began to slip down the order. First he was passed by Massa and Alonso, then he came under huge pressure from Kimi Raikkonen, to which he succumbed to on Lap 2. Amazingly, Jules Bianchi in the Marussia had a storming start, and managed to get up to 13th before burning out his first set of tyres.

Jenson Button, predictably, was the first to pit for new tyres, seeing as the McLaren had shredded his super-softs in Q3 earlier. Webber followed suit, and it quickly became clear that the Red Bulls were struggling to control their tyre wear.

By Lap 6, Vettel’s typical “first lap advantage” had run out, and both Massa and Alonso were breathing down his neck. Raikkonen, having dispatched of the Mercedes, was the quickest of the 4 of them, and soon joined the action up front.

Resurgent Sutil

Vettel removed his super-softs on Lap 8, with Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen pitting soon after. This left the Mercedes drivers briefly out in front, who had opted to stay out on the options for longer than anyone else.

Adrian Sutil found himself at the front of the pack, having started on the medium tyres. More impressively, he was capable of holding off Vettel lap after lap, and even began to pull away from the Red Bull.

Sebastian seemed unable to pull the maximum out of the medium tyres, and Alonso made his second pit stop in response, having been backed up by both the Red Bull and Massa. Sutil and Vettel pitted on Lap 21, and the world champion exited the pits behind Fernando, his sudden change in strategy now paying diviends.

Despite his initial pace, Massa was caught unawares by this development, and fell away from the frontrunners after his second stop. Vettel improved on his new set of rubber, diving past Sutil at Turn 3.

Approaching the halfway mark, Pastor Maldonado became the first retirement of the day, touching the grass in the braking zone of Turn 1 and spinning into the gravel.

Mercedes’ strategy falls apart

Up at the front, Hamilton and Rosberg again found themselves ahead of the leaders, being on a different strategy. Nico was running as high as 3rd, but an electrical problem forced him to pull over and retire.

Light rain soon began to fall around Albert Park, making conditions even trickier. Raikkonen now led Hamilton, neither of them having made their second stop, while the 3-stopping Alonso soon began to catch the Mercedes.

On Lap 31, after spending a few laps staring at the Mercedes’ rear wing, Alonso took advanateg of a lock-up at Turn 12, and swept past Hamilton for 2nd place. Lewis pitted soon after, and it became apparent that his attempt at a 2-stop had failed.

Once the final set of stops were over and done with, Raikkonen was now in control of the Grand Prix, holding a solid 6 second lead over Fernando Alonso. Vettel and Massa both overtook Hamilton for 3rd and 4th, whose slower car was now restraining his efforts.

Sutil led the race briefly again, but began to sharply drop back on his final set of tyres. With the Force India out of contention, the focus switched back to the front, where Alonso was doing his absolute best to reel in Raikkonen.

A tense finish

Having fallen to as little as 4 seconds during the stops, Kimi was able to bring the gap back up to 7 seconds once he put his foot down. However, Fernando remained vigilant, knowing that his tyres were 5 laps newer than the Lotus’.

Adrian Sutil slipped away from the frontrunners, even on the super-soft tyres, and was even reeled in by teammate Paul di Resta, who had a very quiet race in 8th place. The Force Indias were within a second of each other with a few laps to go, but Di Resta was ordered to hold position until the end.

McLaren knew they would have a difficult race, and a 9th placed finish by Button was acceptable considering how poor qualifying was. Sergio Perez was resurgent towards the end of the race, but was unable to pass Romain Grosjean for 10th on the final lap.

Holding the 6-second gap until the end, Raikkonen cruised to his first victory of the season, his superior strategy and speed proving to be unmatched. Alonso and Vettel joined him on the podium, while Massa and Hamilton slipped away in the final stint.

Red Bull’s “domination” clearly failed to materialise, and the 2013 season looks to be just as closely-fought as 2012. The Malsyaian Grand Prix can’t arrive quickly enough.

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One response to “Raikkonen takes surprise triumph in Melbourne thriller

  1. David L March 18, 2013 at 13:46

    Has anyone tried to analyse Mark Webber’s terrible starting ! We all know that he is a good driver consistently storming through the field, but he looses every race at the start. This is so bloody frustrating why does’nt he concentrate on this when practicing . Get it analysed for goodness sake.

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