After 58 laps the Lotus driver was over 12 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso with reigning world champion, Sebastian Vettel, third. Having comfortably qualified on pole position the lack of race pace from Vettel was surprising but the low track temperatures could have played a role in this.
Speaking after the race a clearly satisfied Raikkonen declared that this was “was one of the easiest races I have won. It was a pretty nice race, not so difficult.” Raikkonen was the only front runner able to make a two stop strategy work. Whereas most of the field suffered from acute tyre wear problems the Lotus was durable enough that Kimi was able to set the fastest lap as the race came to a close.
“Our plan was to do two stops and though it’s always difficult in the first races to know when to stop and not go too early, we got it exactly right,” he said. “We followed the plan and it worked out perfectly for us.”
He refused however to be drawn into discussions about his championship chances by simply saying that, “it feels good [to win] but it’s only one race so it doesn’t really change our aim or our work. We’re happy with the win and there’s a lot still to do to try to win the championship.”
His rivals however know that with the Malaysian Grand Prix next weekend they will have limited time to get an understanding of their cars and tyres ahead what will likely be a hot and humid race. Alonso admitted that the tyre advantage that Lotus had in Melbourne was surprising but he was clearly happy to have started his campaign with a podium:
“It is a worry, yes,” he said. “Lotus did a very good job and Kimi was driving fantastically and could do two stops. So we have to analyse it. We have only four days to the next race and we have tough opponents. But at the end I am extremely happy. We had an extremely difficult start to the season two years ago and last year and this year is very different. We are very optimistic and have an interesting season ahead.”
While Vettel expected more from his race having secured pole position he was still happy to start the season on the rostrum and he was philosophical afterwards as he congratulated Raikkonen and Alonso by saying that, “We can be happy with today. Clearly we wanted more [but] I’m not worried, we have to admit sometimes that other people are faster.”
Vettel was hampered by heavier tyre wear than his rivals and he did well to finish on the rostrum having been under pressure from Felipe Massa for most of the race. The Ferrari driver outqualified his teammate and was running in second during the first stint and it was only Ferrari’s strategy favouring Alonso that kept the Brazilian from netting a podium finish.
“When you’re fighting with the guy at the front and then you lose two positions, you’re always disappointed,” Massa said. “Honestly it was a little bit too early to stop. We were planning to stop maybe three or four laps after. Looking at the degradation on the tyres, it was quite high. But he took a risk and it worked.”
Even though he was obviously disappointed after the race this was a very strong showing by the Brazilian and points to a promising campaign ahead for him by saying, “I am a little bit disappointed about this but overall I’m happy because the way we started the season was very, very positive.”
While most of the field was suffering with maintaining tyre performance it was surprising to see Mercedes lead the race in the opening stint after Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were able to stretch their super-soft tyres much longer than their rivals. Given the team’s documented struggles with the Pirelli tyres last year it was very encouraging for the Brackley squad to show such promise in Melbourne.
Hamilton would eventually finish fifth having held off Mark Webber in the closing stages of the race. Having surprised even himself by qualifying third Hamilton made a quick start and was ahead of Raikkonen during the opening laps before the Lotus driver made a daring round the outside overtaking move and pulled clear of the Mercedes.
Even so Hamilton stuck to his strategy and was driving ultra smooth in this opening stint in a bid to coax as much life as possible out of his option tyres. Even though he was not using his trademark aggressive and dominating driving style the Englishman was very fast in his opening stint and while his pace dropped off in the second half of the 58 lap race there was more than enough reasons for optimism after the race with Hamilton saying:
“I think it’s great, I’m really happy,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s way better than we probably ever expected in the first race of the season.. We’re going to have to go back and try and figure out why we were losing time to other people but the car was feeling really good so I don’t really know how the other guys were pulling away so quickly but we will keep pushing and hopefully we’ll get there eventually.”
The other Mercedes of Rosberg retired early in the race with the German commenting that “there was some cuts before and then just switched off. It’s an electronic problem.”
While Hamilton has plenty of reason for optimism ahead of his first season with Mercedes his former team, McLaren, endured a miserable opening race to the season. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez finished ninth and eleventh in Australia. Both drivers had a severe lack of confidence in their car and when asked earlier in the weekend whether they would revert to last year’s car for Martin Whitmarsh spoke about how the F1 season is long and can change quickly but having seen their drivers struggle so badly today it will be interesting to see if their views change in the coming weeks.
“I didn’t expect to get that many [points] today,” commented the 2008 champion. “In a way I’m slightly surprised to have beaten a Lotus and to have held Mark for so long. I think if we came away with the same sort of points we would be ecstatic, so that really shows where we are.”
Having been beaten by both Force India drivers it was a very disappointing day for McLaren but the sense of optimism from Force India was very encouraging with Adrian Sutil enjoyed a strong return to Formula 1 and briefly led but he ultimately fell back through the order to finish seventh just ahead of his teammate di Resta.
Sutil started the race on the harder compound prime tyre and took advantage of this to make his first stop much later than the drivers ahead of him. This allowed him to briefly lead the race as the pitstops shuffled the order but while his lead was short lived his pace was very encouraging for the team.
Sutil was unable to secure a race drive last year following his court case but his strong and consistent pace today shows that he is not suffering from the year off. Speaking after his seventh place finish Sutil said:
“I wasn’t expecting that but I came back to do better and it was a great feeling to be straight up there,” said Sutil. “So I just tried to keep concentrated and I was amazed we could be competitive at the front. I gained first place back after the first pitstop so the pace was really there. It was nice to see P1 on my board, no question,” he added. “But it’s very important to keep your emotions under control in the sport.”
That the German is already looking for more than a seventh place finish shows that he is hungry for success and looking to justify his selection ahead of Jules Bianchi. The strategy for Force India driver was to make two stops but unfortunately he suffered excessive tyre wear in the middle stint and made his final stop 12 laps from home. After the race Sutil admitted that his tyre wear was probably the result of battling with Vettel after his first pitstop.
“Vettel was probably too close running behind [me and] maybe destroyed his tyres, but the pace was there and that was great to see,” added Sutil. “I knew we were going to lose a few places [in the final stint] because I was on an opposite strategy but nevertheless seventh in first race, to lead quite a lot, it showed what was possible. It’s a sign you should never give up and always believe, anything’s possible.”
Webber’s race to sixth was quite eventful from the front row starting making a terrible getaway off the line and falling to sixth in the opening laps before becoming the first of the top drivers to head for the pits and switch to the prime tyre. He then battled for the rest of the day before moving into sixth.
After the race Webber said that he had a KERS and telemetry problem on the grid and as a result of this issue he made a bad start:
“We had a lot of telemetry issues on the grid and absolutely no idea what the car was doing in terms of KERS, in terms of clutch and all sorts of stuff,” he said. So the guys were quite nervous with that and I was too. We didn’t really have much of an idea in terms of getting information back to the pits.”
Even with a trouble free race however the Australian admitted that there was little chance of a strong race performance from Red Bull in spite of their qualifying speed when he commented that:
“Even if we’d got everything right, we were probably going to get outdone by two-stop people,” he said. “The race would’ve been very, very difficult for us even if we’d had a smooth day. Fair play to Kimi and his guys. You’ve got to take your hat off when someone outperforms you.”
While Webber and Button had difficult races Nico Hulkenberg was the most disappointed man in the paddock. Having moved to Sauber over the winter he had been expected to have a strong showing in Australia. Instead however he was unable to take the start after a problem with his hydrolics left him unable to take up his 11th place on the grid.
“I’m bitterly disappointed about what happened today, but at the same time I’m not blaming anyone,” said the German. “Things like this happen in racing. What is particularly bothering me is the fact that I lost all this mileage today, which is so important particularly at the beginning of the season.”
The final points was Romain Grosjean but whereas teammate Raikkonen was using a comfortable two stop strategy to claim the victory Grosjean had a difficult race. After a poor stop left him in the midfield pack he suffered excessive tyre wear and had a difficult car throughout the race.
Having qualified well and had a strong Friday there was expectations that Grosjean would be in the thick of the battle at the front and after the race he was clearly disappointed with his performance:
“Something felt wrong with my car, so I have to sit down with the team and analyse where the issue came from,” said Grosjean. “It felt so good all weekend until the race itself, but in the end the race was long and quite difficult for me. We know that Albert Park can be a tricky circuit and the weather has certainly not helped today.It’s been a great weekend for the team with Kimi’s win so it’s clear there’s pace in the car.”
His team principal, Eric Boullier, talked afterwards about how the Frenchman was severely punished for his poor start:
“Unfortunately he got stuck in the traffic and even if our car is good on the tyres if you are stuck in traffic you get more understeer and oversteer and destroy your tyres quicker,” he said. “It’s just bad luck after a wrong start. We changed his strategy to three stops but we could never get him out of traffic.”