Your views: 2013 bursts into life
20 March 2013
The recipe for a great F1 race has always been the same.
Much like any celebrated novel, the most important ingredients are found in the careful expansion of various plots and sub-plots, the development of central characters, and the maintenance of tension and suspense.
The story of an F1 season is told in chapters – of which there are 19 this year – and with the first few pages now having been written, there can be no doubt that this season will have fans clamouring for the next installment right up to the final few lines.
Set in the Australian metropolis of Melbourne, amongst surfers, street lights and the sprawl of office buildings, the first twist of 2013 was that the sun was absent from qualifying, leaving most to guess at the true running order from the tantalising glimpse provided by practice and the rain-affected Q1.
Q2 and 3 appeared to answer the most important question posed by the prologue of pre-season testing; that Red Bull had the quickest car, and that Vettel once again was to charge away from pole position to victory, with his rivals left in his wake.
The disappointing performance of the McLarens contrasted with the upturn in pace of the Mercedes, with the sub-plot of Lewis Hamilton's move from the Woking-based team to the Silver Arrows providing much-needed depth to an apparently predictable story-line.
This cosy script was thrown out for the race however, with it quickly becoming clear in the opening laps that whilst the Red Bulls had the upper-hand in a sprint, it was the Prancing Horses and a small selected cast that had trained for the marathon.
Sebastian Vettel started well, but gradually fell back into the clutches of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, and the slow-starting Mark Webber ended the first lap well down the field in seventh. In what seems to be becoming a tradition for the Aussie, he was to experience KERS issues throughout the race, and faded into obscurity at his home Grand Prix.
The main plot came alive after the first round of pit-stops, with Kimi Raikkonen able to stretch out his second stint as his rivals struggled with tyre degradation. His unique two-stop strategy proved the beating of those three-stopping around him, and the Finn climbed back up the order as the rest of the front-runners pitted for a third and final time, paving the way for a comfortable route to victory in the final stages of the race.
An immaculate drive led him to his second win since his comeback to the sport, and provided confirmation that Lotus has made a definitive step forward for the new season, and will undoubtedly be real contenders in the title-race.
Lewis Hamilton attempted to shadow Raikkonen's strategy, but despite having started his second stint four laps later than the Lotus he ended it three laps sooner. He locked his tyres badly in a battle with Alonso on lap 31, forcing him to pit early and wrecking his chances of making it to the end without a third stop.
Nico Rosberg retired early on in the sister W04 with an electrical problem while running in third. Despite this, promising pace in practice allied with devastating speed in the wet means that the real potential of the Mercedes is still uncertain.
The comparatively disappointing pace of the McLaren, with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez finishing in ninth and eleventh respectively, means that at least one mystery of the 2013 season has been resolved, with Mercedes emerging as the initial winners in the game of driver musical chairs conducted towards the end of last year.
At Ferrari, the scene of Massa leading Alonso in the early stages was a welcome interlude from three years of Alonso dominance, but normal service was resumed after both came in for their second stops, with Alonso using the undercut to find his way past the trio of Sutil, Vettel and Massa. The Spaniard looked like threatening for the win at times, but his car wasn't able to do the race in two stops and he ultimately had to settle for second.
Despite not taking the victory, Ferrari come out of the weekend leading the Constructors Championship; a result that represents a vast improvement from 2012. Given that Alonso was able to take the title fight down to the final race last time round the pressure on Vettel this year is likely to be unrelenting.
Adrian Sutil was impressive in his comeback race for Force India. After a year on the side-lines, the German returned to the sport armed with a spanner, which he duly threw into the works during his exceptionally long first stint, finding himself in the lead of the Grand Prix on two occasions.
Although Sutil eventually dropped down to seventh following a disastrous final stint on the super-softs, his early long-run whilst fully-laden with fuel is the hallmark of a car that is easy on its tyres.
Force India appear to have found Sauber's blueprints on how to create a giant-killing midfield car, and Nico Hulkenberg will be praying that the coming races will still reveal his move to the Swiss-team to have been the right one, with fans having been deprived of a true comparison by the German's withdrawal due to a fuel-pump issue. With Williams appearing to have taken a major step backwards, how the midfield battle plays out will be a fascinating theme throughout the season.
In the battle of the back-markers, Jules Bianchi's impressive drive to fifteenth place cemented Marussia's new found superiority over rivals Caterham. Tony Fernandes, a hapless common-denominator in the plights of both Caterham and Premier League football team QPR this season will be hoping for a re-write of the draft of the next few races, whilst Marussia look to have stumbled upon a rookie that is more than a match for the pace of departed team-leader Timo Glock.
As with any good chapter, the first round of the 2013 World Championship answered the most burning questions, yet posed many more. After such an enthralling and exhilarating Grand Prix at Albert Park, the stage has now been set for another gripping race in Malaysia next weekend.
by Joshua Bonser