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'One of my easiest wins', declares Raikkonen
17 March 2013
Kimi Raikkonen is one of a kind, so if anyone is going to surprise us by declaring a Grand Prix victory as being "easy" it's surely the phlegatic Finn after his 20th career Grand Prix victory in Australia, marking the start of the 2013 F1 world championship season.
"It was one of the easiest races I have done to win," Raikkonen admitted afterwards. "Hopefully we can have many more of these races."
Raikkonen had started from seventh on the grid in Melbourne, gained two places at the start and then made short work of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes to take fourth place behind Fernando Alonso on lap 2. After that he stuck to the back of the Ferrari and followed him onto pit road when the time came for the first tyre change to shed the shortlived supersofts.
"I made a few places at the start and then had a good battle with Lewis, but after that it was quite simple," he said.
Raikkonen's ace in the hole at Albert Park was tyre management. While other drivers were struggling to make their medium compounds stretch long enough into the race to make a two-stop strategy work, the Lotus trouble was finding it a breeze.
"Our plan was to do two stops and though it's always difficult in the first races to know when to stop and not to, we got it exactly right," he said calmly. "We followed the plan and it worked out perfectly. I could save the tyres and go fast if I needed."
When Alonso came in again on lap 20, Raikkonen didn't follow him in this time. In fact he stayed out all the way to lap 34, running 11 of those in the lead of the race. The staggered pit stop strategies meant that he dropped back to fifth place until it was the turn of others to come in for new tyres.
The one hold-up that Raikkonen experienced was Adrian Sutil, who was on a comparable two-stop strategy and in front of the Lotus for seven laps. Raikkonen didn't fuss about getting past the Force India, however, knowing that there would be plenty of time later on since Sutil still had to undergo the purgatory of the supersofts.
Alarms briefly sounded when Alonso started to make a charge up the positions on his final set of tyres, and Raikkonen knew he could no longer afford to let Sutil continue to set the pace. He made his move to snatch the lead on lap 43, and after that Raikkonen simply turned the speed on and off as required to keep the Ferrari at a safe distance.
"Fernando was catching me at some point, when I was taking it a bit more easy and there was some traffic, so I just wanted to make sure that if the rain comes or something happens we have a bit more gap," he said, when asked why he'd put in the fastest lap of the race just before the end. "I was still taking it pretty easy."
Lotus team principal Eric Boullier was delighted that the squad should have achieved such outstanding success so soon in the season.
"It's a fantastic feeling to open the season in this way. Kimi drove impeccably all weekend and gave the team his all," said Boullier. "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.
"I'm very happy," he added. "We head to Malaysia in the best position we could be."
It wasn't quite a perfect day for Lotus, however, as Raikkonen's team mate Romain Grosjean struggled during the race and ended up in tenth place despite starting alongside the race winner on the grid.
"Something felt wrong with my car," he said. "I have to sit down with the team and analyse where the issue came from. It felt so good all weekend until the race itself, but in the end the race was long and quite difficult for me."
But Grosjean was looking to Raikkonen's success for inspiration at the next outing n Malaysia in seven days time. "It's been a great weekend for the team with Kimi's win so it's clear there's pace in the car. Let's hope I can unlock that pace too next weekend in Sepang."
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