After slogging his way through two seasons in a car that didn't do his driving skills justice, Fernando Alonso seemed a new man after his first full Grand Prix at the wheel of the new Ferrari F138. More to the point, he looked like a man who knew a championship-winning car when he saw one.

"We had a very difficult start to the season two years ago and last year as well and this year is very different," he said after coming second in the 2013 F1 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne. "We feel much more optimistic. The car is responding well, we are competitive so we have a very interesting season ahead of us.

"We can claim to have started this season on the right foot, immediately in the fight with the best," he continued. "Finishing ahead of the Red Bull tastes like a win, even if we know that despite today's race result, they are still the quickest."

But Red Bull hadn't looked it in race pace at Albert Park on Sunday. Although Vettel had initially pulled out a lead of over two seconds in the first couple of laps, the two Ferraris quickly scythed their way through the gap to camp out on Vettel's back door.

In the end, the emerging threat to a possible Ferrari victory came not from the Red Bulls, but from Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus who was busy achieving a two-stop strategy that few others could copy, with the notable exception of Force India's Adrian Sutil.

"Lotus did a very good job," Alonso said. "Kimi was driving fantastically all through the race and he managed two stops, so we need to analyse what we can do for the next race."

Even so, Alonso was certain that the two-stop wouldn't have worked for him in Melbourne.

"I think the three stop strategy was the right one," he said. "With the degradation we had, it would have been impossible to manage on one less and bringing forward the second one by a few laps meant I was able to pass Vettel and Sutil ... It was not an easy race. At the beginning traffic with Sebastian and Felipe, and then traffic with Sutil - some tricky moments."

Somewhat eclipsed by his team mate's podium finish, Felipe Massa's fourth place was nonetheless his strongest start to a F1 championship campaign in three years.

"This is definitely a very positive start to the season, especially because this is a track where I have always suffered," Massa said. "I had an attacking start to my race, in which I was immediately fighting for the top places."

Gifted a position by the slow-starting Mark Webber, Massa also out-tussled Lewis Hamilton for second place over the course of the first lap allowing him and Alonso to close right up to the back of the Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull over the opening two stints of the race.

But while Alonso then realised that he was losing time in the logjam behind the German and pitted on lap 20, Massa stayed out four laps longer - which proved to be the pivotal moment that dropped him behind his team mate for the rest of the afternoon.

"Maybe if we had brought forward the second stop, as Fernando did, the podium would have been within my grasp, but I am still very happy with my result," Massa insisted.

"We have shown that our car is competitive, with a good race pace and that is down to all the hard work done during winter testing," he added. "Definitely, we are at a good level, but now we must carefully analyse every smallest detail to try and improve our car."

"It is a very encouraging sign that we managed to get the most out of a weekend that was full of unknown factors, both in qualifying and the race," offered Alonso.

"We have only four days to work on the car to prepare for the next race and I think [Kimi] will again be a tough opponent," he added. "Now we can expect another weekend with very changeable weather and one that also puts a lot of stress on the cars from a mechanical point of view and on the drivers, from a physical one. But we can tackle it calmly on the back of this good result."