After all the qualifying drama leading up to the green lights, the Australian Grand Prix
itself proved a remarkable calm affair for the ice-cool Kimi Raikkonen, who kept his head and cruised into impressive control of the opening race of the new F1 world championship season, confounding many experts who had all-but written-off the chance of significant success for Lotus in 2013.
The race had got underway beneath skies threatening to burst open with still more stormy rain showers the likes of which had caused such disruption to qualifying on Saturday afternoon. However, despite rain first thing which had made the rollover Q2 and Q3 sessions so problematic for the teams earlier on race day, at least the Albert Park
street circuit was now dry for them as the lights went out for the start of Australian GP.
Sebastian Vettel got a perfect start to his title defence and leapt away into the lead, but his team mate Mark Webber
had a terrible time off the line and got swamped on all sides. Lewis Hamilton
covered Fernando Alonso
into the first corner but both were beaten by Alonso's team mate Felipe Massa; and as the cars traversed the opening lap it was quickly apparent that the Mercedes didn't have the race pace needed to stay in third place. Not only was Alonso soon past him, Hamilton was then placed under siege from the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, who finally succeeded in pushing past the Briton on lap two.
Vettel had initially pulled out a gap of two seconds over the field, but it was soon clear that he wasn't having things his own way as Massa started to make big inroads into that margin, taking Alonso with him so that by lap 7 a mere second covered all of the top three. Further back, Jenson Button
had been the first driver to come onto pit road for a change of tyres on lap 5 having destroyed the supersofts in qualifying earlier in the day; Mark Webber, Romain Grosjean
and Esteban Gutierrez were among those to come in next time by.
Vettel held out until lap 8 before he, too, needed a change to the harder medium compound tyres. Looking lighter on their feet were the two Ferraris and the Lotus of Raikkonen: Massa took the lead for a lap before covering Vettel by pitting on lap 9, and Alonso and Raikkonen were in one lap later, leaving Hamilton and his team mate Nico Rosberg
in the lead in lieu of their own pit stops, with Force India's Adrian Sutil
and McLaren's Sergio Perez also running ahead of Vettel - at least for a couple of laps, before the superior pace of those on fresher rubber started to show in spades and Perez found himself rapidly demoted to seventh place as Vettel and both Ferraris streamed past with ease.
Hamilton bowed to the inevitable and pitted from the lead at the end of lap 13, dropping to eighth place when he rejoined and Rosberg was in next time around, rejoining in ninth place right in front of Jenson Button
and Mark Webber. That gave the lead to Sutil on his first race back in F1 after his year's hiatus. The Force India
had started on medium tyres, and despite his waning pace on worn rubbers Sutil was still proving to be an intractable problem for Vettel, Massa and Alonso who were now running immediately line astern. That gave Raikkonen, Hamilton and Rosberg the chance to close up on the leaders, while further back Webber and Grosjean were the first cars to come in for their second round of pit stops from lap 19. Alonso decided he'd had enough of playing follow-my-leader and came in early in a bid to go off-sync and break out of the logjam building up behind Sutil.
Sutil himself was in two laps later, finally surrendering the lead to Massa; Vettel covered the move by following him in to pit lane. As the two came back on track it was clear that Alonso's early stop strategy had paid off and he barged past both the Force India
and the Red Bull
as Vettel had some initial problems slithering through turn 1 on the new set of Pirellis. The world champion was soon up to speed again though and on lap 23 he made a successful bold move on Sutil through turn 3 to finally rid himself of the bothersome Force India.
The first in-race retirement came on lap 25 when Pastor Maldonado
lost the Williams
into turn 1 and ran into the gravel where the car became emphatically beached. The Venezuelan wasn't the first driver out of the Grand Prix, however - Nico Hulkenberg
hadn't even made it as far as the starting grid, his Sauber having stubbornly refused to fire up in time to head out and take up its place. The team blamed a fuel system problem and said that they'd withdrawn the car on safety grounds. The only other retirement of the day was Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo, who retired in pit lane on lap 41 suffering from an audibly broken exhaust.