Kimi "The Iceman" Raikkonen put on a stellar performance to become the Wizard of Oz and claim the Australian GP title in the opening race of the 2013 F1 season. The Lotus driver finished ahead of Spaniard Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and German Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull).
The race weekend started in a chaotic fashion, as qualifying was delayed after Q1 due to heavy rain. Qualifying was thus concluded on Sunday and Red Bull were able to continue their dominance in the flying lap segment, as they locked up the front row with Vettel on Pole and Aussie Mark Webber in second in his home Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton completed the top three with a good performance for his new team Mercedes.
A couple of hours later, the lights finally went out for the first time in 2013. While Vettel got away cleanly, his teammate Webber struggled and saw himself drop back in the field as a number of cars went flying past him. Tyre degradation was a massive talking point ahead of the start and it soon proved to play a major role. The front runners were all forced to get a new set of boots between laps six and nine. Both Mercedes drivers stayed out on the track, consequently taking over the lead, with Hamilton ahead of Nico Rosberg. At this stage of the race, it was clear that some teams would try a two-stop strategy, while the majority of the field were aiming for three stops.
Alonso overtook Vettel and Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa with an earlier timed second stop in the 20th lap. Raikkonen, who had started the race from seventh place, stayed out on the track until the 34th lap before making his second and last stop. He was back in the lead when Alonso, Vettel and Massa pitted for their third and final time.
The Finn managed his tyres well and kept his closest rivals at bay. "Our plan was to do two stops," he told the BBC. "It's always difficult in the first races to know when to stop. We got it exactly right, the team worked extremely well. We had a plan and we followed the plan, and it worked out perfectly for us."
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel did not appear too disappointed about finishing third, despite having dominated qualifying and leading the race in its early stages. "We can be happy with the pace all weekend, the whole team worked well," said Vettel. "Obviously there is a bit of homework to do with the tyres. I think a two stop was out of our range today. The naked pace was there."
Vettel's arch rival in the last few years, Fernando Alonso, was equally pleased about his result. "Arriving here and fighting for the podium was the aim of the weekend," said Alonso. "The car felt good so being on the podium is job done, let's say. We didn't have the pace to fight with Kimi today. He was too fast for us."
Looking ahead, Raikkonen's performance will serve as a warning sign for the rest of the field ahead of next week's Malaysian Grand Prix, which is another circuit prone to heavy tyre degradation.
"I could save the tyres and I could go fast when I wanted. It was one of the easiest races to win. Hopefully we can have more races like this," explained Raikkonen. This is surely not something the other drivers will be fond of hearing.
Race results top 10
1. Kimi Raikkonen - Lotus 1:30:03.225
2. Fernando Alonso - Ferrari +00:12.451
3. Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull +00:22.346
4. Felipe Massa - Ferrari +00:33.577
5. Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes +00:45.561
6. Mark Webber - Red Bull +00:46.800
7. Adrian Sutil - Force India +01:64.068
8. Paul di Resta - Force India +01:67.449
9. Jenson Button - McLaren +01:80.630
10. Romain Grosjean - Lotus +01:81.759