Strategic superiority gets Raikkonen and Lotus off to a winning start

2013 Australian Grand Prix review

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, Melbourne, 2013Speaking at this year?s final pre-season test session, Lotus team principal Eric Boullier remarked on how some cars seemed to be better suited for one-lap speed at the expense of pace across a stint, and vice-versa.

Asked if that would place greater emphasis on race strategy he readily agreed, saying it would be very important. That proved prophetic of what unfolded in the first race of 2013, won by his driver Kimi Raikkonen.

Red Bull slip back

The Lotuses claimed the fourth row during the postponed qualifying session which took place on the morning of the race. But the E21?s pace over a race stint proved its strongest suit, and by being one of few drivers to make a two-stop strategy work, Raikkonen claimed an excellent victory.

The Red Bulls seemed to display the opposing traits. Quick in qualifying, but that pace vanished in the race.

Sebastian Vettel had been able to set fastest times seemingly at will on Friday, when the weather was sunny and the track dry. And the disruption and cool conditions of qualifying failed to keep him from pole position.

Start, Melbourne, 2013As the lights went out and Vettel established an immediate two-second lead over his pursuers, it was all looking very 2011. But it didn?t last. Within a couple of laps he had a pair of Ferraris parked on his tail.

The first of these belonged to Felipe Massa, who had looked at least a match for Fernando Alonso all weekend and pipped him in qualifying by a mere three-thousandths of a second.

From fourth and fifth on the grid they each picked off Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton on lap one, then Massa rebuffed an attack from Alonso at turn 13.

By lap four Vettel, Massa and Alonso were covered by 1.6 seconds. Raikkonen had also appeared behind them in fourth place having gone around the outside of Hamilton at turn 13 on the second lap.

First stops come early

Jenson Button, McLaren, Melbourne, 2013As early as lap seven Vettel was in to discard his super-soft tyres. Massa came in the next time by, then Raikkonen followed Alonso in on lap nine, the quartet keeping the same order.

The Mercedes drivers held on longer. Hamilton, who fallen from third to fifth by lap two, led until he came in on the 12th tour. Rosberg got rid of his super-softs on the next lap.

Now Adrian Sutil was the only driver keeping Vettel from taking his lead back. The returning Force India driver had lined up 12th on the grid and, with Nico Hulkenberg not starting due to a fuel system problem, had been in the advantageous position of being the highest driver on the grid with a free choice of tyres.

He elected to start on the medium compound. His tyres held on to lap 20, while Vettel and the train behind him and applied pressure. Sensing an opportunity, Andrea Stella brought Alonso into the pits for his second stop at the end of lap 19.

Pulling him out of the train turned out to be an inspired move ?ǣ it got Alonso ahead of Vettel and Sutil. And, of course, Massa, who might have wondered why Rob Smedley didn?t pull the same trick for him.

Raikkonen gets ahead

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Melbourne, 2013That should have put Alonso on course for victory. But Raikkonen had not joined in the second rush of pit stops triggered by the Ferrari driver. Instead the Lotus covered a 25-lap middle stint on the mediums. As he departed the pit lane for the second time with 24 laps to go, Raikkonen was quite confident he would not be back for a third stop.

Hamilton attempted to do the same as Raikkonen but despite having started his second stint four laps later than the Lotus he ended it three laps sooner.

Alonso appeared on Hamilton?s tail on lap 31. Hamilton clearly had an eye on the big picture, asking his team about the Ferrari drivers? strategy as he bore down on him. But when the pair went side-by-side into turn 13 Hamilton locked his tyres badly.

That forced him to pit early and wrecked his chances of making it to the end without a third stop. It was a double blow for Mercedes – Nico Rosberg had already retired with an electrical problem while running third.

Raikkonen was swiftly back up to second as his rivals pitted and he picked off Sutil with ease. But Alonso hadn’t given up yet – after his third and final pit stop he began cutting into Raikkonen?s lead, bringing it down from 6.5 seconds to 4.

But thereafter the Ferrari?s progress stopped. Alonso’s progress past Sutil was less smooth than Raikkonen?s and he had a near-miss with Charles Pic’s Caterham at one point.

Although Alonso made small gains after that, Raikkonen put the matter beyond doubt in the final five laps. He produced the fastest lap of the race and stretched his advantage over Alonso to 12 seconds.

Vettel dropped back from Alonso at a similar rate over the final laps, the Red Bull nowhere near as kind to its tyres as the Lotus.

Massa took fourth behind him, and a radio message from Smedley at the end of the race gave an insight into the target Massa had set himself pre-race: “Confirmed as not our best circuit but we came here and exceeded what we came here to do. You wanted a couple of points out of it and a clean weekend, we got 12. Good weekend.”

Sutil struggles on super-softs

Adrian Sutil, Force India, Melbourne, 2013Sutil?s late final pit stop ruined his race. The super-soft tyres proved no better later on than they had been earlier. He emerged from the garage behind Massa and was passed by Hamilton and Webber in a single lap as severe graining cost him up to eight seconds on one lap.

Paul di Resta probably would have passed Sutil as well but he was ordered to “hold position”. At such an early stage in the season this was a poor reflection on the team’s faith in its drivers ability to race each other without crashing, especially given Sutil’s restraint in battle earlier.

Webber collected sixth having started second. His hopes of finally finishing on the podium in his home race evaporated, as they often have, within seconds of the start. An engine control unit fault kept him from using KERS for the first 20 laps, and a problem with the front jack on his first pit stop cost him almost three seconds. Both Red Bulls also suffered a loss of car-to-pit telemetry.

Jenson Button ended a miserable weekend for McLaren by salvaging ninth place, which he said was the limit of what the car was capable of. He?d done three laps on the super-soft tyres he qualified on and had to change them after just four laps.

The final point went to Romain Grosjean, who believed his car had developed a problem after finishing over 80 seconds behind his team mate.

Sergio Perez ended his first race for McLaren out of the points with Jean-Eric Vergne in close pursuit. The Toro Rosso driver flat-spotted his tyres trying to pass Button earlier in the race. Team mate Daniel Ricciardo retired with an exhaust fault.

The sole Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez came in 12th ahead of fellow rookie Valtteri Bottas. The Williams driver admitted to making mistakes earlier in the race that cost him positions but at least he reached the chequered flag unlike his team mate, who spun off on lap 25.

Jules Bianchi was 54 seconds adrift of Bottas at the flag, but comfortably clear of Pic’s Caterham. Their team mates were next, Giedo van der Garde the last driver home after suffering a puncture.

Raikkonen’s winning start

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, Melbourne, 2013Raikkonen began the second year of his F1 comeback the way he did when he won the world championship in 2007: with a win.

For Boullier, it vindicated the team’s pre-season preparations. Echoing his words during testing he said: “It was exactly what we planned – the strategy was agreed before the race.”

“The car has been designed successfully to save the tyres,” he added. It’s an approach that has clearly paid off, and one that should stand them in good stead for next week’s race in the heat of Malaysia.

2013 Australian Grand Prix

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Images ?? Lotus/LAT, Red Bull/Getty, McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Force India, Lotus/LAT

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78 comments on Strategic superiority gets Raikkonen and Lotus off to a winning start

  1. Tayyib (@m0nzaman) said on 17th March 2013, 18:44

    1st!!!!!

  2. Tayyib (@m0nzaman) said on 17th March 2013, 18:46

    He was really good today, brilliant and very quick. His consistent lap times were brilliant and the fastest lap at the end was sheer class.

  3. RagingInferno (@raginginferno) said on 17th March 2013, 18:46

    Jules Bianchi was 54 seconds adrift of Bianchi at the flag

    I was unaware that Jules had a relative who was also racing ;)

  4. Spawinte (@spawinte) said on 17th March 2013, 18:58

    2 stops is a pretty standard race. The others better start “understanding” the tyres quicksoon.

  5. Lucas Wilson (@full-throttle-f1) said on 17th March 2013, 19:06

    Awesome race!
    OPPA KIMI STYLE

  6. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 17th March 2013, 19:08

    Two things I got clear after watching this race:
    - Massa’s gonna have a hell of a year, considering how he drove today.
    - Considering how far he’s gone last year and the year before with that ill Ferrari, Alonso must be feeling sucess is just round the corner.

    • Spawinte (@spawinte) said on 17th March 2013, 19:13

      Massa is gonna have a decent year and then be replaced by Bianchi.

      • Primalogy said on 17th March 2013, 19:58

        +313

      • RagingInferno (@raginginferno) said on 17th March 2013, 20:06

        Ferrari don’t have a history of signing up young drivers straight away though, and if Massa keeps his form up there won’t be a rush to replace him.

        • Spawinte (@spawinte) said on 17th March 2013, 22:36

          He’s older than Vettel was when he clinched the championship in 2010. It’s getting a bit ridiculous, do you now have to be a multiple race winner/champ just to get a Ferrari seat?

          • RagingInferno (@raginginferno) said on 17th March 2013, 22:42

            I agree that it is a bit silly. It’s already cost them Sergio Perez, could it cost them Bianchi too?

          • David not Coulthard (@) said on 18th March 2013, 9:18

            As Gilles Villeneuve was when he made his debut, or when Hunt was taken by McLaren, the latter unaware of what was going to happen in 1976,

          • GeorgeTuk (@georgetuk) said on 18th March 2013, 10:15

            It would only have cost them Perez if they did indeed want Perez, just because you are in a Young Driver Programme it doesn’t guarantee the team want you.

      • turbotoaster (@) said on 17th March 2013, 20:37

        I’ve just had the thought, that if the McLaren is consistently bad this year, Ferrari still have some chance of picking up a certain Sergio Perez…

        • Brace (@brace) said on 17th March 2013, 22:15

          I can’t imagine why would they? I kept saying last year too, that if Perez was better than Massa, Ferrari would have surely known that and would have signed him accordingly.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 17th March 2013, 21:12

        @spawinte I doubt it… if Massa keeps himself close to Alonso, he’ll stay…

        • Primalogy said on 18th March 2013, 2:12

          I think if Massa was consistently near Alonso, he may move to Red Bull to replace a retiring Webber and Ferrari snaps Bianchi under the understanding that even if he is faster then Alonso, he is not challenge/obstruct but to help in their bid for a world championship knowing full well that his time will come after Alonso leaves in/after 2016 or Alonso playing #2 if he insist on staying.

          Binachi is as twice better as Perez will ever be. If Ferrari don’t act fast, they risk losing him to a rival team and that is a recipe for disaster.

      • The Next Pope said on 18th March 2013, 3:53

        I’ve got nothing against Bianchi but… too much. too . much. Bianchi.
        It’s only the first race, and besides he pitted late so he had an impressive final last laps.

    • Deb Luhi (@debeluhi) said on 18th March 2013, 0:35

      I just can’t avoid the feeling that Massa was held back by Ferrari to allow Alonso better position. They pitted Alonso first and left Massa for too long on a old tires to make sure he comes behind Alonso after the pits.

      • Primalogy said on 18th March 2013, 2:15

        Massa was thinking of 2-stopper but immediately realized he cannot make it work ,so he compromised his race by hesitating. Also his engineer is not working for Ferrari best interest the same as Nigel Stepheni then did with putting washing poweder into the fuel and later selling Ferrari secrets.

        • Mike (@mike) said on 18th March 2013, 2:44

          That is an absolutely ridiculous accusation to make of Smedley.

          • dennis (@dennis) said on 18th March 2013, 7:56

            @mike

            I’m not believing that he’s throwing washing powder into Massa’s car, but didn’t you think as well, that when the radio message was played during the broadcast of Smedley telling Massa to stay out with no traffic and “see what he can do” that this was the most ridicolous decision one could make? It’s a shame Felipe himself didn’t see it himself, after losing so much time on Vettel after the first round of stops.

        • GeoR97G said on 18th March 2013, 9:50

          Not a chance! They stole the 2nd place from Massa. They got ridiculous in Ferrari to protect Alonso. Massa was faultless and Alonso struggled many times with his car. We all saw what Ferrari did.

  7. jpowell (@jpowell) said on 17th March 2013, 19:16

    Nice to see Kimi win, his laid back mentality along with his undoubted skill suits this type of game. Shame he didn’t stay with the W.R.C. he did look to be making slow progress.

  8. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 17th March 2013, 19:30

    Those starts, Mark… when are you gonna get round it? KERS always failing in the first 20 laps too… don’t want it to sound suspicious but it’s weird that always always happens…

  9. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 17th March 2013, 19:51

    That final picture must be photoshopped… Kimi is SMILING!

  10. Younger Hamii (@younger-hamii) said on 17th March 2013, 19:58

    Just wanted to point out with intrigue that there weren’t any crashes or any incidents from any driver today (correct If i’m wrong. Everyone was clean today and Melbourne is a circuit where drama can be pretty much anticipated, even though there wasn’t much on-track action, so on that note, got to give credence to the drivers for the sensibility.

  11. nidzovski (@nidzovski) said on 17th March 2013, 20:19

    Last year Eric B. scooped the field all season. I blamed him for not taking to many risk at time but when I think about it now it looks like Lotus worked perfectly. They seams like they have a race of their own not looking at the others. Great team work guys.

    • Kimi4WDC said on 17th March 2013, 22:51

      I agree in some way. Last year, if Lotus had same approach to strategy as they did here in Australia, they could have had MANY more points last year or even a win.

      So far so good!

      • David not Coulthard (@) said on 18th March 2013, 9:29

        They did win a race, didn’t they?

        • nidzovski (@nidzovski) said on 19th March 2013, 9:57

          Yeah they did win once. But I think that they could maybe be even better if they choose to risk. In my humble opinion they didn’t and that’s a smart thing to do looking at long term. Kimi wasn’t frustrated (or he didn’t show it :)) which is opposite to Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel….

  12. matt90 (@matt90) said on 17th March 2013, 21:13

    I did not expect to read that headline after last year.

  13. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 17th March 2013, 22:28

    Kimi you absolute dark horse!

  14. Metallion (@metallion) said on 17th March 2013, 23:27

    An awful start to the predictions championship but the best possible start to the season, so happy for Kimi!

  15. Jay Menon (@jaymenon10) said on 18th March 2013, 0:29

    Great way to start the season off. I think this will be remembered as a very popular victory in years to come.

    Some good racing and strategy. I think it will be a great year of close racing. Glad that Ferrari are finally looking strong at the first race of the year. Fernando and Andrea played the strategy to a tee, great call..looks like they are pushing hard this year as it was an uncharacteristcally risky move.

    On to Malaysia next…Meds and Hards..will be interesting. Lotus and Ferrari have shown they can play the long game…so lets see how the heat will wreck havock on the tyre wear!

    • GeorgeTuk (@georgetuk) said on 18th March 2013, 10:41

      I think they wore faster and harder due to the low temperature the tyres were sliding across the tarmac creating the training effect. Its normally warm in Korea (but then again it doesn’t rain much in Aus either normally!) so I am guessing less wear.

      Guessing though!

      • FrankFH (@frankfh) said on 18th March 2013, 16:38

        It’s graining, not training… and while you are correct that they will eventually be racing in Korea, they aren’t going to be there for another 6 months. Next Grand Prix is Malaysia.

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