Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Raikkonen Rockets Lotus to F1 Season Opening Win

Photo Credit: Glenn Dunbar/Lotus F1 Team

After a thriller of a 2012 tour, the pre-season prior to the 54th year of Formula 1 competition has set high expectations for several drivers and teams. Will Sebastian Vettel defeat his reign at the top of the driver championship for a fourth-straight driver’s title? Can the Fernando Alonso-led Ferrari squad wrestle series honours away from Red Bull Racing? Will 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton promote the Mercedes AMG team to regular Formula 1 front-runner? Those questions were a sample of inquiries set to be answered over a 19-race, 2013 grand prix calendar. Hosting the premiere of the 2013 Formula 1 season, the Albert Park circuit’s Australian Grand Prix is a 58-lap initiation of veteran and rookie drivers.

Though the weather and hospitality is often inviting in Australia, The 5.303-kilometer road course in Melbourne presents an opening round challenge that can be outright hostile. High-speed areas combined with heavy braking portions of the track have drivers and teams fighting to balance reliability with performance. With 22 newly reengineered racecars, the Australian Grand Prix weekend tested competitors during Saturday qualifying. Rain soaking the Albert Park race course caused a multitude of on-track incidents of hydroplaning Formula 1 cars. The wet track eventually rendered the FIA to delay the remaining time trials to hours prior to Sunday’s race. 2012 World Constructor’s champion team Red Bull Racing conquered the first qualifying session of the new season. With Sebastian Vettel on pole and Mark Webber in the 2nd highest starting position, the Red Bull-Renault’s place at the top of the 2013 Australian Grand Prix grid sent a strong message; Red Bull Racing was ready once more to fend off rivals. However, 58 laps of the opening grand prix would see if the strong Austrian-based team would stand true to their message.

Photo Credit: Nissan/Infiniti

At the start, Sebastian Vettel rocketed to an early lead of the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. Conversely, Vettel’s front row-starting teammate Mark Webber had a dreadful start. Falling to seventh place in the opening laps, this initial stint was not the run Webber wanted in front of fans in his home country. After the Australian Grand Prix, it would become documented Mark Webber’s Red Bull-Renault endured several technical problems including a telemetry issue and a lack of the KERS power boost.

Benefiting from Mark Webber’s lethargic launch were many competitors. Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, the Mercedes AMG car driven by Lewis Hamilton as well as Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus-Renault inserted themselves into prime positions. Raikkonen moved from seventh to fifth place on the opening lap.

Early pit stops made by leaders of the Australian Grand Prix swapped supersoft Pirelli racing slicks for medium compound rubber. Jenson Button pitted from in the middle of the field on lap 4 and Mark Webber would follow suit on the next lap. Sebastian Vettel pitted his Red Bull-Renault on lap 6 turning to lead of the race over to Felipe Massa. As the 2013 Australian Grand Prix progresses, tires would become a significant deciding factor for race victory.

When the Force India-Mercedes, driven by returning Formula 1 pilot Adrian Sutil, and the Ferrari of Massa relinquished the lead, the top spot of the Australian Grand Prix became the possession of Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus name never won a grand prix in Australia under the sanctioning of Formula 1.

Despite the opening Formula 1 round’s history for causing larger than normal retirement lists, the Australian Grand Prix was a rather tame kick-off to 2013. Only four cars would be classified out of the 2013 race in Australia. First out of the grand prix was Nico Hulkenberg who retired his Sauber-Ferrari on the opening lap due to a fuel system issue. Williams-Renault driver Pastor Maldonado left the race on lap 25 when his car spun into the turn one gravel pit. Two laps after Maldonado’s dramatic exit from the Australian Grand Prix, the Mercedes AMG car of Nico Rosberg would settle at the side of the track in between turn 3 and 4. Daniel Ricciardo would be the final DNF retiring his Toro Rosso-Ferrari on lap 39.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas 

In the second half of the race deciding the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, it came down to a different tire strategy. Most contenders believed a three-stop plan to the winning move. Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton would commit to the strategy pitting after lap 36. Acting against that wavelength of thought, the Lotus F1 Team and driver Kimi Raikkonen engineered a two-stop race for their intent to claim victory. The veteran Formula 1 driver was able to manage his Pirelli tires to the point his extended his second stop to lap 34 of the event. Taking the lead on lap 44, late track position for Kimi Raikkonen and his Lotus-Renault racecar was enough for the first checkered flag of the 2013 Formula 1 season.

Previously winning the Australian Grand Prix with Ferrari in 2007, Kimi Raikkonen pulled off a second victory in four races for the Lotus F1 Team. Raikkonen’s win at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix revealed that the Finnish driver was still an accomplished Formula 1 pilot. For Lotus F1 Team, this is their first Australian Grand Prix victory (excluding team history as Benetton and Renault F1). The only other time a Lotus branded vehicle was carried to success at a grand prix in Australia was in 1968 when Jim Clark won in a non-Formula 1 sanctioned race at Sandown.

In second place but unable to catch Kimi Raikkonen at the end, the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso was 12.4 seconds longer crossing the finish line. A reasonably satisfied Alonso stated,
“We can claim to have started this season on the right foot, immediately in the fight with the best.” For the Ferrari F138 car, Alonso’s second place and a fourth by Felipe Massa gave the Italian race team an early lead in the constructors’ points with 30 points.

Photo Credit: Ferrari North America

Claiming the final podium spot for the 2013 Australian Grand Prix was Sebastian Vettel. Third-place Vettel admitted, “We had a good day today with a pole and a podium – but in the race we were a little too aggressive with the tires and lost the front and the rears, while others did a little better“. Despite troubles for the second Red Bull-Renault at the start of the race, Mark Webber salvaged a sixth place run contributing to his team’s in early third-place spot in the constructors’ championship hunt.

Sandwiched between Felipe Massa and Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton soldiered to a fifth-place debut with his Mercedes AMG team. Mercedes-Benz power was also behind the double point finish for Force India. On a two-stop strategy, Adrian Sutil in seventh place was able to preserve a 3.4-second advantage over teammate Paul di Resta. Jenson Button captured ninth place for the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. Button and new teammate Sergio Perez struggled to find speed in their McLaren racecars through the weekend. McLaren assures the poor showing at Melbourne will not be repeated in the future 2013 Formula 1 races. The second Lotus-Renault driven by Romain Grosjean collected the final point with a tenth position run.

Following the Australian Grand Prix, Formula 1 tour is setting course for the Sepang International Circuit for the Malaysia Grand Prix.

2013 Formula 1
Australian Grand Prix
Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus Renault
2 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari
3 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault
4 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari Ferrari
5 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
6 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Renault
7 15 Adrian Sutil Force India Mercedes-Benz
8 14 Paul di Resta Force India Mercedes-Benz
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes-Benz
10 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault
11 6 Sergio Perez McLaren Mercedes-Benz
12 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
13 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari
14 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
15 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia Cosworth
16 20 Charles Pic Caterham Renault
17 23 Max Chilton Marussia Cosworth
18 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham Renault
19 19 Daniel Ricciardo Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
20 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
21 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams F1 Renault
22 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber Ferrari

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