Australian Grand Prix: Race Analysis

Well, after the dominate display from Red Bull during the morning qualifying session, the majority of people believed that the race would be more of a Red Bull procession. Some suggested that the RB9 would share a dominance similar to that of the RB7, however, the outcome was very different. Kimi Raikkonen came from P7 on the grid to claim the first win of 2013, with Fernando Alonso finishing 12 seconds behind. Despite the hype, Sebastian Vettel could only manage P3, while Mark Webber’s Melbourne curse continued.
While the Australian GP is famous for its unpredictability, the events of today have shocked the entire paddock. Red Bull realized that their race pace was not quite as good as their qualifying pace, however, no-one expected such a vast turn around. Lotus used their tyre preservation advantage to gain a march on the field. Excellent strategy, coupled with sublime driving meant that it was Lotus’ day down under.
In the early stages, Red Bull lost their strangle-hold on the weekend. Firstly, Mark Webber suffered one of his infamous slow get-away’s, and dropped from P2 down to P7. After such optimism prior to the race, the Aussie’s dreams of a home podium were dashed almost immediately. Meanwhile, Vettel completed one of his trademark starts, breaking away from the field. However, this advantage was short lived, as the Ferrari pair, led by Felipe Massa began to catch Vettel. It was not long before they were right behind him. Then, the front three began to be reeled in by a fast charging Kimi Raikkonen, who quickly joined the train, prior to the first round of stops.
In the first round of stops, Vettel maintained the advantage but it was Fernando who seized the initiate following the second. However, Alonso’s strategy was to the detriment of Massa. The Brazilian dropped from P2 to P4.
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen was attempting to use the superior degradation advantages of the E21, to jump all three of them. In P1, Kimi was managing to keep his medium compound tyres in tact, posting competitive lap times. His progress was helped by Adrian Sutil who started the race on the medium compound. Out of sync with the rest of the field, Sutil found himself in P2.
When the others made their final stops of the afternoon, Raikkonen retook the lead, and despite Fernando’s best efforts to catch the Lotus, Raikkonen controlled the race perfectly. It was not long before Alonso turned his attentions to Vettel behind rather than Kimi ahead. The Iceman cruised to victory, winning by a 12 second margin. Lotus clearly have excellent race pace. Kimi now has 20 victories to his name, equaling fellow countryman Mika Hakkinen; Raikkonen is likely to add to this total of the course of the season.
Elsewhere, the promising qualifying from Hamilton did not translate to a dream start to his time Mercedes. While  Lewis was satisfied with his P5 result, the Brit is hopeful for future progress. “We didn’t expect to have such a competitive car,” he is quoted as saying by BBC Sport. “Some people will be like, ‘Oh, it wasn’t great’ but I think fifth’s good. I had to come in and changes tyres and 27 laps on that tyre wasn’t possible, so we had to covert to a three-stop strategy. I think we’ll have a good race in Malaysia.” Nico Rosberg’s race was brought to an untimely end after another electrical issue. However, the German will take many positives away from the weekend, after displaying excellent pace in wet conditions, and matching Lewis Hamilton throughout the weekend.
While Raikkonen was the center of attention at the head of the field, Romain Grosjean failed to reach the potential of the E21. He suffered a disappointing race, battling with Jenson Button throughout. Romain blamed his poor performance on a issue with the car. “Something felt wrong with my car, so I have to sit down with the team and analyse where the issue came from. It felt so good all weekend until the race itself, but in the end the race was long and quite difficult for me. We know that Albert Park can be a tricky circuit and the weather has certainly not helped today. It’s been a great weekend for the team with Kimi’s win so it’s clear there’s pace in the car. Let’s hope I can unlock that pace too next weekend in Sepang.”
Force India were in my opinion, the star team of the day. Both Di Resta and Sutil finished in the points, with Adrian pushing for a podium finish before strategy calamities curtailed his progress. However, it now seems as though the bulletproof VJM06 is fast as well, and with a strong driver pairing. Sutil’s P7, could easily have been P5 or better, but the German was pleased with the race. “What a fantastic race and a great feeling. I started on the medium tyres, a different strategy to most of the cars ahead of me, and I think this was the right decision. The pace was quick and the car felt very good on the medium tyres so I was able to keep up with the guys in front of me, who I knew were going to pit early. It was not long until I was leading the race – my first time leading in Formula One. After my second pit stop I was back in the lead once again, so I knew that it was possible to come away with a great result. My final stint on the super-softs was much more difficult because the tyres started graining and I lost a few places. I was thinking I might need to pit again, but fortunately the tyres came back to me for the final few laps so I could save the seventh place. This result for the team is a perfect way to start the season and I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to the team once again.” The Force India is clearly kind to its tyres, and if the team can master the strategic decisions in a way which Lotus have demonstrated, a podium is looking like a probability rather then a possibility. While I have openly critisised the team’s decision to offer him another chance, his faultless performance has generated plenty of acclaim.
While Sutil enjoyed a good performance, the same cannot be said of the McLaren duo. Their non-existent pace meant that Jenson Button and Sergio Perez could not do better than P9 and P11 respectively. McLaren are a team experiencing great turmoil at the moment, and development is much needed to salvage something. A dejected Button was certainly not confident of a swift recovery. “As a result, I scored two World Championship points today, which makes 1001 in my career I’m reliably informed, and to be honest I don’t think I could have scored any more than that. But, although that’s a nice stat, it doesn’t ease the pain caused by the knowledge that our car still needs a lot of work done before it’s properly competitive.” For Button, another opportunity to experiment with the car cannot come quick enough. “Looking forward to Malaysia next weekend, I think we’ve got a tough few days ahead of us, but hopefully we can now do some number-crunching in an effort to understand our car a bit better and extract a bit more performance out of it there.”
Joining McLaren in the disappointing category are Williams and Sauber. Nico Hulkenburg failed to even start to first race of the season, following a fundamental fuel issue discovered in the garage. His P11 on the grid was set to be a promising position for Nico to challenge for a podium. The German will now have to wait until Malaysia to start his first race of the season. “I’m bitterly disappointed about what happened today, but at the same time I’m not blaming anyone. Things like this happen in racing. What is particularly bothering me is the fact that I lost all this mileage today, which is so important particularly at the beginning of the season. It would have given me a lot of valuable data and information for the next races. Obviously, Melbourne is not a good place for me. It was my third Grand Prix here and the third time that I leave this place empty handed. The only good thing is that the next race takes place next weekend.”
Williams’ surprisingly poor pace across the weekend was noticeable on Sunday, where Bottas could only manage a P14 finish, while Maldonado failed to finish. His gravel excursion was a result of over driving; he dipped a wheel onto the grass heading into turn 1, and beached the FW35. “It was a disappointing end to a difficult weekend for myself and the team,” the Venezuelan stated. “The car was not responding as we hoped in the conditions today and unfortunately I lost the back end and ended up in the gravel. We need to work hard to solve the problems in the car to be ready for the next race in Malaysia.”
Bottas, however, was far more positive after the race. While his rookie appearance had not ended with points on the board, the Finn is optimistic for Malaysia success. “I had a good start from my grid position and it felt great to be back racing again. A small mistake a few laps in cost me some places though. We got the maximum performance we could from the car today and although the pace isn’t there yet, there are still some positives to take away. The next race is only a week away, so we will work very hard to prepare as best we can and try to score our first points of the season.” Valtteri has now out-qualified and out-raced his more experienced teammate this weekend, underlining his pace. Maldonado’s mistake suggests that he is a man under pressure. The pay driver target is aimed at him and the Venezuelan needs to convince the world that he does have pace worthy of his F1 seat. Bottas has the early advantage.
Kimi Raikkonen leaves Australia on a positive note. The car is quick, and has the potential to challenge the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari. If he was not already a title contender  he has to be considered now following such a controlled performance under pressure. The Finn stated, “I’m happy for the team and for myself also. We’ve had a quick car all weekend and there were no issues with it either, so we could just focus on trying different things and getting the setup how we wanted. I had a good feeling that we would be ok with the tyres after practice and the team got the strategy perfect. I made a few places at the start and then had a good battle with Lewis Hamilton but after that it was quite simple; probably one of my easiest wins. You can’t start the season much better than winning the first race and of course we hope we can be fighting at the front of the Championship, but there’s a long way to go still and we need to keep pushing hard all the way.”
Suggestions of Red Bull dominance have been quelled. The race pace of Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull is unbelievably close, meaning that this season will surely place more emphasis on strategy and driver performance than 2012.

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