Result: Kimi Raikkonen holds off Alonso for his 18th successive points-scoring race, and 20th race victory.
A gloomy Saturday was followed by a sunny Sunday at Melbourne Park, Australia- where defending Champion Sebastian Vettel turned a chunk of excited F1 fans away from their television sets with an ominous qualifying lap that spelled utter dominance. He finished 0.8 seconds ahead of his rival Alonso (5th) and led yet another Red Bull 1-2 into the race. It didn’t matter that Hamilton or Alonso were just down the order, because a pole-to-flag finish looked like a mere formality.
Three for the road
Things changed dramatically during the 58 lap race- just 6 hours after morning qualifying. The race was led by 7 different drivers at various times- and ended with 3 World Champions on the podium. While fears of Red Bull dominance were squashed by old rivals and masters Raikkonen and Alonso, Vettel kept himself in contention with a disappointing 3rd place finish. Home-favorite Webber choked, as usual, at the start- furthering his reputation as the worst race-starter in recent history. Adrian Sutil, the unfortunate Force India driver, led the race twice- but fell off towards the end with a dreadfully wrong tyre-strategy going wonky for the team, as he managed to remain within the points in 7th. Alonso started off where he left off last season, again playing the ultimate chaser- and he surely must be exhausted after finishing runner-up to yet another better car at the top. Still, he will be delighted with 2nd place- his first podium at Australia since 2007- and will look to go from strength to strength as the season advances. He must wonder, though, if he holds some kind of record for overtaking the maximum amount of front-row drivers in his career- chasing down Hamilton, Vettel and Sutil as if they didn’t exist on the track. His skill, in this generation of F1, is only matched by one other driver in a similar phase of his career- Raikkonen enjoying his second wind after successfully making a return to the sport in 2012.
Class of 2013
With an inferior car (to Red Bull), Iceman Kimi Raikkonen was the man of the day- starting 2013 from where he left off in 2012. His team, Lotus, had to wait 17 races till Brazil to have him as a winner after many podium finishes last season- and he has never looked back. 18 consecutive points-scoring races, and it is hard to imagine if there is a more consistent driver in F1 right now- a far cry from Raikkonen 1.0 before his early retirement- where he was known for some scintillating aggression more than reliability.
This Kimi, though, is back with a clear head- determined to win an extremely competitive F1 season, in one of the most competitive fields in recent history. If Red Bull don’t find a Mojo (as they have for the last 3 seasons), it will be difficult for Vettel to catch the more experienced duo at the top.
Always the bridesmaid
But this is only the first race of a long 2013 season, and the Australian Grand Prix is rarely a yardstick for future trends or predictions. Vettel failed to win here in 2010 and 2012, and ended up as World Champion. Kimi, after last winning here in 2007 (his World Champion season), now begins 2013 without the rustiness that plagued him last year- after a long time away from the sport.
The Malaysian Grand Prix is only days away- and it would be difficult to look away from the current top 3 to predict a winner at Sepang, or even the eventual Championship Winner.
A 3-horse race? We’ll take it.
Bring it on, Sepang.