The Formula 1 2013 season opener kicked off last weekend and it was a brilliant spectacle. The whole weekend was full of drama and intrigue, with strategy, weather and tyres being the main talking points.
As a whole I really enjoyed the race. Some people were skeptical about the race due to the lack of incident and a relatively low tally of overtakes. However whilst these factors create drama and talking points, the first race of the season was all about strategy. There were so many sub-plots during the race, it really made you think. Where will Vettel come out when he pits, can Kimi make his tyres last?
And that he really did. Admittedly I went into the first race with an open mind, and rightfully so. After such an inconclusive test I found it difficult to pin point a prediction before the race weekend, I never expected Lotus to win but I never knew what to expect. What I did know is that the top five teams from 2012 would have the best chances of victory.
After free practice on Friday I felt Red Bull looked the strongest of the pack, Vettel set the fastest time in both FP1 and FP2. The German really looked strong, especially in the mid and higher speed corners. Red Bull certainly had the downforce but not the straight line speed, much like 2012.
FP3 was wet but Qualifying was even worse, the conditions were treacherous and it was eventually postponed to Sunday morning. I felt this was the right decision, obviously Charlie Whiting and co have the knowledge and experience to know what the right call is. The light was fading, the rain continued to fall and the conditions did not look like they would improve anytime soon, so it was the best thing to do. Q1 saw Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez exit alongside both Marussia?s and Caterham?s. I was surprised by Williams? lack of pace; they took the same route as McLaren and took the revolutionary route. It obviously did not pay off in the first round.
So when qualifying arrived I was even more impatient than ever to see the real running order, it was what I had been waiting for since the first day of testing in Jerez. Sergio Perez was knocked out in Q2 after taking a risk on dry tyres, he had nothing to lose but unfortunately it did not pay off. The McLaren really did look slow which was quite shocking after looking decent in pre-season testing. The other knock outs in Q2 were no surprise, but Di Resta was the sole driver outside the ?top 10? teams to sneak in to Q3.
The final session provided a very interesting result. Over the pre-season there were concerns at Red Bull, but lets be honest we all knew they would be in contention. Vettel got pole with Webber making it an all Red Bull front row. I was happy to see Hamilton up in third as he had looked good all weekend. Massa out qualified Alonso which was great to see, he really was returning to his old ways. Button qualified 10thafter moving on to the super-soft?s too early, McLaren really struggled for pace throughout the weekend.
The race was rather interesting from the point of view of strategy, we only saw the final running order at the chequered flag. Everyone has a soft spot for Kimi Raikkonen due to how he is and who he is, so it was great to see him winning. I was surprised to hear him say it was ?easy? and that the team were so confident before the race had even started because he only came in to contention at the half way mark of the race, the guys at Lotus were obviously keeping an eye on the gaps to each car and knew where he would fit in. The main advantage that Lotus had was that the E21 was very light on its tyres, which meant Kimi was one of just a few to use a two stop strategy. He even set the fastest lap of the race too, very late on and with 22 lap old Pirelli tyres.
Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa both impressed me with their pace, Ferrari certainly started strongly. I did think Massa would stand on the podium early on but Kimi?s awesome mid-race pace and strategy meant he just missed out. What I was shocked with was the gap between the cars, we expected the top to be quite close but Raikkonen won the race by 12 seconds from Alonso, Massa some 33 seconds off in fourth. Lewis Hamilton was very happy with his fifth place and rightfully so, he drove a good defensive race and proved he made the right move.
I tell you what, Adrian Sutil returned to F1 with a bang didn?t he! I have to admit after the ?club incident? my opinions changed on him, but he drove fantastically during the race and even led on a few occasions. When he did lead he not only kept the likes of Vettel and Alonso behind, but he also pulled away from them (I know right, shocking). He also managed a two stop strategy and like Raikkonen was light on his tyres. With Di Resta in eighth it was a good weekend for Force India.
Jenson finished ninth and said he was ?satisfied? with the result. This is surprising coming from a three time Australian Grand Prix winner but that just symbolises the position McLaren are currently in. They are not fast in qualifying or the race and really struggled on the bumpy Melbourne track. The midfield was a lot closer than the battle up front and Perez missed out on his debut point for McLaren by just 0.6 seconds.
Another driver to impress me was Jules Bianchi. The Frenchman was drafted in as a late replacement for Razia and completed very little mileage in the car, but despite the pre-season rush he finished ahead of his team-mate Max Chilton. Add to that the fact that his fastest lap of the race was 11th fastest, just 0.04 behind third place finisher Sebastian Vettel, and you have to think of him as a future star. Both Marussia drivers did well on their debuts, Chilton did well to finish ahead of van der Garde after an early pit stop for a new nose.
I was particularly disappointed with Nico Hulkenberg?s non start after a fuel issue. I felt so bad for him; he looked good in qualifying and would have most likely finished in the points.
So after last weekend we have a new championship leader, Kimi Raikkonen taking the full 25 points for race victory. It really was a good race weekend despite the drama and qualifying confusion.
I have to admit though; I didn?t watch all the sessions live. I need sleep. I need sleep to function and hence I slept through FP1 and FP3, before watching them on record (Sky+ you life saver) before the second sessions of the day. The Australian Grand Prix TV times are better than previous years but they really do take their toll. I currently write this column on Monday afternoon, with big black bags under my eyes that just want to close.
Still, I wouldn?t miss it for the world and despite my moaning about ?being tired?, I would not have it any other way. I was always going to wake up for it, so it?s silly for me to moan when it is my own doing and was something that I wanted to do.
Now I can?t wait for Malaysia. The heat and weather should provide some exciting racing and the track is one of my favourites, it always produces a good race and stirs things up. We also get to see if Lotus can stay ahead of the chasing pack, and if McLaren can make strides forward on the smoother and more flowing Sepang circuit.
So the first race of the season has given us a glimpse of the true running order, but we certainly have a long way to go and I personally can not wait.
Author: Jack Leslie
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