After long months of waiting, the 2013 Formula One season kicked off today in Melbourne, Australia. The first event of this year’s championship brought an unusual two-day qualifying session, a fight between former World Champions for the win, an excellent return and a few disappointments, as well.
After defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel took an easy pole at qualifying ahead of his Red Bull-teammate Mark Webber, many motorsports fans feared that the race was going to be a walkover from the German. They were proven utterly wrong by the 58-lap race.
As usual, Webber’s start was slow and the Ferraris took advantage. While Vettel’s getaway was excellent, he could not build a huge lead in front, in fact, after a couple of laps, the trio of Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen were closing in on the German. Others’ chances for the win were quite slim after the first pit stops, only one driver caused a serious surprise in the front: Adrian Sutil. The German driver re-signed by Force India this year chose to start on the harder tyre compound and was leading the race for a handful of laps in front of Vettel and his pursuers.
Before Sutil pitted the first time, Alonso took a chance to undercut his rivals at their second stops. The tactical move was perfect, he found himself in front of Sutil, Vettel, and Massa a few laps later. However, Kimi Raikkonen did not follow them into the pits, and it soon became clear that Team Lotus was opting for a two-stop strategy instead of the more expected three-stop one.
At this moment, Raikkonen stepped forward from dark horse to favourite for race win. When in the later stages Alonso seemed to close in on the Finn, Raikkonen changed pace and claimed one of the easiest wins of his F1-career, according to himself. Raikkonen even recorded the fastest lap of the race on lap 57 to leave no doubts about his superiority over the field on race day.
This was Raikkonen’s 20th career victory with which he caught his compatriot and double World Champion Mika Hakkinen in numbers of race win. This is of course not enough for the Iceman; he wants to catch Hakkinen in terms of World titles this year, as well.
Based on the first race, there are only two drivers who can beat Raikkonen to the title, the two drivers stepping on the podium with the Finn: Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. All three of them clearly have the upper hand inside their respective teams and the race pace of the other 8 teams’ cars is just not enough, at least not for now. Still, an exciting 3-way battle for the championship until the end is just what motorsports fans can wish for any year.
Further back in the field, Lewis Hamilton took 5th position in front of local hero Mark Webber who still does not have a podium finish at his home race, and being the oldest driver now in the field, he will not have too many chances for that in the future. Adrian Sutil returned to Formula One with a spectacular race and a 7th place after a one-year hiatus. He was the only midfield-driver to mess with the big guys, and more than deserved his 6 points. Minor points were picked up by Paul Di Resta, Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean. Sergio Perez just missed out on his first race for McLaren and Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne was also close to score a point thanks to a decent race and the second fastest lap.
Although Button scored two points for them, McLaren’s first race was beyond disappointing. The Woking-team usually fighting for race wins and championships started off the season with a painfully average pace both in qualifying and race. Another disappointment was Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan driver only beat the Caterhams and Marussias on Saturday, than spun off at the race with no one but himself to blame.
Five drivers made their Formula One debuts in Melbourne this weekend. On the positive side, they all finished the race; none of them on the leading lap, though. In the case of Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas, being one lap down in a midfield car is acceptable for their first start. The same is true for Max Chilton’s and Giedo Van Der Garde’s performance finishing two laps down in a backmarker car. However, Jules Bianchi’s performance is worth more than that. The French rookie who was only confirmed for Marussia a couple of weeks before the start of the season finished a whole lap ahead of his fellow rookie teammate Chilton, and what is even more impressive, his fastest lap was only 0.045 s slower than Vettel’s.
After the first race, Kimi Raikkonen leads the Driver’s Championship, while Ferrari is in front at the Constructor’s standings. The battle for both titles continues in Sepang, Malaysia next week.
By: Dávid Koczó