Team Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen stunned the racing world and won the 2013 Australian Grand Prix to open the series season on the best possible note for the 33-year-old star (h/t CNN’s official coverage).
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso managed to finish second (12.4 seconds behind the race winner) and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel stole the last spot on the award podium with a third-place finish after winning the pole for the event (h/t ESPN).
The difference in this year’s race was the new pit strategy of Raikkonen and his team.
While it is customary for teams to make three pit stops (tire wear almost always warrants three changes during the race), Raikkonen and the Team Lotus only stopped twice, making the conscientious effort to not abuse the tires as much as the driver would on brand-new rubber.
The risk obviously paid off, and now the focus will be on how many other teams mimic Team Lotus’ strategy as the season progresses.
The victory is even more impressive considering that this is the start of only the second season Raikkonen has raced competitively in the Grand Prix series since leaving in 2009 to pursue a career in RallyCar and NASCAR (he finished third place in the Grand Prix series standings in 2012).
It’s clear that Raikkonen made the right choice to return to his roots in Grand Prix, though, and a great start to the season is what he and his team need.
The 2007 series champion is looking to help the smaller Lotus team develop into one of the biggest superpowers in the sport by taking on the tough competition of the Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes teams.
Victory at the Australian Grand Prix was a surprise to the doubters (h/t The Telegraph), but Raikkonen had a previous victory in the event in 2007 and now has five top-five finishes in 10 career starts in the race.
The work is far from over for Raikkonen and Team Lotus, but the season couldn’t have started better for the former champion.
While it’s too early to call the Finn the series championship favorite, there is no questioning that he will be in contention throughout the year.
Final Top 10 Leaderboard
1. Kimi Raikkonen - Lotus 1:30:03.225
2. Fernando Alonso - Ferrari +00:12.451
3. Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull +00:22.346
4. Felipe Massa - Ferrari +00:33.577
5. Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes +00:45.561
6. Mark Webber - Red Bull +00:46.800
7. Adrian Sutil - Force India +01:64.068
8. Paul di Resta - Force India +01:67.449
9. Jenson Button - McLaren +01:80.630
10. Romain Grosjean - Lotus +01:81.759
While only the top-10 finishers received points in the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, the Twitter account of Formula One Fans updated the entire leaderboard, including the cars that retired early:
Race winner Kimi Raikkonen told Ed Owen of Sportsbeat about the strategy used in the victory, and how the pitting strategy and the impending rain changed the way the race was run:
That two-stopping strategy was our plan before the race. I was confident that the tyres would be OK. I had a very good car all weekend with no issues with the tyres, so I thought it would be easy to do it.
I was just trying to make sure we had a gap if the rain came. I didn’t do any long runs over the winter but I knew I had a good car and I had a feeling it would be a good race. Near the end, I was still pushing because I knew Fernando [Alonso] was catching up a bit and I thought at some point we would need a little extra if the rain came again.
Second-place finisher Fernando Alonso told Andrew Benson of the BBC about his team’s desired results from the Grand Prix and what he thought of Raikkonen’s performance:
Arriving here and fighting for the podium was the aim of the weekend. The car felt good so being on the podium is job done, let's say. We didn't have the pace to fight with Kimi today. He was too fast for us.
Red Bull driver and third-place finisher Sebastian Vettel also spoke to Benson following the race about Raikkonen’s two-tire pit stop strategy:
We can be happy with the pace all weekend, the whole team worked well. Obviously there is a bit of homework to do with the tyres. I think two stop was out of our range today. The naked pace was there.
Now that the 2013 Australian Grand Prix is out of the way, the next event on the series schedule will be the Malaysian Grand Prix at the circuit of Sepang. For more information on the next event, check out the race’s official website.