Formula 1: Four Standout Performances from the Australian Grand Prix

Antony Herbert@LeeUwishWritingAnalyst IIIMarch 17, 2013

Formula 1: Four Standout Performances from the Australian Grand Prix

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    A new season has started down under in Melbourne, and already you get an echoing of the multi-faceted and multi-talented field that took the 2012 campaign into a million different directions.

    The weather made it all the more interesting, with a rare occurrence of qualifying being completed on race Sunday, a few hours before the main spectacle unfolded.

    It was a stormer of a race too, which in the end came down to tactics. The teams and drivers had to battle against high degradation and a dampened track, whilst also getting use to the new super-soft tyres. 

    Some drivers struggled. Mark Webber did his usual trick of starting poorly, and thus finding himself unable to make anything of his race. Sergio Perez also looked forlorn and out of his depth at his new McLaren team. 

    Yet there were others who put in standout performances, setting a precedent for an excellent season should their electric form continue. 

    Here are my top four drivers of the day. 

Jules Bianchi: Star at the Back

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    Jules Bianchi is a driver with links to Ferrari, and experience as the reserve at Force India. He was always going to be in a more privileged position than the other rookies in the field. 

    However, throughout qualifying and the race, Bianchi didn't just edge out the performance of his fellow rookies, he looked a gear or two above the likes of Max Chilton, Giedo van der Garde and Valtteri Bottas. 

    Some might say he was unlucky not to land a permanent seat at Force India, although the driver who snatched this place did more than enough today to back up that decision. 

    Bianchi's luck was still to come in, and it did just that when initial Marussia driver Luiz Razia suffered sponsorship issues and had to bow out before even getting to the first Grand Prix.

    Bianchi made the most of his opportunity. Throughout the weekend, he was regularly a few tenths per lap quicker than his team mate and the two Caterhams. He was the only one of the four who appeared quick enough to keep in touch with the rest of the field. 

    One look at the fastest laps of each of the four back markers shows that Bianchi's best lap was a stunning 1.8 seconds quicker. 

    In what may be an audacious statement to make so early on, he does put me in mind of a young Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard did, after all, begin his Formula 1 career under the radar, but albeit strongly at the minnow Minardi team. 

Felipe Massa: The Return of the Unexpected Hero?

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    Over the last couple of seasons, many people felt pity for Felipe Massa. Here was a driver who had lost a title on the last sector of the last race of the season, who then had the misfortune of being smashed in the face at high speed by a piece of another team's car. 

    Since that accident that almost cost him an eye, Massa had become a shadow of his former self. He lacked pace, was destroyed by team mate Alonso and went through an excruciating period where he couldn't even muster a podium finish.

    Alonso, at the same time, was winning races and challenging for the title. As a consequence, you couldn't help but feel that the Brazilian's days in a top team were numbered.

    Massa began to replicate some of his stronger days towards the back end of 2012, and it seems as though he carried on this resurgence in Melbourne. 

    The Brazilian out-qualified double world champion Alonso and even held his celebrated team mate at bay in the early stages. This prompted the Ferrari team to allow the two to race, giving Massa the opportunity to show what he could do by bringing him in for new tyres first. 

    Alonso eventually made the breakthrough, when the Ferrari team brought him in for a second stop that aimed to achieve the undercut that would put him in front of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. This ultimately meant he also found himself in front of Massa.  

    Still, Massa went on to finish in a comfortable fourth, and by doing so backed up his confident performance over the entire weekend. If he can now push this improved level of speed further, then maybe Alonso won't have it in the same easy manner that he has become accustomed to at Ferrari. 

Kimi Raikkonen: The Iceman Coolly Does It

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    In 2012 Kimi Raikkonen proved that extended time away of the sport does not always harm your ability to show massive potential and great raw speed upon returning. 

    He scored points in every race apart from China in the 2012 season and took a solitary but thoroughly deserved win in Abu Dhabi. And now after Melbourne, he leaves the first Grand Prix of the season as the outright championship leader.

    He also now only requires one more win in order to become the most decorated Finnish driver in Formula 1 history; this being because his 20th win puts him level with double world champion Mika Hakkinen. 

    Whilst Kimi can owe a large amount of this victory to his team's two-stop strategy, you cannot deny the skill and tenacity that was required from him to make it work. He continued to put in incredible lap times, even when his rivals were sent out on fresher tyres. 

    The Iceman made his initial set of super-soft tyres last longer than rivals Vettel and Alonso, meaning he found himself comfortably in the lead when the pit stops were all said and done. 

    A podium full of champions was therefore led by the one who has never taken a follow-up title. And for Kimi to come from the fourth row to win in this style, he must be commended as someone who deserves that second bite of the cherry. 

    The rest of his season and his title credentials may fall down to the ability of his Lotus team to produce and develop a car that puts him in a position where he can capitalise.

    You can't help but feel, however, that even if Red Bull and Ferrari have stronger cars, it won't necessarily mean you can count Kimi out of the running. 

Adrian Sutil: From Zero to Hero

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    The standout performance for me came from the cockpit of a Force India. Sky F1 commentator and former racer Martin Brundle agreed by making Adrian Sutil his driver of the day.

    Sutil perfectly illustrated the reason why he was chosen by Vijay Mallya to return to Formula 1 after a year's absence. 

    Starting from 12th on the grid gave Sutil an immediate advantage as he could start on whichever tyre he liked.

    He chose not to run on the super-soft tyres that had to be run by those who had made qualifying three, meaning his first stint saw him stay on track much longer.

    This allowed Sutil to become a surprise race leader, but what really demonstrated his superb performance was his ability to hold off Vettel and the two Ferraris, before he eventually made his first pit stop. 

    Even the stewards seemed stunned, as throughout the race Sutil faced the indignity of having blue flags waved in his face as his fellow front runners tried to get past. 

    They seemed not to notice, that as Vettel and Co. approached, Sutil continued to display an impressive consistency of pace that saw him match the lap times of those in stronger cars.

    Instead of leading for what was expected to be a mere few corners, instead he held on for a number of laps, and even began to edge out a comfortable enough lead over triple world champion Vettel. 

    At this stage, you would expect any driver in a middle-of-the-pack car to just fade as the race reached its climax. Yet when the next round of pit-stops began, Sutil regained the lead once more.

    This time, he was not as accomplished at keeping his rivals behind him, but still he continued to demonstrate enough speed to hopefully sustain a top-five finish. 

    Unfortunately for Sutil, a tactical decision to stick him on the super-soft tyres a few laps earlier than predicted cost him dearly. The Force India team looked to make the decision to see if Sutil could catch and potentially pass Felipe Massa and turn a confident fifth into a momentous fourth-placed finish. 

    The super-soft tyres sadly let him down. They lost grip and speed almost immediately, causing Sutil to lose time at an alarming rate. He was a sitting duck as Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber breezed past.

    On the final lap, his team mate Paul Di Resta almost made it past as well.

    Sutil's seventh-placed finish therefore was a couple of places lower than he deserved. Yet his sensational return to the sport after a season-long gap, gives rise to the idea that he should never have been let go. 

    If Sutil were to sustain this level of performance as the season progresses, then there is no reason why he cannot bulldoze his way into a bigger team.

    For someone who has often been seen as a nearly man, this would be a joyous outcome and one that would silence his critics once and for all. 

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