MELBOURNE, Australia — Kimi Raikkonen put himself on top Down Under with an emphatic and unexpected victory for Lotus in Sunday’s Rolex Australian Grand Prix that opened the Formula One world championship.
After qualifying everybody had expected Red Bull domination, but that went wrong right from the start. Three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel led confidently, but Mark Webber immediately fell from second to seventh as the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso exploded into second and third places ahead of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg which sandwiched Raikkonen’s Lotus.
The Finn soon disposed of the silver arrows, and began his chase of the three breakaway leaders.
Vettel was the first of them to change his super soft Pirelli tires, on lap seven, followed by leader Massa on lap eight, then leader Alonso and Raikkonen on nine. That left Hamilton in the lead and he stayed there until lap 12, whereupon Rosberg led briefly before Adrian Sutil, who had started 11th for Force India on medium compound tires, seized the initiative. For the second race in succession, a Force India led.
The German, making his first start since 2011, stayed there ahead of Vettel, Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen until pitting on the 21st lap. Vettel did likewise, and Massa a lap later. But crucially, Alonso had stopped on the 20th, and was thus able to leapfrog the group ahead of him – Sutil, Vettel and Massa – when they made their stops. He took over second place when Hamilton stopped again on the 31st lap. By then Rosberg had dropped out with electrical problems. Massa, meanwhile, left it too long and dropped from first to seventh when he pitted on the 23rd lap.
Now Raikkonen led, and it soon emerged that Lotus had chosen a two-stop strategy — as opposed to the popular three-stop strategy of the other leading contenders —and were able to make it work. He clung on up front until the 34th lap, which then put Alonso and Vettel into the top two places, and soon the Ferrari was leaving the Red Bull behind. Vettel found his car good for a couple of laps on new rubber, but after that it began to destroy it. Red Bull might have owned qualifying, but Lotus and Ferrari had the upper hand in the race.
Raikkonen won after starting seventh.