On a day when the temperatures dropped and cool autumnal showers threatened to turn the Australian Grand Prix into a lottery, it was appropriate that the man nicknamed The Iceman kept calm and unflustered and powered to victory in the Albert Park event.
Kimi Raikkonen is a man of few words who prefers to let his actions do his talking. In that vein, it’s fair to say that the Finn began the 2013 Formula One season shouting through a megaphone as he showed his class and experience to take the Australian GP for the second time in his career.
The first had been in 2007, when he started from pole position and went on to win the world championship.
In the time since, Raikkonen has enjoyed a chequered career. The rest of his time with Ferrari proved frustrating and he shocked the F1 world when he went into ”retirement” at the end of the 2009 season, quitting to drive rally cars for two years before returning last year with Lotus.
He brought the team a win towards the back end of last year in Abu Dhabi, reinforcing the old saw that while form might be temporary, class is permanent.
And he showed that axiom to be true once again on Sunday evening in the gathering gloom of Melbourne’s twilight Grand Prix, when he brought his black and gold coloured Lotus home 12.4 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, with Sebastian Vettel in the first of the Red Bulls third, 9.8 seconds adrift of the Spaniard.
Fourth home was Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa, who showed with a strong drive throughout this race that he has regained the form which seemed to have deserted him for several seasons, with Lewis Hamilton a promising fifth in his debut drive for Mercedes.
Australia’s hope, Mark Webber, had qualified second on the grid in the Sunday morning session, held on race day because of the deluge which prevented it taking place in the traditional Saturday evening time slot.
But his chance of glory disappeared in the opening seconds. His teammate Vettel got off to a flying start, but Webber was swamped and ended the first lap back in seventh position after his clutch slipped. He battled throughout the afternoon and at the end was nearest at the finish, in sixth position. The strength of the field can be gleaned from the fact that four of the first five home have won world championships, Massa being the exception.
It was an intriguing race throughout, with all teams conscious of the fickle weather which threatened at any time to play a significant role. Tyres, as ever, were the great determinant, and the way the rubber affects performance was perfectly illustrated by the tactical decision of the Force India team to send out its German driver, Adrian Sutil, on medium compounds while the bulk of the field was on the supersoft tyres with which they qualified.
Starting 12th on the grid, he went out with a heavier fuel load and longer lasting tyres, meaning he could stay out much longer without pitting. For several laps, as the stops unwound, the Force India led the field, with Sutil, having his first start in F1 for two seasons, putting in a terrific performance to keep the hard chargers at bay for longer than anyone anticipated.
But the big guns could not be denied, and Sutil’s goose was cooked when Raikkonen went past him on lap 43, some 15 before the end.
Raikkonen now leads the world championship for the first time in years, but he, like the rest of the pursuing pack, knows that not too much can be read into the outcome of one race.
Alonso will feel that he has a real chance of regaining the title he last won in 2006 after such a promising start. Ferrari began last year relatively poorly, but the Spaniard still managed to mount a challenge for the championship.
Raikkonen, who qualified seventh, said that it had been the plan to only stop twice, and that he had been hopeful his tyres would work well. ”I had some doubts because it was the first race and you don’t know how the tyres will be but I knew I had a good car.”
Alonso is confident Ferrari can quickly build on the strengths it displayed in its 2-4 finish in Australia. ” We had a very bad start to the season last year. This year we feel much more optimistic.”
Vettel, who won this race in 2011 (Alonso had triumphed on the streets of Albert Park in 2006) had no excuses. He claimed pole position and led early, but had to pit to change his supersoft tyres within a few laps.
”We could see that the tyres were falling apart after a very good start. We have to admit sometimes that other people are faster. We had a great qualifying session, but the afternoon did not work out the way we would have liked,” the German triple world champion said.