Lotus and Kimi Raikkonen kick off 2013 in style with Melbourne victory
- Credit: Archant
Kimi Raikkonen proved he and Hethel-backed Lotus have what it takes this year to become Formula One world champions after storming to victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Lotus suggested during winter testing they had taken a step forward from last season, and they underlined that around Melbourne's Albert Park as Raikkonen took the chequered flag for the 20th time in his F1 career.
The 2007 world champion was joined by two-times title winner Fernando Alonso and reigning three-times king Sebastian Vettel on the podium to at least dispel early claims the German and Red Bull would again run away with it this campaign.
On his debut for Mercedes, after ending a 13-year career with McLaren at the end of last term, Lewis Hamilton had to settle for fifth, with Force India's Paul Di Resta eighth and Jenson Button down in ninth in a struggling McLaren.
To underline Raikkonen's form since he returned to F1 at the start of last season after a two-year sabbatical competing in rallying, the 33-year-old has now finished in the points in his last 19 races.
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Only seven-times champion Michael Schumacher and Vettel, with runs of 24 and 19 respectively, can boast a better record.
Describing his 20th career win as 'one of my easiest', Raikkonen added: 'This feels good, but it's only one race.
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'It doesn't change our aim and work for this year, but definitely we are happy with the win.
'There is still an awful lot to do to try to win the championship, but we have had a good car here and hopefully we can have more of these kind of races.'
Unsurprisingly, given the new range of Pirelli tyres that now degrade quicker than their counterparts from last season, this curtain-raiser under cool Melbourne skies was all about who could make them last.
Despite Red Bull blowing away the field in qualifying as they locked out the front row, their race pace fell away in comparison to Raikkonen and the Ferraris.
You would have expected, following a trademark start from Vettel as the German was away smoothly and cleanly from the 37th pole position of his F1 career, that from there he would have had the victory in his pocket – but not a bit of it.
Instead, Felipe Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen kept his rear wing in their sights over the early laps to ensure they were in a position to make the correct strategy calls and tyre choices when it mattered most.
Raikkonen grabbed the win on the back of a two-stop strategy compared to the five drivers who finished behind him, with Massa fourth ahead of Hamilton.
Throughout the 58 laps the lead changed hands many times as the pit stops unfolded, with even Force India's Adrian Sutil front-running for a number of laps after starting out on two runs of medium tyres.