Kimi Raikkonen wins Australian Grand Prix

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Kimi Raikkonen has got his 2013 season off to a perfect start after winning the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

The Lotus driver perfected a two stop strategy which saw him finish over ten seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso in second place. The Ferrari driver pitted three times, as did pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel who completed the podium in third.

Off the start, Mark Webber was swallowed up into the midfield following a poor getaway, and Lewis Hamilton lost out to both Ferrari drivers. Felipe Massa was Vettel’s closest challenger for the lead until the first round of stops, and the Red Bull driver failed to close the gap to Adrian Sutil who had assumed the lead of the race on the harder tire. When he did stop, Raikkonen and Hamilton were released, but the Mercedes was clearly struggling on its tires. Alonso managed to edge out his teammate and Vettel at the front, and he quickly set about opening up the gap to Raikkonen who was trying to make the two stop strategy work.

Alonso pitted for a final time to hand Sutil the lead, but the Force India was quickly passed by Raikkonen, but the gap to the Ferrari was diminishing. The Finn began to ease off in order to save his tires, but Alonso could not capitalize on this as he struggled to pass Sutil for P2. When the Ferrari did get past, the gap was over seven seconds, which turned out to be too great for Alonso. For good measure, Raikkonen posted the fastest lap time with three laps to go showing just how good the Lotus E21 is on its tires.

Sutil’s race was ruined when he moved onto the supersoft tire with twelve laps to go, and he eventually lost out to Massa, Hamilton and Webber. di Resta finished just behind his teammate in P8 ahead of a struggling Jenson Button. Romain Grosjean took the final point for Lotus in P10.

The opening race of the season saw four teams vying for the race win, and with Pirelli tires proving to be the deciding factor, Raikkonen will be pleased with how he managed the race from the front and got the undercut on his rivals. Ferrari have clearly banished their 2012 car troubles, whilst Red Bull will be questioning just what changed between qualifying and the race. For Mercedes, the race moved away from them as they struggled to manage their tires, whilst McLaren will know they have a lot of work to do after scoring just two points today.

2013 Australian Grand Prix – Classification

1 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault Winner

2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +12.4 secs

3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault +22.3 secs

4 Felipe Massa Ferrari +33.5 secs

5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +45.5 secs

6 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault +46.8 secs

7 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes +65.0 secs

8 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes +68.4 secs

9 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes +81.6 secs

10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault +82.7 secs

11 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes +83.3 secs

12 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari +83.8 secs

13 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +1 Lap

14 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault +1 Lap

15 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth +1 Lap

16 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault +2 Laps

17 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth +2 Laps

18 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault +2 Laps

Ret Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari

Ret Nico Rosberg Mercedes

Ret Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault

DNS Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari

You can follow Luke on Twitter @LukeSmithF1

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.