The 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen upset all pre-season predictions on Sunday when he produced one of the finest drives of his Formula One career to win an enthralling Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
The 33-year-old Finn, driving his Renault-powered Lotus with elan and precision, needed only two pit stops as he raced from seventh on the starting grid to his 20th victory in a contest that featured six different race leaders and 10 changes of leadership.
It was a consummate demonstration of his skill and the team’s preparations, notably in their strategy for management of their tyres, on a dull, overcast and generally dry afternoon that saw him finish 12.4 seconds clear of second-placed two-time World Champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
“Thanks, everyone, great job!” said Raikkonen on the Lotus team radio after crossing the line. “It was a good car all weekend,” he explained later. “I knew it was possible to have a good race and I made a good start and after that all went well.
“Of course, I had some doubts before the race, about the tyres, but it was not a problem for me and towards the end of the race I was able to push hard, in case of rain or something, to make sure I had a big gap.”
Like most drivers, Alonso made three pit stops and was unable to match Raikkonen’s economy in tyre wear, the decisive factor in an open and entertaining race.
Defending triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull finished third after struggling with tyre wear, Brazilian Felipe Massa was fourth in the second Ferrari and Briton Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, came in fifth on his debut with the Mercedes team.
Local favourite Australian Mark Webber finished sixth in the second Red Bull having made a slow start from second on the grid, losing five positions by the exit of the first corner.
Raikkonen also recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to victory while other more-fancied rivals, including three-time winner Briton Jenson Button of McLaren, struggled and failed to impress. Button finished ninth and his new team-mate Mexican Sergio Perez ended the race down in 11th.
One of the most remarkable performances came from German Adrian Sutil, of Force India, on his comeback after a year out of the sport.
Sutil started from 12th on the grid and took a gamble with Pirelli’s medium tyres. He enjoyed two spells as race leader before finishing seventh, the mandatory switch to the super-soft tyre compound wrecking his hopes in the closing laps.
Briton Paul Di Resta came home eighth in the second Force India car and Frenchman Romain Grosjean was 10th in the second Lotus.
Australia’s second competitor Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso endured a disappointing afternoon. He started 14th but made little impression after a difficult early spell.
“I wanted to put on a good performance,” said Ricciardo, who finished ninth here last year. “But the first few laps were horrendous. When I stopped it was an exhaust issue – there was quite a big hole in the bodywork near the exhaust, and I could also hear some strange noises. It just couldn’t be fixed. Things weren’t really going our way…”