Australian GPR Race Recap: Kimi starts 2013 with a win, Alonso, Vettel complete dry podium

Kimi Raikkonen won the 2013 Australian Grand Prix in a masterful showing of tyre management and pushiness when necessary. Fernando Alonso came close to catching him up, but ended the race off Raikkonen’s pace and on a different pit stop strategy in second. Sebastian Vettel completed the podium after Red Bull’s seeming dominance fizzled as both Alonso and Felipe Massa charged after him on the start. Massa finished fourth, with Lewis Hamilton marking his Mercedes debut with a fifth place finish. Mark Webber started second but finished sixth after another dismal start. Early and continued scrapping marked the generally dry race. A few bits of drizzle seemed ready to make things interesting, but instead wonders over tyre degradation enlivened a race that saw some desperate hopes from Adrian Sutil fizzle in the waning laps.

Vettel (1:27.407) won pole Sunday morning after rain, wind, and impending darkness spread qualifying from Saturday afternoon until race day. The conditions delayed Q1 for a half hour. After that session finished full of spins and carnage, Race Control delayed Q2 for fifty minutes then, with impending sunset and worsening rain, pushed both Q2 and Q3 overnight to Sunday morning. Webber’s fast lap in Q3 made it a Red Bull front row, while Hamilton displayed better handling in the drying conditions to qualify third fastest. Massa beat Alonso to fourth fastest by three thousandths, leaving Rosberg, Raikkonen, Grosjean, di Resta, and Button the top ten starters. Though crashes abounded in Q1 on Saturday, no one was hurt and the cars easily fixed overnight.

Vettel led both Friday practice sessions in the dry, but had issues that ended the damp Saturday practice early for the German. Grosjean led that practice with a time set early in the dry conditions before Saturday’s rain began to fall. Webber, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, di Resta, and Hamilton all joined the two fastest men in practice in the top five for the three practices. Hamilton also had issues, as a damaged splitter threw him into the gravel Friday afternoon, but some of the most fascinating troubles came from Race Control. The telemetry connection to the cars failed Saturday, leaving RC unable to deactivate DRS or show the appropriate flashing lights for caution or blue flags in the cockpits of the cars.

As Sauber got Hulkenberg’s car ready, they discovered a fuel issue that kept the German from racing. Though the team revealed little, Team principal Monica Kaltenborn allowed that the fuel cell had leaked, and the team was unable to fix it. With Hulkenberg, who qualified eleventh unable to start, the field dropped to twenty-one minutes before the lights went out. Though rain continued to threaten, it had yet to fall between the morning’s quali and the formation lap. Most teams chose the supersoft tyres for their drivers, as the general consensus seemed to be to get rid of those rapidly degrading tyres as soon as possible. Only Sutil, Ricciardo, Perez, and Maldonado started the race shod in the medium compound.

Race Start:
Vettel sat quite a long time in his grid slot, as he strung the field out through the formation lap. As the lights went out, Vettel shot away while Webber bogged down. Massa quickly swamped him into second, with Alonso soon following his teammate into third. Hamilton followed the Ferraris, while Raikkonen and Rosberg also pushed their way through on Webber, dropping the Australian down to seventh early in the first lap. Alonso got a better exit near the end of the lap and gave his teammate a go, but the Briazilian kept second.

As the first lap ended, Raikkonen pressured Hamilton for fourth, but the Briton held off the Finn. Vettel had a two second gap on Massa at the end of L1, with Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Webber, di Resta, Button, and Sutil the top ten. Massa continued to push, gaining back a bit of that gap to Vettel, with Alonso sticking close behind. Hamilton finally succumbed to Raikkonen’s pressure, dropping down to fifth.

First Pit Stops Begin (L4):
Button pitted first on L4 for the medium compound, even as the Ferrari drivers continued to catch up Vettel after the German attempted to run away from the field. Though the top seven were a bit spread out in the early laps, the latter half of the field were quite bunched together. Webber, Grosjean, and Gutierrez pitted on L5, going to the back of the field but getting rid of the degrading supersofts. Bottas, then Chilton pitted on the next lap as both Massa and Alonso continued to catch Vettel right up both well under a second behind the reigning world champion.

Vettel pitted from the lead, dropping to eleventh, on L7, while Raikkonen charged after Alonso, making excellent use of tyres that seemed ready to drop off everyone else’s car. Massa pitted on L8, as Raikkonen crossed the line just four tenths off Alonso.  Di Resta followed the Brazilian in, with Ferrari performing a tidy stop. Still, Vettel had passed Maldonado and went by just as Massa rejoined the circuit. Both Alonso and Raikkonen pitted on L9, as did Vergne and Bianchi. Both teams put together clean stops, but the Ferrari remained in front. Meanwhile, Maldonado had a tiny trip onto the grass, allowing Raikkonen through as the latter rejoined.

End L10:
Hamilton led at the end of L10, with Rosberg, Sutil, and Perez the top four, though none of them had yet to make their first stop. Maldonado pitted on L11. Meanwhile, Vettel moved neatly around Perez for fourth, as did Massa nearly three seconds behind. Alonso was not so lucky and only managed to pass Perez through the DRS zone, no matter that the new McLaren driver attempted to put up a fight. Hamilton continued to lead smoothly, finally pitting on L13 with a nearly five second gap on his teammate running in second and taking over the lead. Mercedes put together a clean stop, dropping to eighth on his stop and safely ahead of Perez.

Hamilton’s stop left Rosberg in the lead, two seconds ahead of Sutil, who had a charging Vettel just behind. Rosberg pitted the next time around, allowing Sutil to lead his first race back after a year’s hiatus from the sport. Rosberg rejoined in ninth, between Ricciardo and Button. Button attacked the German as he left pit out, but was unable to make the move as Webber began pushing him from directly behind. Ricciardo pitted on L16, leaving only Perez (sixth) and Sutil (leading) to have not yet stopped.

Sutil seemed able to keep Vettel behind, with the top five covered by 4.3s at the end of L16. Sutil then led Vettel, Massa, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Rosberg, Button, Webber, and di Resta as the top ten, with Perez stopping on L17. Sutil continued to lead, lapping a bit quicker than Vettel and both holding up and holding off the rest of the front-runners.

Second Pit Stops Begin (L19):
Webber made his second stop on L19 for another set of mediums. Van der Garde had already made his second stop from lap. Grosjean followed on the next lap as Alonso visibly closed up to teammate Massa, who was also just behind Vettel. Chilton pitted as well, then so did Alonso on L21 with Raikkonen catching him up from fifth. Button pitted as well. The two former world champions rejoined in seventh and fourteenth, respectively.

Vettel appeared to be losing grip or pushing very hard to stay close to Sutil and ahead of Massa. Sutil mad his first stop on L22, with Vettel following the leader into pit lane. Force India kept Sutil ahead of Vettel on the stop. They rejoined with Alonso splitting them, only for the Spaniard to take advantage of Sutil’s colder tyres and pip him for position. The stops left Massa in the lead, only to have the Brazilian stop on L24. He had a second and a half on Raikkonen, but the better drama came just before as Vettel undercut Sutil to gain sixth.

Massa rejoined behind Sutil, with plenty of ground to make up after his later stop. It looked as though Massa would be unable to pass the German, as Sutil soon set a race fast lap on his newly warmed tyres. Vergne and Bottas pitted for their second stops on L26. However, Maldonado became the first retirement, sliding out and getting stuck in the gravel. He seemed to have dropped the left rear at least onto the painted line if not fully onto the dirt, flicking the Venezuelan around and into the gravel at Turn 1. As halfway approached with yellow flags waving, Rosberg pulled to the side of the circuit and retired from the race with what would later be identified as an electronic issue.

Halfway (End L29):
Just as halfway came and went, light drops of rain began falling at Albert Park. Raikkonen led Hamilton by nearly thirteen and a half seconds, with Alonso, Vettel, Sutil, Massa, di Resta, Webber, Ricciardo, and Button the top ten. Grosjean, Vergne, Perez, Gutierrez, Bottas, Pic, Bianchi, ven der Garde, and Chilton completed the running order. Ricciardo pitted next on L31.

Meanwhile, Alonso had caught up Hamilton and began to look for a way through on his former teammate. The latter wondered to his team if Alonso was on a three stop and got a reminder to keep the Spaniard behind. Alonso continued to push, forcing Hamilton into a lockup as he attempted to take second. Alonso was alongside, left Hamilton the space as he locked up, then took the position as a fall out from Hamilton’s lockup. Hamilton immediately pitted as Vettel came quickly up from behind. Hamilton rejoined in seventh, just ahead of Webber.

Raikkonen continued to lead, having made only one stop, with twenty-five laps remaining. Alonso sat second, nearly sixteen seconds behind, with Vettel, Sutil, Massa, Hamilton, Webber, Button, Grosjean, and di Resta the top ten. The latter had dropp down the order through his second stop on that lap. Raikkonen finally pitted on L34, rejoining in fifth jut behind Massa and leaving Alonso two and a half seconds ahead of Vettel in the lead. Hamilton soon continued in tradition, radioing his race engineer that his tyres would not last the end of the race “at this pace.” He was sixth, thirteen seconds off Raikkonen ahead.

Third Pit Stops Begin (L37):
van der Garde and Chilton made their third stops on L37. Massa followed them on the same lap, confirming a three stop strategy for much of the field and attempting to undercut his teammate in return, as he had been undercut before. He rejoined in fifth. Vettel pitted on the next lap, as did Button and Grosjean. Vettel got back out ahead of Massa. Webber soon made his third stop as Alonso continued to comfortably lead Sutil by more than ten seconds.

Alonso pitted on L40, leaving Sutil again in the lead. Force India had already informed the German to not bother much with Raikkonen, essentially to allow the Finn by without ruining his tyres. Alonso rejoined in third, just ahead of Vettel passing Hamilton. Massa caught them up even as Hamilton looked for a way back around Vettel. Vettel soon scooted away, leaving Massa to make the same move around Hamilton that he teammate did earlier. There was no lockup that time, as Hamilton gave up the fight to the faster Ferrari. On his third stop, Ricciardo retired as Toro Rosso pushed him into the garage.

At the end of L41, Sutil had made only one stop and lead the grand prix. Raikkonen sat second, having made two stops, with Alonso charging hard to catch him back up after the Spaniard’s third stop. Vettel and Massa completed the top five as Hamilton took advantage of “Plan B” and dove into the pits for his own third stop. He remained sixth, just ahead of Vergne. Webber had made his way around di Resta for ninth in a tidy dice, with Button rounding out the top ten.

Sutil soon gave up the lead to Raikkonen as the Finn caught him up and passed neatly underneath. Alonso continued the trend, eating up the gap to Sutil and getting inside the DRS detection zone of the German. Alonso quickly went round the outside at Turn 3 on L46, leaving Sutil to pit for his second stop on the next time around. As Alonso ran into traffic fighting each other, Raikkonen had a bit of space to see if his tyres could last the final ten laps.

10 Laps Remaining:
At the end of L48, Raikkonen led Alonso by nearly eight seconds. Vettel, Massa, Sutil, Hamilton, Webber, di Resta, Button, and Grosjean completed the top ten. Vergne, Perez, Gutierrez, Bottas, Bianchi, Pic, van der Garde, and Chilton completed the eighteen cars still running in Melbourne. In two laps Alonso made up a half second, but it would not be enough in the final eight laps unless Raikkonen’s tyres destroyed his race. In other strategy, Sutil looked about to lose his fifth position as Hamilton pushed hard to gain extra points. Hamilton pushed and pushed, then dove down the inside to take fifth. Webber tried to follow the Briton through and took to the marbles in an attempt. He did not succeed at first, but quickly took sixth from the ailing Force India. Sutil’s tyres seemed completely shot after a try at a different tyre strategy.

At the front, Alonso continued to shave time off Raikkonen’s lead by a few tenths at a time. The gap had decreased to 6.7s with five laps remaining, as Vettel seemed safely ten seconds back in third. That gap continued to increase as Alonso continued to try to catch up Raikkonen. That gap jumped back up over eight seconds with three laps to go as he and a Caterham nearly came to blows, even as the scrap between Grosjean and Perez over the final points position got closer. In the end, Raikkonen added seconds back to his gap on Alonso and finished with a strong and solid win to start the season. The running order for the rest of the top ten remained the same, with Sutil salvaging seventh, and Grosjean able to hold Perez off for the final point.

Final Positions, 2013 Australian Grand Prix:

1. Kimi RaikkonenLotus2
2. Fernando AlonsoFerrari12.43
3. Sebastian VettelRed Bull22.33
4. Felipe MassaFerrari33.53
5. Lewis HamiltonMercedes45.53
6. Mark WebberRed Bull46.83
7. Adrian SutilForce India65.02
8. Paul di RestaForce India68.43
9. Jenson ButtonMcLaren81.63
10. Romain GrosjeanLotus82.73
11. Sergio PerezMcLaren83.33
12. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso83.83
13. Esteban GutierrezSauber1 Lap2
14. Valterri BottasWilliams1 Lap3
15. Jules BianchiMarussia1 Lap3
16. Charles PicCaterham2 Laps2
17. Max ChiltonMarussia2 Laps3
18. Giedo van der GardeCaterham2 Laps3
 Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso19 Laps3
 Nico RosbergMercedes32 Laps1
 Pastor MaldonadoWilliams34 Laps1
 Nico HulkenbergSauberdid notstart
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