The 2013 F1 season kicked off in Australia last weekend with a historic victory for Lotus and Kimi Raikkonen. Here, Hugh Podmore analyses what fans can take away from the new season so far.
1) Raikkonen and Lotus are awesome
Any thoughts that Lotus’ 2012 season was a flash in the pan were banished by their performance in Melbourne. They do seem to be on an upward curve of performance and maximised it this weekend to outwit and outrace the opposition. As for the man himself, Raikkonen showed that his motivation has not sapped over the winter. His stylish flourish of the fastest lap towards the end put the pretender Fernando Alonso firmly out of any delusions he might have had of winning the race.
2) Tyres – and strategy – are all-important
Mischievous Pirelli’s decision to spice up the racing – as if it weren’t spicy enough already – has meant super softs that decay quicker than is strictly necessary, frankly. Teams have little or no idea how to handle them as yet, and it makes for very interesting racing. Adrian Sutil’s ability to run with the front of the pack was less a demonstration of his return to form (admirable though that may be) than a clear indication of how strategy can put you amongst the roosters. Proof of that assertion is to be found in his eventual placing just a sliver ahead of team mate Paul di Resta. Why did he end up there, though? Because his tyres were shot by the end. Upshot: first team to master the tyres and thus have cards to play around with strategy will start to bound ahead.
3) Red Bull are not all conquering…yet
Red Bull have started the season significantly less ahead than they finished the previous. In fact, on pure race pace, they seem to trail Lotus and Ferrari, although when the tanks are empty as during qualifying their devastating speed has not completely left them. And that’s why there’s a “yet” in number three above – because you’d back Adrian Newey and his team probably before all others to figure out how to handle the tyres and the vagaries of the new season. And transform that Saturday (Sunday morning in Melbourne) velocity into Sunday wins.
4) Relative overall performance is still nearly as unknown as before the Australian race
…principally because the temperatures were so low at Melbourne to render much data inconsequential. The hot, humid denseness of Malaysia should start to bring the picture into focus – those who profited this weekend may find the behaviour of the tyres very different. Which is great because it’s unpredictable.
5) The usual suspects (and Massa) are still the best in town
Staggeringly quick performances from Raikkonen, Alonso, Vettel, Massa and Hamilton among others in Australia. That list looks familiar because it is a list of the best drivers in the world at the moment. Regular readers of this column will know it has previously been especially hard on Felipe Massa, but derserving of such credit was his performance on Sunday that the word ‘renaissance’ was bandied about. Justifiably – it was only a strategy call that meant he was behind his team mate. Many more showings like that and he may find himself profiting from Ferrari strategy! Meanwhile, fans’ relief at seeing Hamilton in a vaguely competitive machine will only be tempered by his post-Melbourne righteous indignation at being ‘talked down’ prior to season’s start. Well, yes, Lewis, but a lot of that negativity came from the mouths of Merc employees. Fortunately, there’ll be no more of it now. Unlike at McLaren…
Mark Webber confirmed that he had telemetry and KERS issues during the 2013 season opener in Melbourne. However McLaren have said that they believe the issue stems from somewhere in the Red Bull garage rather than a fault with the ECU.
A post-race inspection by McLaren Electronic Systems has pointed to an issue with the garage. Talking to Autosport, the Managing Director explained, “There was an issue with Mark Webber’s data system in the garage during the formation lap. The ECU on the car was fine.
“We regret any disruption caused to Mark’s preparations for the start of the race and will continue to work with the team to prevent any recurrence.”
Max Chilton has said he is happy with his F1 debut. The 21 year old British driver finished 17th at the Australian Grand Prix, a full lap behind his team-mate Jules Bianchi after a collision with the Caterham of Giedo van der Garde caused him into an early pitstop.
“It was great beforehand because all the crowd were cheering my name on the parade lap,” Chilton said. “I enjoyed that.
“Overall, I was happy with the job I did and the car, and I can now tick off the fact I have done an F1 race and brought the car home. That was the goal. It’s good to get the race under my belt, even if it was less than straightforward, and we now know where we stand relative to the competition.
“I hit the blue flag period (waved to back markers), and it was a bit of a battle to recover the ground I lost,’
“Obviously you don’t want to be messing up other people’s race, but there is a bit of an art to it and you learn when to go off line. It is one of those things you don’t know until you’ve done a race.”
Chilton has revealed that the team are confident ahead of the next race in Malaysia. Having managed to get on the podium in GP2 last season Chilton is looking forward to next weekend’s Malaysian race.
“We are confident,” Chilton continued. “Although the race had its frustrations, I feel like I’ve learned a lot I perhaps wouldn’t have learned otherwise and that will be useful experience over the next few races.
“I am looking forward to Malaysia now so I can roll all that back into my racing and be able to take the fight to the midfield pack.
“I was in Malaysia last year in GP2 and I managed to get on the podium, so I know the track in the wet and dry.”
Romain Grosjean has said he thinks there might have been an underlying issue with his Lotus during the Australian Grand Prix.
Whilst his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen won the race, Grosjean finished in 10th position having qualified just one place behind his Finnish team-mate.
“Something felt wrong with my car,” Grosjean said. “I have to sit down with the team and analyze where this issue came from.
“It felt so good all weekend until the race itself. But, in the end, the race was long and quite difficult for me.
“We know that Albert Park can be a tricky circuit and the weather has certainly not helped today. It’s been a great weekend for the team with Kimi’s win so it’s clear there’s pace in the car. Let’s hope I can unlock that pace too next weekend in Sepang.”
Nico Hulkenberg has said he is disappointed that he was unable to race at the 2013 Formula One season opener.
The German driver had qualified in 11th position however hydraulic problems coupled with a qualifying session that took place just six hours prior to the actual race start meant he was unable to get his car fixed in time.
“I’m bitterly disappointed about what happened today,” Hulkenberg explained. “But at the same time I’m not blaming anyone. Things like this happen in racing.
“What is particularly bothering me is the fact that I lost all this mileage today, which is so important particularly at the beginning of the season. It would have given me a lot of valuable data and information for the next races.
“Obviously, Melbourne is not a good place for me. It was my third grand prix here and the third time that I leave this place empty handed. The only good thing is that the next race takes place next weekend.”
Having qualified on the front row of the grid alongside his team-mate, Mark Webber eventually finished sixth at his home race in Melbourne. According to the Australian, he suffered from telemetry and KERS issues which did not help his race.
“We had a lot of telemetry issues on the grid and absolutely no idea what the car was doing in terms of KERS, in terms of clutch and all sorts of stuff,” Webber revealed. “The guys were quite nervous with that and I was too. We didn’t really have much of an idea in terms of getting information back to the pits.
“We lost KERS as well for the majority of the first half of the race.
“We had a very difficult first pitstop. It was slow. We ticked a lot of boxes in a negative fashion in the first half of the race. But it can go like that.”
However Webber acknowledged that even if he had not had gremlins during the race, it was unlikely he would have won the race.
“Today, even if we’d got everything right, we were probably going to get outdone by two-stop people,” Webber said. “The race would’ve been very, very difficult for us even if we’d had a smooth day.
“Fair play to Kimi and his guys. You’ve got to take your hat off when someone outperforms you.”
Sebastian Vettel is happy with third place at today’s Australian Grand Prix.
“We can be happy with today,” Vettel said. “Clearly we wanted more, when you start from pole you want to win. I am not worried – we have to admit sometimes that other people are faster.
“We were the third fastest car in the race today.
“After a good start and first two-three laps the tyres were falling apart – we couldn’t go as long as other people.
“I knew Fernando passed us at the stop. I didn’t know where the other car had come from. I never saw him so it was a little bit of a surprise.
“We have to be happy today. We have good points. It was good fun, tricky with tyres, but I’m happy to be on the podium.”