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…