Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Australian GP: Winners and Losers

This article is written by Andrew Davies and published on It is re-produced here in its entirety. For the original article, click here.

Red Bull got the wake-up call, Kimi Raikkonen got the points and the win, but it was Adrian Sutil who got the glory...

Star of the Race
Adrian Sutil, Force India, 7th

Whoever took the ultimate decision to hire Adrian Sutil must have been in line for a few cheeky Kingfishers after the result in Melbourne. It was the story of the race. Raikkonen did well, but described his race wins as one of his easiest. Staring at the telemetry in the closing stages to see what kind of impression Alonso was making on Raikkonen, the data did seem to bear that out. Kimi seemed able to respond to a fast lap from Alonso almost at will.

Starting from P12 Sutil made his medium tyres last and was not fazed by having a triple World Champion behind him. Around Lap 14 he was putting in 1:33.7s while Perez, on the same compound, was only just managing 1:34.9s and had been as high as 1:35 and 1:36.

He managed to hold off Vettel who was on tyres that were seven laps fresher, and in fact from Laps 17 through to 19 he increased the gap from 1.1 to 1.2 to 1.4 seconds. All this without compromising the tyre life. The team might have done even better if they'd had allowed him to stay out slightly longer on his second set of mediums, because 12 laps on the super-soft tyres, even with low fuel loads, looked like four or five laps too many. But it was a hell of a return to F1 from what had been a very dark place. Had the coin fallen in favour of Bianchi - who also did well on his debut - then we wouldn't have seen Adrian Sutil in an F1 car again. And he led the race twice.

Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 2, Kimi Raikkonen on Lewis Hamilton, Turn 13

Kimi Raikkonen needed to get past Lewis Hamilton in a hurry (think back to all the drivers stuck behind Mercedes last year) and after having a couple of looks put a move up the outside going into Turn 13 on Lap 2. Last year Raikkonen had been hesitant when chances had arisen, but this time there was no messing about. Curiously, he thought he'd been quite patient waiting till Lap 2, coming up with: "I took my time with Lewis to make sure there wasn't any contact."

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, 1st

With tyre preservation the ultimate virtue in F1 right now, the Lotus E21 seems to be the most virtuous of them all. Had this been a flat-out charge to the checkered flag then Raikkonen could probably have been fifteen seconds clear - every time Alonso put in a fast lap towards the end of the race, Raikkonen seemed to react a lap later. Matter-of-factness is his stock in trade, but you can believe that his fastest race lap at the end was just to concrete the gap between himself and Alonso.

Another good thing was that he didn't get upset about the blue flags waved at him this year, even though the marshals were still waving them at cars that weren't being lapped - such as Sutil.

A Raikkonen win at the opening race was the precursor to the 2007 season, which is when he won the World Championship, so that's a good omen. From an F1 PR point-of-view it was perhaps good that the opening race wasn't won by Vettel or Red Bull, because that would be a familiar story to the casual viewer who needs luring back.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 2nd
Alonso gambled that an early second pit-stop would reap rewards and he was certainly proved right, the move on Lap 20 helping him to leapfrog Massa, Vettel and effectively Sutil. Which is why he is such a formidable driver, he is not only fast he can drive around problems. And talking about driving around, there was no driving around Felipe Massa this year. Both he and Massa got amazing starts and whereas last year they were doing it from further down the grid, this year it looks like they're going to be catapulted into clear air.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 3rd
Before we get onto the race, Vettel's timing in Q3 was immaculate, he crossed the line with just one second to go for his final lap. That is the perfect timing for a drying track qualifying session. As the race proved, starting from P1 in Melbourne wasn't the same as starting from P1 in Monaco and having sprinted off for his familiar two-second lead at the end of Lap 1, that was as big as it got. He was unlucky to get stuck behind Sutil for as long as he did, and then find Sutil pitting on the lap he came in. But on a street track all kinds of unforeseen inequalities can arise, particularly from Safety Cars - and we didn't get one of those.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 4th
Like Lewis Hamilton in Q1, Felipe Massa was lucky to get away with an off-track excursion and a very violent impact on the barriers that removed his front wing in Saturday qualifying. He used his good fortune well, outqualifying his team-mate and out-starting him (Alonso was keen to say that actually he got a better start than Massa, he just had nowhere to go as the space he was aiming for got closed down). Massa stuck to Plan A and unfortunately Plan A+ was the one that worked. Felipe relies on his engineer for guidance far more than Fernando and engineers aren't going to take the risks that an Alonso or a Button might. Still, he showed a lot of determination in holding onto his second place in the early stages and Alonso will have taken note.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 5th
Wreathed in smiles for most of the weekend, Lewis was like someone who'd swapped from the school with really tough rules (and a crap school uniform) to a school where you could set your own timetable. He was allowed to wear his own jeans instead of the regulation trousers, what's more the Mercedes Petronas gear wasn't nearly as bad as some of the red piping on the 2013 McLaren kit. It was like he'd had a spiritual awakening - everything about his new team was wonderful and he gave interviews, wrote columns, enthused to anyone who would listen, smitten as he was with 'new best friend syndrome'.

Given that he admitted to saying a prayer for Adrian Sutil's return perhaps he has been blessed with a shining light from above. That would certainly fit with his escape from Q1 on Saturday where he so nearly stranded his Mercedes on the sodden grass just feet off the circuit (a la Shanghai 2007). He got going, stuck it into P3 and had a reasonably good race.

However if there's anything to be learnt from Albert Park and a non-typical race circuit it's that it's pointless wasting tyre mileage and tyre life by trying to resist drivers you're not racing against. This year that message will be at a premium. Lewis ended up with 'Flatspot of the Day' locking up into Turn 13 in front of Alonso and had to pit immediately.However his team had told him to try and stay in front of Alonso.

Mark Webber, Red Bull, 6th
Given the serial issues that Mark Webber had to deal with during his race it's amazing he managed to get where he did. Misfunctioning KERS, (not activated till lap 20) a lack of telemetry, the inability to re-set the clutch bite point, all contributed to a bad start and a torrid afternoon in front of his home crowd. With Vettel unable to get more than a distant third, the only places Mark could have aspired to were 4th or 5th - so 6th with problems is no small achievement.

Paul Di Resta, Force India, 8th
Having done a better job in qualifying than his team-mate Paul would have felt frustrated to become a bit-part player in the Adrian Sutil show and when the team told him to stay behind at the end it evoked the word "robbed" from him afterwards. This is going to be a pretty full-on team-mate battle.

Jenson Button, McLaren, 9th
Immediately after Q3 had finished Jenson was cursing the vanity of chasing a front-three-rows grid start on super-softs instead of accepting that they were going to have to play the long game and do a slow lap on mediums. Buoyed by finishing P4 in Q2 on Inters he was the earliest onto slicks in Q3 and despite being second last man on a drying track he still ended up P10 with awful tyres. So the fact that he could finish the opening lap in P9 was some achievement and the fact that he could resist Mark Webber (now with KERS) and Grosjean for most of/all of the race was encouraging. He has become the latest driver to score 1000 career points with two of the least memorable he'll probably ever get. Whether we will have the MP4-27 back by Bahrain is anyone's guess.

Pirelli have been vindicated in their Keep Calm and Carry On attitude to the 2013 tyres after teams and some of the drivers got a bit scared in winter testing and predicted that there would be seven or eight stops in Melbourne (Perez).

The medium Pirellis managed to last for two stints after an initial set of super-softs, but lets' not kid ourselves that this is anything but a tyre management formula. All the drivers could have gone significantly quicker for most of the race, but had to reign themselves in.

Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber, DNS

Sauber seldom do well in Australia and the curse of Albert Park struck again. It's very rare for a car to be too dangerous to drive after it gets fired up in the modern era, when retirements are few, but it's a reminder that it happens. Nico Hulkenberg will have imagined himself putting in a Sutil-like performance.

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 10th
Grosjean reported that his car simply lacked performance but couldn't work out why. He still did better than he did last year and kept his bodywork intact, even though he had a bit of side-by-side with old nemesis Perez late on. The tenth place was a gift from the gravel-bound Vergne who left the road with a single point and rejoined without.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, DNF
Rosberg looked so good for most of the weekend and was heading for P6 when his battery gave out. Despite the retirement it was a positive start for the Mercedes team, especially given how light they were with their tyre wear. Aldo Costa's suspension system, like the innovative Lotus suspension, might be beginning to show dividends.

Sergio Perez, McLaren, 12th
It may well be that Perez's experience at finishing around 12th place for Sauber will stand him in good stead with the MP4-28 this season.

Pastor Maldonado, Williams, DNF
I think it's fair to say that Pastor Maldonado is not the biggest fan of the new Williams FW-35, but fair play to the car, if you try and brake with one wheel on the grass, it's not going to give you the ideal turn-in.

The great news for BBC Radio 5 listeners is that consummate professional James Allen looks like he's back behind the microphone all season. In Melbourne he had to speak for an unexpectedly long time and the water started seeping into everything.

James Allen does Yoda: "So much water is there lying on the race track."

James does whimsy: "Noah and his ark are not very far away."

James does inadvertent water analogy: "Vettel has poured out onto the race track."

Suzy Perry had a good debut replacing the much-missed Jake Humphrey, though there wasn't much roaming around (presumably that comes with the 'live' show). David Coulthard was keen to reassure her about Mclaren's ability to fight back from their dismal start: "They've got depth in strength" said DC, without blinking.

However the BBC's Jenny Gow won the prize for word substitution of the day. Just before the race she reported."The fans get to their feet for the Australian national anthem. The patriotism here is tantamount."

(She meant tangible).

Andrew Davies/FrankHopkinson

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