Kimi Raikkonen steadily worked his way to the front to beat Fernando Alonso to the first victory of the season in Australia.
Starting seventh on the grid, the Lotus driver quickly made up places before taking the attack to Sebastian Vettel and the two Ferraris. It was a race of carefully managing tyre wear and also contrasting strategies that saw seven different leaders including a remarkable performance from the Force India of Adrian Sutil.
Raikkonen came home in front of Alonso, Vettel, Massa and Lewis Hamilton. Mark Webber recovered to sixth place after a disastrous opening lap, while Nico Rosberg's Mercedes failed to make halfway. Sutil managed seventh place on his return
There had been showers earlier in the day before the Q2 and Q3 sessions were finally finished off and the ambient temperature had crept up from 13C to 18C by 5pm local time, with the track now at 24C. The weather radars were showing that there was a possibility of light rain in the race, but strong winds had dried the track.
Grid: 1.Vettel, 2.Webber, 3.Hamilton, 4.Massa, 5.Alonso, 6.Rosberg, 7.Raikkonen, 8.Grosjean, 9.DiResta, 10.Button, 11.Hulkenberg, 12.Sutil, 13.Vergne, 14.Ricciardo, 15.Perez, 16.Bottas, 17.Maldonado, 18.Gutierrez, 19.Bianchi, 20.Chilton, 21.Van der Garde, 22.Pic
Nico Hulkenberg's Sauber had been withdrawn from the grid and the German would not start; one of the casualties of Sunday qualifying, the fuel problem they discovered in the morning wasn't fixable in the time left. The stewards had allowed Caterham's Charles Pic to start despite qualifying outside the 107% time limit.
As the lights went out Sebastian Vettel got a great start from pole while team-mate Mark Webber got an atrocious getaway and was swallowed up by the front three rows. Felipe Massa got a bullet start and was up into P2 - Lewis Hamilton looked to have a run on the Brazilian, but in doing so left the door open for Fernando Alonso to sneak into third - a great opening four corners by the Ferrari team. Although Nico Rosberg was able to take advantage of Mark Webber's tardy start, Kimi Raikkonen was up past him into P5.
First Lap Positions: 1.Vettel, 2.Massa, 3.Alonso, 4.Hamilton, 5.Raikkonen, 6.Rosberg, 7.Webber, 8.DiResta, 9.Button, 10.Sutil, 11.Grosjean, 12.Perez, 13.Bottas, 14.Vergne.
Romain Grosjean had slipped from 8th to 11th but at least the car was in one piece, meanwhile there was another Aussie nightmare, for Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the opening lap back in P20.
Kimi Raikkonen signalled his intentions on Lap 2 and battled his way past Lewis Hamilton for P4. At the front Sebastian Vettel had done his usual trick of bolting away and, with a gap of 2.0 seconds, was already outside the DRS window. However as soon as Massa realised that he would be able to keep his anxious team-mate at bay, and not drive too defensively, the gap came down. By Lap 6 it was just 0.8 seconds.
Jenson Button had already dived into the pitlane for a set of medium tyres (On Lap 4), followed a lap later by Webber, Grosjean and Gutierrez. After the race Button admitted it had been the wrong call because the super-softs went through a phase of graining, then picked up some speed again. "We hadn't seen that all through winter testing, so we didn't think it was going to happen today," bemoaned Button.
They didn't go for much longer. Vettel was in on Lap 7, Massa and DiResta on Lap 8, Raikkonen and Alonso on Lap 9. This left the two Mercedes on their own at the front - the longer they stayed out, the more likely they were to be trying a two-stop strategy.
Positions on lap 10: 1.Hamilton , 2.Rosberg, 3.Sutil, 4.Perez, 5.Vettel (1 stop), 6.Massa (1 stop), 7.Alonso (1 stop), 8.Raikkonen (1 stop), 9.Ricciardo 10.Button (1 stop), 11.Webber (1 stop), 12.DiResta (1 stop)
Although he had trailed Rosberg for most of qualifying, in race trim Lewis was 0.4 seconds a lap quicker than his Mercedes team-mate. Behind them - Vettel, Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen had kept the same order despite the stops but now Raikkonen was on a charge to join the three cars who were running close together.
When Hamilton disappeared for tyres on Lap 13 and Rosberg came in on Lap 14, this left returnee, Force India's Adrian Sutil, leading the Australian GP. He was the sixth different leader in 15 laps. What was more impressive was that he was making his medium tyres last, and when Vettel's gaggle of four cars came up to overtake him, they couldn't get past. Worse, the gap started to lengthen, so whereas before Vettel, Massa, Alonso could all use their DRS behind Sutil, suddenly on Lap 17 the gap to Vettel was out to 1.1 seconds, and then 1.2, and then 1.4.
Alonso decided he'd had enough of following and dived in for his second set of tyres on Lap 20, having run just 11 laps on the mediums. Sutil came in a lap later, but Vettel didn't want to be undercut by Alonso and so came in at the same time as Sutil. The Red Bull strategy failed to work out though because Alonso got ahead of Vettel and then managed to pass the Force India driver into Turn 2 just after he rejoined. Vettel would have to wait until Lap 23 before getting past his fellow countryman.
Massa was back in the lead again, but any thoughts of Ferrari splitting their strategy disappeared when he came in on Lap 23 for his second stop. Only now he was the last of the foursome. This gave us our seventh leader of the race, Kimi Raikkonen, whose consistent pace made it look like a bolted-on two-stop strategy from Lotus.
Positions on Lap 24 (two-stops unless stated): 1.Raikkonen (1 stop), 2.Hamilton (1 stop), 3.Rosberg (1 stop), 4.Alonso, 5.Vettel, 6.Sutil (1 stop), 7.Massa, 8.DiResta, 9.Webber, 10.Gutierrez (1 stop), 11.Ricciardo (1 stop), 12.Button.
On Lap 25 we got out first stopper as Pastor Maldonado and his "too slow" Williams-Renault got stuck in the gravel at Turn 1. At this time race engineers were busy telling their drivers that light rain had been picked up on the radar around Turns 12/13, but it wasn't of any intensity to cause problems.
A couple of laps later Nico Rosberg parked his Mercedes at the side of the track with an undiagnosed electrical problem. This was good news for the rapidly approaching Fernando Alonso who was on a different strategy to the two-stopping Mercedes and didn't want to be held up.
Positions on Lap 30 (two stops unless stated): 1.Raikkonen (1 stop), 2.Hamilton (1 stop), 3.Alonso, 4.Vettel, 5.Sutil (1 stop), 6.Massa, 7.DiResta, 8.Webber, 9.Button, 10.Grosjean, 11.Vergne, 12.Ricciardo
Lewis Hamilton made it clear to his team he couldn't go any faster than he was going to fend off the fast-approaching Fernando Alonso and in doing so, on Lap 31, gave himself Flatspot of the Day in Turn 13. The result was that he had to dive into the pitlane for what were meant to be his last set of tyres. Making a set of mediums last 27 laps even on a diminishing fuel load looked like a tall order. And so it proved. Hamilton re-emerged in P7.
The tussle with Hamilton had delayed Alonso who was 16 seconds behind Raikkonen. The Finn pitted for the second and final time on Lap 34, giving himself 24 laps to the flag.
Positions on Lap 36: 1.Alonso, 2.Vettel, 2.Sutil, 4.Massa, 5.Raikkonen, 6.Hamilton, 7.Webber, 8.Button, 9.Grosjean, 10.Vergne, 11.Di Resta, 12.Perez
All the cars in front of Raikkonen had to pit again. None of them were going to come out in front of Raikkonen, it was just a question of where they were going to come out in relation to Hamilton. Massa pitted on Lap 37 and was behind the Brit, Vettel pitted on Lap 38 and was behind, Alonso pitted on lap 40 but was in front.
Vettel easily closed the gap to the Mercedes driver, though, and both he and Massa passed him on Lap 40, Lewis putting up much less resistance this time round. Sutil stayed out and briefly led the race again. Having been demoted by the cars around him, and on older tyres, Lewis had nothing to lose by going to "Plan B" the three-stop strategy and came in for some more mediums on lap 42. Sutil still had the Super-Soft tyre to run and wanted to leave it as late as possible. Even his Lap 46 stop seemed early with 58 laps in the race.
Positions on Lap 47: 1.Raikkonen, 2.Alonso, 3.Vettel, 4.Massa, 5.Sutil, 6.Hamilton, 7.Webber, 8.DiResta, 9.Button, 10.Grosjean, 11.Vergne, 12.Perez
Alonso, with fresher tyres than Raikkonen had started to catch the Finn. Right after his final stop he put in a 1:29.725 fastest lap on Lap 41, taking the gap down to 5.5 seconds - were we in for some late-race drama? Raikkonen responded and moved the gap out to 6.3 seconds. Alonso took another fastest lap with a 1:29.649 on Lap 43. By Lap 46 Kimi had the gap out to 6.2 seconds again. A lap later it was 7.9 seconds.
Significantly Alonso got on the radio on Lap 48 to check what his gap to the pursuing Sebastian Vettel was, which indicated he was now looking backwards not forwards. Felipe Massa, who was following Vettel, was able to report back that the Red Bull's rear tyres were graining.
In the closing stages Adrian Sutil had to be very careful with his fast-graining super-softs which gave him laps of 1:38 and 1:35 while all around were doing 1:31s and 1:32s. He lost places to Hamilton and Webber in rapid succession, but held on in front of team-mate Paul Di Resta.
Kimi Raikkonen had no issues with his Lotus E21 chucking in a 1:29.737 (to make the Alonso gap 8.3 seconds) and a fastest lap of the race, a 1:29.274 on Lap 56. He said he was worried about Alonso getting close but on Lap 57 he had an 11.5 second gap to the Spaniard who was ten seconds in front of Vettel.
Raikkonen duly crossed the line for his second GP win of his comeback with a "thanks everybody, I told you the car was good." Fernando Alonso was untroubled in P2 and Vettel had no answer to the front duo's pace in P3. Massa was fourth, Hamilton fifth, Webber a strong recovery to sixth, with the Force Indias exceeding their expectations in seventh (Sutil) and eighth (DiResta). Button had a race-long duel with Romain Grosjean but stayed in front - they finished ninth and tenth.
It had been a gripping race, dominated entirely by tyre wear and the drivers' ability to manage the Pirelli rubber. Albert Park is not representative of most of the GP tracks we will go this season with short, high-speed corners and an emphasis on front-end grip, but it is a good indication that we are going to get many twists and turns before we get to Brazil.
1. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1h30:03.225
2. Alonso Ferrari +12.451
3. Vettel Red Bull-Renault +22.346
4. Massa Ferrari +33.577
5. Hamilton Mercedes +45.561
6. Webber Red Bull-Renault +46.800
7. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1:05.068
8. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +1:08.449
9. Button McLaren-Mercedes +1:21.630
10. Grosjean Lotus-Renault +1:22.759
11. Perez McLaren-Mercedes +1:23.367
12. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1:23.857
13. Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +1lap
14. Bottas Williams-Renault +1 lap
15. Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
16. Pic Caterham-Renault +2 laps
17. Chilton Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps
18. van der Garde Caterham-Renault +2 laps
Did Not Finish
Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 40
Rosberg Mercede 26
Maldonado Williams-Renault 25
Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1
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