Kimi Raikkonen (Q. 7, R. 1)
Raikkonen pulled off a brilliant win after a qualifying session that might have suggested Lotus were facing an uphill challenge in 2013. The team looked strong with tyre degradation during testing and showed in Melbourne they were in a good position to fight for the title this season. They might not have the fastest car, but with an advantage up their sleeve like they showed in Melbourne they’re in a good position to put themselves on top during the first half of the season. This is Kimi’s best shot at a World Championship for the past few years and, at 33, it might be his last.
Jules Bianchi (Q. 19, R. 15)
It’s not often that a driver from the bottom of the grid is considered to have shown themselves strongly in a race, but that’s exactly what Jules Bianchi managed during his debut. Having outqualified team-mate Max Chilton by .762 of a second, the GP2 graduate went one better and lapped his team-mate during the 58-lap event. To cement his domination over Chilton at Albert Park, Bianchi set the 11th fastest lap time throughout the race – ahead of both Williams cars, both Force Indias and Caterhams, Rosberg, Ricciardo and Gutierrez; all this from a driver who only found out he’d be with the team a few days before the end of testing! Marussia have taken a big step forward for 2013 and Bianchi might just be the young driver they needed to put them closer than ever to their rivals.
Felipe Massa (Q.4, R. 4)
Massa’s performance in qualifying sent warnings through Ferrari that he might yet be back to where he was in 2008 and the early part of 2009. Outqualifying Alonso was one thing, but leading him for a fair portion of the race was another. Under great pressure, the Brazilian made no mistakes and it was only until his strategy didn’t pay off that Alonso was able to sneak past. No podium and a loss to Alonso might look bad on paper, but 2013 looks very much to be Felipe Massa’s best season since his 2009 injury.
Adrian Sutil (Q. 12, R. 7)
Having been out of the cockpit for over a year, Sutil showed he’d lost nothing when it came to pulling the very best out of his car. He started out on the back foot after having been overtaken by di Resta, but a combination of strong strategy and the performance of a driver who’d not stepped out of a car for a day (certainly not a 16 months!) propelled Sutil into a position that showed Force India’s decision to bring the German back onto the grid was justified. He suffered on disastrously-worn tyres in the latter stage of the race, but still managed to bring it home ahead of his team-mate. He’d be up there with Raikkonen for driver of the race.
Jean-Eric Vergne (Q. 13, R. 12)
Vergne made an important step in Melbourne; he outqualified team-mate Daniel Ricciardo on Sunday having looked faster all weekend, looked to be one of the fastest drivers in the wet on Saturday and then fought strongly in the points throughout the race. His only mistake during the race was disastrous, taking him from tenth position to 12th just after he’d secured the points-paying spot late in the race. Nevertheless, the Frenchman stood well ahead of Ricciardo during the opening round and secured the second-fastest lap of the race. Ricciardo admitted the team needed a while to work out just how the STR8 ticks and their rivals should be fearful of them finding its sweet spot. James Key’s arrival to the squad looks to have done them no harm and if the design team continue to bring strong updates for race weekends, things can only get better for the Italian squad.
Red Bull (Q. 1, 2. R. 3, 6)
The Milton Keynes squad gave the impression that the RB9 may be an all-conquering machine on Sunday morning. Their two drivers were streets ahead of the team’s rivals and, though Vettel’s tyres appeared substantially worn following qualifying, a brave man would’ve bet against the reigning World Champion to have come anywhere but first in the race. As it panned out, Red Bull might not even have the fastest car on the grid. Ferrari beat them in strategy and a Sutil that wouldn’t get out of the way compounded Vettel’s woes. Third isn’t a disaster result, but it won’t be what Red Bull were looking for after qualifying.
Mark Webber (Q. 2, R. 6)
Mark Webber just can’t get a break in Melbourne, can he? Save for 2002’s miracle result, hydraulics failures, transmission failures, poor strategy, stubborn fuel caps not closing, incidents with back-markers and incidents with front-runners marred almost every opportunity he’s had at making his home crowd proud of him. Now in 2013 he suffers a telemetry failure before the race, leaving him unable to set his clutch for the start, and was forced to carry a dead KERS system throughout the race. The poor start was expected, but mid-pack from the front-row of the grid wasn’t what many of us thought would be the case. Regardless, it was another long Australian Grand Prix for Webber and the chances of him securing a home victory look less and less likely with every passing year. He might not get another one, so 2013 might have been the final nail in the coffin.
Whatever the case, Red Bull needs to look into hiring some new electronics mechanics for their number two driver’s KERS system. This isn’t the first time – and it surely isn’t the last – that this type of thing has happened.
McLaren (Q. 10, 15. R. 9, 11)
McLaren showed what their fans must have feared throughout the latter part of testing: they’re not looking anything like Championship contenders. A move during qualifying to put Perez onto slicks while the track remained damp was doomed to failure and concined the Mexican to a lowly 15th. Button could manage little better in the understeering car and barely scraped into Q3. Lewis Hamilton looks to have played a brilliant stroke in moving to Mercedes for this year and must’ve been very happy – in a strange sort of way – to have finished fifth during the race. Whatever it is, McLaren need to sort out their issues quickly. With Vodafone having announced they’ll be parting ways with the British constructor at the end of the season, McLaren wouldn’t want to allow potential clients to change their minds after a dismal season performance.
Romain Grosjean (Q. 8, R. 10)
Grosjean showed he’d improved his approach during the off-season. He avoided incidents with other drivers, drove intelligently and brought the car home without a scratch. Unfortunately that wasn’t the fastest way to get to the end of the race.
The Frenchman’s position in Formula One hanged by a needle thread at the end of 2012, but Eric Boullier strived on with the crash-prone returnee and vested his confidence in his second driver. Grosjean showed a lot better special awareness in Melbourne, but was humiliated by his team-mate in the race. A solitary point to his team-mate’s 25 will do him no favours and he’ll need to regain some of that aggression in a week’s time for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Grosjean’s a very talented driver, but he needs to find the right mix of aggression and speed to harness his full potential. With Raikkonen looking as fast as ever, he’ll want to find that mix very soon.
Williams (Q. 17, 16. R. R, 14)
If you looked at Williams’s 2012 results as a standard of the team’s chances in 2013, you’d not be particularly surprised at their Melbourne result. Their two drivers struggled in qualifying so much so that Maldonado referred to the car as “undrivable”. It’s stark contrast to his comments after the FW35’s first run that the car was “better than the previous two years”. The Venezuelan went off by himself during the race and Bottas was left to bring the car home in a disappointing 14th place. Williams have said they intend to revert the car back to an earlier specification, but that will only buy them a short amount of time. The team needs updates quickly and after eight years of disappointing cars, you’d think sponsors would be unwilling to provide the team with millions every year.