Afterthoughts From Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix

By Spenser Walters
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Australian Grand Prix was just the first of nineteen scheduled Formula 1 races in the 2013 season, but it has provided some clues as to what certain teams have going for them and what others need to work on.

Red Bull Racing was dominant during the first two practice sessions in Melbourne, and came on strong in qualifying once the track dried out. That dry track was the key to Red Bull’s success.

During P3, when the course was wet, Red Bull fell behind the pack, just as Mark Webber did on race day. Red Bull needs to find speed in damp conditions if they want to stay on top of the sport, and they need to figure out how to make their tires last.

I’ve brought up tires a million times, and I’m going to keep doing it. The teams that can set-up their cars in a way that maximizes tire life will find themselves at the front of the grid when the checkered flag waves. Like Lotus F1 Team, for example.

Lotus opted for a two-stop strategy and was only able to pull that off because they figured out how to make their tires last. Lotus also found impressive speed in the rain, or at least they did with the car that Kimi Raikkonen used to win the race. Raikkonen said that his E21 was extremely quick all race, which would explain how he finished with an 11.5 second lead on the second place car of Fernando Alonso. The Iceman isn’t letting the ease of his victory in Melbourne go to his head though. Raikkonen is a pro and knows that success at one Grand Prix doesn’t guarantee that he will even finish the next race.

That varying degree of success from one race to another must be kept in mind. Last season saw seven different drivers win the first seven races, and that could very well happen again. Australia was cool and damp, but conditions at the Malaysian Grand Prix are expected to be hot and humid. The tires are going to degrade differently in the different conditions, and the increased number of high-speed corners at the Sepang International Circuit means we will see a totally different style of racing in Malaysia.

Ferrari showed the best team effort in Melbourne, and the fact that both of their drivers finished in the top four indicates that they might be the closest team to figuring out their 2013 machines. Alonso was considered a preseason favorite to make a run at the driver’s championship, and his solid race in Australia only enforces that thought. At this point my top three contenders to win the driver’s points in 2013 are Raikkonen, Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. The top three from 2012 are still the best three on the circuit right now. Ferrari has to top the list of constructor’s championship contenders, with Red Bull a solid number two. Third is very much up in the air.

Mercedes and McLaren showed a lot of promise in testing, and Lewis Hamilton carried that success into Australia by giving Mercedes a fifth place finish. Jenson Button and his team mate Sergio Perez finished ninth and eleventh respectively, showing that McLaren still has some distance to make up if they want to be a top tier team in 2013. Nico Rosberg was forced to retire from the race due to electrical problems, so while Hamilton performed like he normally does, Mercedes is far from being a complete team. The same can be said of Lotus to a certain extent, as Romain Grosjean finished tenth. Two top ten finishes is solid, but Lotus isn’t as close to Ferrari and Red Bull as they would like to be. In fact having two drivers place in the top ten puts Lotus on even footing with Force India, whose wheel men Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta finished seventh and eighth. There is quite a crowd forming near the top.

There is a limit to how much can truly be taken away from a single Grand Prix, but Australia gave us some things to watch for over the next few races. All eyes now turn to Malaysia, where practice runs will begin on Friday, March 22.

Follow Spenser Walters on Twitter @SpenserWalters

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