Yes, yes, yes yes. We clearly don’t know what we’re talking about. You Kimi/Lotus fans gave us a kicking last week for suggesting Lotus underperformed last year. We didn’t see how that would change for 2013. Well, it clearly has, hasn’t it? That was emphatic. Quicker, smarter and we suspect with a lot more to come, Lotus will be in it this year.
Raikkonen’s win over Alonso and Vettel was done with a car that’s clearly a lot easier on its tyres. When Kimi chose to wag his tail at the pursuing Alonso, he did it with tyres five laps older, and off the back of an opening stint on what are clearly good old fashioned qualifying tyres, good for a couple of laps in Q3 and very little else.
Lotus have hired former Red Bull race engineer and strategist Kieran Pilbeam, and together they figured on what a lot of folks have been saying, that the top ten on supersofts would not be able to undercut the Q2 group on mediums with their first stops, which started as soon as lap 4. Sure enough, early leader Vettel came up behind Force India’s Adrian Sutil and that was that for Red Bull’s strategy.
It’s important this. Pirelli are no longer bringing two adjacent compounds to the races, so instead of super softs and softs, for example, it was the super softs and the mediums this weekend. With a more explicit pay-off between speed (over one second a lap) and degradation (see how quickly Sutil’s late-race super softs fell apart), it puts the top ten at a possible disadvantage. The first team that can get its cars into Q3 on the harder compounds will be in a very good position indeed.
That didn’t happen in Melbourne, what with the delayed qualifying and everything, and the top ten on the grid was very much as predicted by practice; two Red Bulls on the front, then Hamilton’s Mercedes, the two Ferraris with Massa again ahead, Rosberg, then the two Lotus, Paul di Resta, then Jenson Button, who’s position had more to do with the weather than the pace of the McLaren. There is already talk that McLaren might do better to dig out last year’s car.
But in the race, the Red Bulls (Vettel third, KERS-less Webber sixth), Mercs (Hamilton fifth, Rosberg retired) and Ferraris (Alonso second, Massa fourth) all lacked the edge required to make the advantage they all had at one stage or another actually count. Team bosses blamed the weather; it was cold and damp all day. But, outside of Lotus, brows were furrowed . They all have a week until Malaysia to come up with some answers. Sepang, don’t forget, has a gruesome reputation for tyre slaying.
Other teams? Well Force India will be wondering quite how they translated a initial lead for Sutil into seventh place, and di Resta able only to take advantage of Rosberg’s retirement in eight. Sauber lost a car on the grid with fuel supply problems for Hulkenberg’s Q2 leading car. Interestingly Hulkenberg would almost certainly have found himself out in the lead, as Sutil did, once the top ten had pitted.
Sauber, then, are slightly behind Force India, but ahead of Toro Rosso and ahead of Williams who are in as much trouble as McLaren. At the back Marussia are ahead of Caterham allowing Brit debutante Max Chilton to finish his first race not last.
At the front? Well Lotus are the team to beat. Putting the others in order on Sunday’s pace is harder. It’s Ferrari, then Red Bull, then Mercedes on the basis of today, but it’s close. We’ll have another look at Lotus tomorrow, but its clear they have moved the game on, all of them. Even Kimi looks leaner and fitter. And more smiley, which is kind of odd. Things really are different at Lotus.
For the record then and for those who haven’t seen it finished like this; RAI, ALO, VET, MAS, HAM, WEB, SUT, DIR, BUT and GRO. Yes, that’s Romain Grosjean in tenth, the Lotus driver who was making all the news last year. Maybe he’s trying too hard to stay out of trouble. Sadly, and based on performance of his team mate, that won’t do either.