Kimi Raikkonen won the Australian Grand Prix for Lotus with a brilliantly executed race strategy as the new Formula One season opened with a thriller at Albert Park on Sunday.
Finland's 2007 world champion made the most of having to make just two pit stops and was pulling away from his rivals, having just set the fastest lap time of the race, when he crossed the line 12.4 seconds clear of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
"It was probably one of my easiest wins," said the 'Iceman', cool as ever after a 20th career win that equalled the tally of retired double champion and compatriot Mika Hakkinen.
Sebastian Vettel, seeking to win his fourth successive world title this year, rounded out the podium in third place for Red Bull after struggling with tyre wear throughout the race.
A few light showers contributed to an intriguing race but never threatened to disfigure it as top drivers engaged in fierce battles around the circuit and the lead changed hands with surprising frequency.
Seven cars led the race at one stage or other but after Raikkon-en hit the front for the second time on lap 43, it looked like only mechanical failure would stop him. "I had a very good car all weekend," said Raikkonen, the former McLaren and Ferrari driver who made his comeback last season after two years in rallying, on a podium of champions.
"You just have to get through the early laps in the first race of the season. Near the end, I was still pushing because I knew Fernando was catching up a bit and I thought at some point we would need a little extra if the rain came again." It was the first season-opening win by a team called Lotus since American Mario Andretti won the 1978 Argentine Grand Prix. Mark Webber made a terrible start from the front row, suffering telemetry problems on the grid and losing KERS for the first part of the race, and finished sixth in his 12th attempt to win his home grand prix. The Australian said the team, constructors' champions for the last three years, were not in as good a position as they had thought.
Second chance Sutil comes good
Force India's Adrian Sutil showed he had lost little of his race craft after a year out of Formula One by finishing seventh in the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday and engaging in an enthralling battle with former close friend Hamilton.
Sutil was dropped by Force India at the end of 2011 in the wake of a night-club brawl in Shanghai that led to an 18-month suspended jail sentence and 200,000 euro ($261,300) fine for the German for grievous bodily harm. Eric Lux, the then-chief executive of Renault F1 (now Lotus) team owners Genii Capital, needed stitches for a neck wound caused by a champagne glass in that fracas.
The incident caused a fall-out between Sutil and Hamilton, who had won the Chinese Grand Prix for McLaren and was celebrating at the night-club.
Sutil branded Hamilton a "coward" in German media for declining to appear as a witness in his trial and the pair have yet to mend fences. The background added spice to their skirmish at Albert Park, where Sutil emerged a surprise leader.
Ferrari happy to 'beat' Red Bull
Alonso saw his second place in the Australian Grand Prix as a pyschological win over Red Bull as the Italian team made an encouraging start to the new Formula One season on Sunday.
Alonso was runner-up to Finland's Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus. But importantly for Ferrari, they finished ahead of the world champion Red Bull constructors' team in the first of this season's 19 races.
Red Bull's three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel started off the pole but despite the car's superior speed they were brought back to the field by degrading tyre wear. Alonso, who was overhauled by Vettel in last season's final Brazil race for the world championship, knew the significance of his second place.