Massa gets feisty in Melbourne
The first race of the season in Melbourne saw a surprise winner in Kimi Raikkonen. Fernando Alonso can't be written off. With Raikkonen in a reliable-looking car, he will have to be the relative outsider this season, writes Raja Sen.
A feisty Felipe Massa is always, always good news.
The Brazilian driver owned the first part of Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, out-qualifying his illustrious teammate Fernando Alonso by a whisker and then spectacularly going from 4th to 2nd by the first corner. The last time we saw Felipe this gung-ho, gave us a nailbiting season where he lost the world championship (by a corner) to Lewis Hamilton, but also a year when he beat out a truly special teammate -- the man who happened to win this Sunday's race.
You can tell a lot about a racing driver by the way he treats a victory. Hamilton, for example, loves epic-ing up each win, and if his "this is my best ever race" for every successive victory were to be believed, we'd have to picture rival cars with flamethrowers and Ben-Hur style Pirelli-shredders.
Sebastian Vettel stabs that finger into the air and grins from ear to ear, visibly already picturing yet another World Championship. Fernando Alonso gobbles up wins gluttonously, but has become increasingly pragmatic, saying nice things about the men at Ferrari but always looking ahead to the next race, by now wary of celebrating too loudly.
Image: Felipe Massa at the start of the Australian GP
Photographs: Brandon Malone/Reuters
Who dare bet against Alonso this season?
Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, without question the most unique man in racing today, has absolutely no hesitation in making his fellow drivers on the grid quake in their racing boots by confirming their greatest fears and calling a race -- as he did this Sunday -- "one of the easiest races I have done to win."
A man of few (but ever-memorable) words, he went on to say the experience was "pretty nice." This, after starting seventh on the grid.
Back to Massa, it was most heartening to see the man written off by us all making a return this fierce. He valiantly (and effectively) held off a charging Alonso and reeled in Vettel, but found himself outdone by his teammate's pit-strategy.
Still, his unwillingness to yield should indeed make for a hotly contentious year at Ferrari. That said, Alonso started last year with an awfully underperforming Ferrari, well over a second off the pace, and ended up miraculously leading most of the year; with a car already capable of sniffing victory, who dare bet against him in 2013?
Image: Ferrari's Fernando Alonso
Photographs: Brandon Malone/Reuters
The dramatic race in Melbourne gave us heroes and questions
But -- as all three men on the podium have wisely cautioned -- we are just one race in, and it would be foolhardy to start soothsaying. Still, the dramatic race in Melbourne provided both, heroes (one of whom was Adrian Sutil, leading the pack quite strongly before the tyres on his Force India gave way) and questions: Why is the McLaren floundering so far back?
Does this stellar podium -- comprising arguably the three best drivers in Formula One today -- mean Formula One will thrillingly pick up where it left off in Abu Dhabi at the end of last year, instead of giving us a year where nobody knew where they stood for the better part of the season?
Image: Lotus Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen takes the chequered flag as he wins the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne Mon Sunday
Photographs: Scott Wensley/Reuters
Raikkonen the relative outsider
The Melbourne race has also meant a target drawn on The Iceman's back. Kimi Raikkonen was the most electrifying driver on his comeback last year, but the Finn managed to slip under the radar, even though he took his Lotus, with remarkable consistency, to very near the top.
He ended 2012 behind only title-duellists Vettel and Alonso, and well above both McLarens and the second Red Bull and Ferrari drivers.
The attention remained elsewhere as Alonso and Hamilton kept up their gamesmanship, each claiming the other was the driver to beat. Meanwhile, Vettel romped away to a successive third title, competing only (as any hypertalented young German is wont to do) with himself. )Now, with Raikkonen -- a racer known for punching above his weight -- in a reliable-looking car that caresses its tyres so damned courteously, he will have to be the relative outsider, an oddly cool cat among pigeons more than used to each other's squawks.
And all this when he'd rather be, in his own words, left alone.
Image: Kimi Raikkonen
Photographs: Daniel Munoz/Reuters