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Alonso starts season with second

Ferrari star narrowly loses out to Kimi Raikkonen at Australian Grand Prix

Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel manages third in eventful first race

Kimi Raikkonen (l), Fernando Alonso (c) and Sebastian Vettel (r) celebrate on the podium after the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday. Ampliar foto
Kimi Raikkonen (l), Fernando Alonso (c) and Sebastian Vettel (r) celebrate on the podium after the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday. EFE

An ecstatic Fernando Alonso described his second-place finish at Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix as “fantastic,” after he narrowly missed out on taking the win from Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen. The result bodes well for the Ferrari driver’s 2013 season, which is expected to be one of the tightest of recent years.

The first race of the year was an unusual one right from the start, with Saturday’s qualifying session having to be postponed until Sunday morning due to heavy rain disrupting the session. Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel got the best out of a drying track during the qualification to take pole position, with his teammate Mark Webber starting from second place, the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in third, and the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Alonso fourth and fifth, respectively.

But the strong form that the Red Bulls had shown in qualifying was nowhere to be seen during the race, and Raikkonen soon managed to muscle his way to the front of the pack, followed by Vettel, Massa and Alonso.

The first pit stops of the 2013 season came on just lap 10 of the 58-lap race, as the drivers hurried to rid themselves of the fast-degrading super-soft tires. During the second stint, the initial leaders were having to contend with cars running different strategies, such as the Force India of Adrian Sutil. By his second tire change, however, Alonso had managed to leapfrog both Sutil and Vettel.

The race was action every lap and I personally enjoyed it,” said Alonso

It was Raikkonen’s choice, however, to run a two- rather than a three-stop race that sealed the win for the flying Finn. He stayed out until lap 34, meaning that he held a comfortable lead over Alonso and Vettel when they went in for their third and final stops. The checkered flag eventually came down on Raikkonen first, then 12.4 seconds later Alonso, followed by Vettel in third, Massa in fourth, and Hamilton fifth.

“It was a fantastic, fantastic race, fighting all through the race,” Alonso told the press from the podium. “The race was action every lap and I personally enjoyed it, obviously. At the end it was a little bit sad not to be able to win the race, but Kimi was fantastic today, the Lotus as well. We have to congratulate them for a fantastic race.”

But the Asturian double world champion also sounded a note of caution over the obvious strength of the Lotus this year.

“It is a worry, yes,” he said when asked about Raikkonen’s form. “Lotus did a very good job and Kimi was driving fantastically and could do two stops. So we have to analyze it. We have only four days to the next race and we have tough opponents. But at the end I am extremely happy. We had an extremely difficult start to the season two years ago and last year and this year is very different. We are very optimistic and have an interesting season ahead.”

After missing out on the championship crown in the final race of both the 2010 and 2012 seasons, there is a feeling in the paddock that if this year’s Ferrari is up to the task, Alonso could finally add the third world championship to his list of achievements — a victory that has eluded him since he won his previous drivers’ crowns in 2005 and 2006.

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