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Kimi Räikkönen claimed victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, marking his second triumph since returning to the sport. The Lotus driver took the chequered flag comfortably ahead of Fernando Alonso, while reigning World Champion and pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel had to settle for third.
The damp conditions witnessed in qualifying had passed as the grid convened for the start of the 58-lap race, with Vettel making a near perfect start as the lights went out. In contrast, team-mate Mark Webber slipped down the order and found himself in seventh after the opening sequence of corners. The first lap was also vital for Ferrari duo Alonso and Felipe Massa, who moved up to second and third, with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and race-winner Räikkönen in close company.
As the field found a rhythm, it was Vettel who held the advantage, but tyre issues soon hindered his afternoon. The German fell back into the clutches of Massa and Alonso, holding the pair up while Räikkönen surged past Hamilton and closed in. The positions remained the same after the opening pit-stop phase, but Räikkönen made progress when his rivals struggled with degradation. Adrian Sutil was another man to show strong pace in the first half of the Grand Prix, holding the lead on a number of occasions until a doomed final stint on the Super Soft rubber saw him fall back.
During the next round of pit-stops, Alonso was able to leapfrog both team-mate Massa and Vettel, but Räikkönen crucially stayed out in the Lotus to bring his differing strategy into play. Having made his second stop much later in the race, the Finn climbed back up the order as those around him pitted for a third and final time, paving the way for a comfortable route to victory in the final stages of the race.
Second place man Alonso looked like threatening for the win at times, but a near-collision with Caterham's Charles Pic put an end to his slim hopes. The Ferrari driver crossed the line over 12 seconds behind Räikkönen, with Vettel just under ten seconds further back in third. The latter's race was defined by his fears after qualifying, with Red Bull in particular struggling to make their tyres last the distance.
Massa and Hamilton, who have had their fair share of confrontations in the past, were next up in fourth and fifth, with the Briton pulling off a brave move on Adrian Sutil in the final few laps. The Mercedes driver's race was hindered when he locked up heavily defending from Alonso, forcing an early stop for fresh tyres. It was worse for team-mate Nico Rosberg, however, who retired with an electrical problem on Lap 32.
After a dreadful start, Webber was able to salvage seventh place, while a strong effort from Sutil saw him hold onto eighth after his tricky late run on the softer rubber. The German's Force India team-mate, Paul di Resta, finished eighth to give the team a double points finish for the first time since last year's Belgian Grand Prix, with Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean crossing the line to complete the top ten.
At the back of the field, Jules Bianchi drove incredibly well to finish a lap ahead of nearest Caterham rival Pic, with Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde the last of the finishers. Daniel Ricciardo and Pastor Maldonado were the only other men to retire, enduring a technical problem and a race-ending spin respectively, while Sauber's Nico Hülkenberg failed to make the start due to an issue with his C32's fuel pump.
Heading to the Sepang International Circuit for the second round of the championship, Räikkönen holds a seven point lead over Alonso in the standings.
The opening practice session for next week's Malaysian Grand Prix begins at 10am local time (GMT +8) and can be tracked via the GPUpdate.net Live Report
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|3.||S. Vettel||Red Bull||+22.346|
|6.||M. Webber||Red Bull||+46.800|
|7.||A. Sutil||Force India||+1:05.068|
|8.||P. di Resta||Force India||+1:08.449|
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