MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel started his campaign to win four successive world titles with third place at Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix but the German thinks the season-opener race will prove to be an anomaly over the course of the year.
The 25-year-old showed the raw pace of his Red Bull had not gone away when he took his 37th pole position in a qualifying session delayed by heavy rain on Sunday morning but later was convincingly beaten in the race by Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus.
Comforted, perhaps, by the fact that it was not until the fourth round in Bahrain last year that he won his first race, Vettel said being outpaced by both Lotus and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso was not what he expected at Sepang this week.
“What we have seen today was a first glimpse, but we are far from getting an idea of the pecking order,” he told the sport’s official website after the race on the Albert Park street track.
”Malaysia is a completely different track and from what we have seen today, everything depends on how well people handle the tyres.
”But we will see completely different conditions and will use different tyres so there are too many differences to here.
“We have seen over the past few years that what we have seen in Melbourne has hardly ever become a trend for the next couple of races.”
Sunday’s 58 laps were a riot of entertainment for the fans packed into the Melbourne park with seven leaders over the race, battles between top drivers at what seemed like every turn and a popular surprise winner in the Finnish “Iceman”.
The irony was that the sort of spectacle which might convert even the motorsports sceptic to Formula One was precipitated by the topic of conversation most likely to make their eyes glaze over - tyres.
Tyre providers Pirelli were briefed this year to come up with rubber compounds which degraded more quickly to force teams to make more pit stops and therefore make races less processional. They duly delivered.
Raikkonen’s victory rested on his Lotus riding more easily on the tyres than other cars, allowing him to make just two stops in the race while all of his main rivals had to take three.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery described the Lotus approach to the race as a “masterclass in tyre management”.
“We took the deliberately bold decision to come here with the supersoft tyre in order to spice up the action,” Hembery said.
“We believe that this worked very well ... seeing how (the) different approaches played out at the end was the intriguing part of the strategy, which led to a spectacular finish and three very deserving world champions on the podium.”
Vettel’s Red Bull was particularly hard on the rubber, as it had been in testing in Spain last month, but the amount of degradation will change on different tracks and in different temperatures.
With Malaysia, China, Bahrain to come on the Asian swing before the Formula One circus heads back to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in May, Vettel was happy with the opening weekend.
“Everybody has been a bit of surprise to everyone, as nobody knew what to expect,” he said.
”The qualifying was fantastic but in the race we had a bit of a problem with the wear of the tyres - and obviously Kimi did the best job looking after the tyres out of everyone managing to stop only twice.
”We can keep our heads high as we have shown that the pace is there. Now we have to work on the tyre issue.
“Obviously the degradation was a bit more intense for us than for others. But to start from pole position and end on the podium - all in all, that was a successful weekend.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty