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Pit strategy pays off for Raikkonen in Australia

Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus kicked off the 2013 Formula One season by pulling off a stunning victory in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

Raikkonen, who started seventh, capitalized on a bold two-stop strategy while his rivals pitted three times for tires during this 58-lap race.

Having run the final 24 laps around the 3.3-mile Albert Park circuit without a tire change, Raikkonen crossed the finish line 12.4 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso from Ferrari. Three-time defending F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull was 22.3 seconds behind in third.

"Our plan was to do a two-stop, and it's always difficult, especially in the first race, to really know when to stop and not doing it too early and not too late," Raikkonen said. "The team worked very well, and we had a good plan. We followed the plan, and it work out perfectly for us. I could save the tires, and I could go fast if I needed to. I could really drive very easily. It was one of the easiest races I've done to win the race. Hopefully, we can have many more of this kind of races."

Raikkonen claimed his 20th career victory. The Finn won the Australian GP for the first time in 2007, the same year he captured the F1 world championship while driving for Ferrari. After competing in the World Rally Championship from 2010-11, Raikkonen had a remarkable comeback in F1 this past year. He finished third in points and won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. It was his victory since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.

Vettel started on the pole but relinquished the lead on lap 7 when he made his first stop. Pit stops took place early in the race since the top starters had to run on the tires they used during qualifying, which was delayed one day due to heavy rain on Saturday in Melbourne.

"I think surely when you start from pole, you want to win," Vettel said. "I think we can be happy with the pace all weekend. The car left a very good impression. The whole team seemed to operate very calmly, and considering it was the first race of the season, we seemed to just continue where we stopped last year."

After posting the quickest times in the first two practice sessions held on Friday and then winning the pole by a half-second over his Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber, it looked as though Vettel would be untouchable in this race.

"There's a bit of homework to do, regarding the tires," Vettel noted. "I think two-stop was out of our range today."

Alonso overtook Vettel for position during the second round of stops and then stayed in front of Vettel for the remainder of the event.

"It was a fantastic race, with fighting all the way through," Alonso said. "At the end, it was a little bit sad not to be able to win the race, but Kimi was fantastic today."

Vettel beat Alonso by just three points to win last year's championship.

Alonso's teammate, Felipe Massa, finished fourth, while Lewis Hamilton placed fifth in his first start for Mercedes. Hamilton drove for McLaren from 2007-12.

"I'm happy with our result today, and it's much better than we expected for the first race of the season," Hamilton said.

Webber, an Australian native, finished sixth in front of his home crowd. Force India drivers Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta were seventh and eighth, respectively.

"We salvaged something in the end, but that was Melbourne today," Webber said. "It was disappointing not to get more out of it. It was hard to fight against others on a two-stop."

Jenson Button from McLaren had won this race three times in the last four years, including a victory this past season, but Button had a disappointing ninth-place finish this time around.

"Having won the Australian Grand Prix three times so far in my career, in 2009, 2010 and 2012, you'd have to say that today's ninth place isn't really much to write home about," he said.

Lotus' Romain Grosjean completed the top-10.

Nico Hulkenberg, who was making his debut with Sauber, had to miss the race after his car experienced a fuel system issue. Sauber said it did not want to run Hulkenberg's car due to safety concerns.

F1 moves on to Kuala Lumpur next weekend for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Alonso is the defending race winner.

"We have only four days to work on the car to prepare for the next race, and I think (Raikkonen) will again be a tough opponent," Alonso said.