Lotus packs punch in this season's F1 line-up

Raikkonen's Australia victory puts team on the starting block with Force India showing well and McLaren in the doldrums

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 March, 2013, 3:50am

As the teams gather in Malaysia for this weekend's race, we have a much clearer idea of the Formula One pecking order. Once the chequered flag had finished waving in Albert Park there were a number of things the F1 fan had learnt.

The first thing of course, is that Lotus are the real deal. There was a lot of talk pre-season of the team picking up the odd win and sniffing around the podium. As a statement of intent and ability, Kimi Raikkonen's win in Australia was certainly unmistakable. He described the victory as one of his easiest. With the Finn's undiminished ability and the team's ability to punch above their weight given the resources available, a sustained championship push is a possibility.

It helped that the team have the measure of the new Pirelli tyres, which are even more devilish than last year. The company have designed them so, and decided to bring the super-soft version as one of the choices for Melbourne. The super-soft tyre degraded extremely quickly and the graining on them was startling as performance disappeared after a handful of laps.

When Raikkonen can do two stops and most others are having to make three, half the job is done. Force India also seem to have a car that can make the most of what Pirelli provide.

McLaren certainly don't. What a truly, utterly, awful weekend for the British outfit. Whilst other teams have evolved last year's car, McLaren went for broke with a radical redesign. Despite the millions spent, it just doesn't work. Just as worrying, the pit-wall decision-making seems to be amiss too. The team got qualifying all wrong with some strange tyre choices.

There were some sleepless nights both in Australia and in the Woking headquarters as engineers tried to work out what wasn't working. They are still scratching their heads. Given that McLaren were the fastest team by far in Brazil at the end of last season, they must be tempted to go back to that car, no matter how embarrassing that would be.

All this in McLaren's 50th anniversary this year. So far they've lost their top driver, their top designer and they will soon lose their title sponsor. When you are trying to find £50 million (HK$590.5 million) of new sponsorship money, it doesn't help if you are an also-ran on the track. Button said his car was not going to win a grand prix.

What else do we know as we approach the Malaysian Grand Prix? Ferrari must be quietly confident. The car is a whole lot better at the start of this season, as second and fourth in Australia testifies. Alonso would make a horse and cart competitive, and Felipe Massa is back to his best.

After locking out the front row, Red Bull will be disappointed to have finished third and sixth, but this is only the start of a 10-month odyssey and only a fool would rule them out.

The jury is still out on whether Mercedes will mount a challenge this season or whether that will have to wait until the new regulations of 2014. Looking at the results of the first race, fifth placed Lewis Hamilton may be very relieved to have made the move from McLaren after all.

Force India had a very strong outing in Australia. Adrian Sutil led the race twice on his return to F1, only for a bad tyre call at the end to bump him down to seventh. There may be more good days for the driver and the team.

Of course, we move from the cool and wet of Melbourne to the hot and potentially very wet conditions of Sepang this weekend. The weather in Melbourne was extreme and the tyres took a dislike to that. It may be equally problematical in Malaysia. Weather can turn a race into a lottery, and can seriously skew results. But over a season class will tell, and at the moment that is a worry for a bewildered and beleaguered McLaren team.