Kimi Raikkonen might be the right man in the right car this season

Kimi Raikkonen for the world championship? It would have seemed far-fetched a year ago, when he had just returned to Formula 1 after two years in rallying, but his victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday was Raikkonen at his very best.

During his first stint in F1 he was a very quick racing driver, with that Finnish skill to be fast but not ragged.

There was evidence last year that he was a bit rusty, unsurprisingly after two years away, but he still had the underlying skills of a world champion.

But he showed on Sunday that, with 20 races from 2012 under his belt, he was sharp and focused.

He made a good start from seventh on the grid and stuck to his strategy. While Mercedes were trying to make the two-stop work and had to bail out of it and do three, he managed it.

Did you know?

  • The podium for Kimi Raikkonen's last victory - in Abu Dhabi in November 2012 - was exactly the same as in Melbourne, with Fernando Alonso in second and Sebastian Vettel taking third.

Raikkonen drove his Lotus aggressively and smartly to win the race on one fewer pit stop than Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who he beat into second and third places.

There was a very clear strategy from both team and driver.

Starting seventh, he needed to gain places, and he went for the outside of Turn One at the start, which is a risky strategy because historically you know there is the likelihood of an incident there. The safe option is going to the inside and trying to keep out of any trouble there might be.

But he went with it with commitment, worked his magic, and after that did just enough to stay just below the limit of the tyre.

That wasn't Kimi on his own - he needed the car balance to be able to manage the tyres, so Lotus have done a great job there. But don't be surprised. They won a grand prix last year.

With probably a smaller budget than the other top teams, they have had great stability within their engineering team.

They have a good bunch of guys there and this year they have added Ciaran Pilbeam, who used to be Mark Webber's engineer at Red Bull.

That will help them further understand the way of Red Bull's highly regarded chief technical officer Adrian Newey when it comes to things like spring rates, wheel rates and damping rates.

That sort of information engineers can't unlearn - they can't carry a disc of information from one team to another, but they can carry their own knowledge.

So there are a number of things there that have helped top up what was a quality team anyway.

THE MAIN CONTENDERS

It was a clean race, there was no incident in the first corner, and it was an exceptional podium with Alonso, Raikkonen and Vettel all up there - three quality drivers. And the level of respect between them all was great to see.

I've said it before, but this is a golden era of Formula 1.

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McLaren had a pretty shocking first race ... it's remarkable they got through winter testing thinking they were a wee bit off the pace only to find they are a long way off

It was especially interesting to see how Alonso was greeted by the crowd.

OK, you get a leg up driving for Ferrari - I don't think there has ever been an unpopular Ferrari driver - but during the podium ceremony he got a big cheer when he was introduced. He also took the time to apologise for the decision to call off qualifying because of the rain on Saturday, giving some love to the fans. Classy.

They're clever guys. Vettel as well had respect for Lotus, saying they got what they deserved. I'm sure he would have loved to win, but he was happy enough with third.

You wouldn't be at all surprised if the three guys on the podium in Australia on Sunday were the three in the hunt for the title at the end of the year. After all, they were the three in the hunt at the end of last year.

But Lewis Hamilton will make an impact, depending on how Mercedes can get their tyres to work.

It has been an impressive recovery from Mercedes after struggling at the end of last year, and it is a comfort to Hamilton that he has made the right decision in his career.

Whatever they say, racing drivers are constantly looking at things around them and using it as a comfort.

He will be looking at McLaren's performance and thinking: "I could have been there. I'm not only feeling good about my decision; I'm also better off in performance terms."

The three teams on the podium, those seats were not available to him. Of the two drives that were, he now can be absolutely sure he has made the right decision.

Mark Webber will also be there or thereabouts of course.

Hamilton happy with fifth place

Webber's race was ruined by a bad start caused by an electronics failure. That meant he didn't have his clutch settings optimised or telemetry. And he had also lost his Kers power-boost system.

McLaren had a pretty shocking first race, but you only have to look at what Ferrari achieved last year to think that they will bounce back at some point.

Still, it's remarkable they got through winter testing thinking they were a wee bit off the pace only to find they are a long way off.

MAKING AN IMPACT

One of the side stories of the main event was that Force India's Adrian Sutil got a moment in the sun on his comeback after a year away, by going for a different strategy from the front-runners.

He was 12th on the grid and chose to start on the harder medium tyre, do a two-stop strategy and save to the end the fragile super-soft tyres the top 10 had to start on.

That put him out of sync with the leaders and meant he led the race twice.

But at the end, his team-mate Paul di Resta, who had out-qualified him, was right there on his gearbox and, if the team hadn't said he had to hold station, Di Resta would have finished in front of Sutil.

But taking Di Resta's strategy gave him no moment in the sun, so he was almost anonymous for the entire race, and then appeared right there with his team-mate and had to back off on the last lap.

It put out a very important message. And if I was a young driver trying to move forward in my career and make an impression - as I was 20 years ago - I would be choosing a strategy that gave me the best chance of showing myself to the world.

DID AUSTRALIA SET THE TONE?

What we got in Melbourne, through a very tricky, drawn-out qualifying, was confirmation of the rumours coming out of pre-season testing that F1 had got a lot closer.

A few people were probably a bit concerned after the qualifying shoot-out when Red Bull fairly comfortably locked out the front row.

Gary Anderson on Australian GP

McLaren have to go back and look at why the package they have is not functioning better

But that just showed that when they take the fuel out - which they probably did not do at all in winter testing -they could unleash and understand the tyre.

The issue in the race, as everyone expected, was how can you make your tyres last. Lotus had very good tyre management last year and have clearly kept that quality in their car.

But if we ran that race on a different day, you'd get a different result, if not necessarily a different winner.

That result is simply a reflection of that track on that day, with the cars in that spec with that track temperature. The tyres are so sensitive to that.

We're in for something different in Malaysia this weekend - and I hope it doesn't chuck it down, because standing outside in the rain under an umbrella definitely takes some of the fun out of doing television.

David Coulthard was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson.