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Formula One

Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen wins Australian Grand Prix opener

Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen has won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix ahead of Fernando Alonso. German world champion Sebastian Vettel started the race in pole position but finished in third.

Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen won the Formula One Australian Grand Prix Sunday ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and world champion Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull.

The Finn took the lead for good on lap 43 of 58 in a race which had seven different leaders.

"Thanks everybody, I told you the car is good. Thanks everybody, great job," he told his crew over the team radio after winning.

Following the victory ceremony, Raikkonen said he wasn't thinking yet about a championship challenge.

"It doesn't really change our aim and our goal for the year," he said. "There is an awful lot still to do to try and win the championship."

Spain's Alonso said he was happy with his second place finish. "I am extremely happy. We had a difficult start to last year, and this year we are much more optimistic," Alonso said. "We will be again a tough opponent."

Vettel said he was forced to pit after just seven laps due to worn super-soft tires.

"After a good two or three laps the tires were falling apart and we could not go as far as other people," Vettel said. "We have to admit sometimes other people are faster."

Ferrari's Felipe Massa came in fourth, ahead of Lewis Hamilton in his first race for Mercedes and Mark Webber (Red Bull) in sixth. Force India pair Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta came in seventh and eighth, ahead of Jenson Button (McLaren) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus)

Qualifying session delayed

World champion Sebastian Vettel, seeking a fourth successive Formula One title, started the first Grand Prix of the year on Sunday on pole position. Torrential rains forced the postponement of the final qualifying sessions for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne until Sunday.

The second qualifying session started at 0000 GMT (11 am local time).

Vettel's team mate, Australian Mark Webber was second on the grid with Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in third.

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes had led the first qualifying session ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, Sergio Perez (McLaren), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Jenson Button (McLaren), Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes).

Delay frazzles nerves

The decision not to go ahead with the second and third qualifying sessions on Saturday met with approval by teams and drivers.

"We asked the stewards to have a chat because of the heavy rain and bad light and they decided it was just best to put everybody out of their misery," motorsport federation FIA race director Charlie Whiting said. "I've not heard any complaints from the teams about the decisions."

The last time qualifying had to be put back was at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka in 2010, when the whole of qualifying was delayed from Saturday to Sunday.

Drivers agreed with the decision. McLaren's Jenson Button said on Saturday that the stewards had "no choice."

"A stop-start session like today's is tough for everyone," he said. "For us drivers, it means we have to build ourselves up for the challenge of qualifying again and again - a bit like asking Usain Bolt to get ready for five 100-metre sprints one after the other and aborting four of them."

"That level of disruption creates quite a lot of mental and psychological stress for any athlete - but it was even worse for the fans, who'd been waiting excitedly for qualifying all day long and who then had to sit in the pouring rain with no on-track action to entertain them."

jm, hc/kms (dpa, Reuters)