Kimi Raikkonen praised Lotus for coming up with the perfect plan to give him one of the easiest victories of his Formula One career after starting seventh on the grid in the Australian Open Grand Prix.

Lotus and Raikkonen proved they are definite world title contenders as the Finn took the chequered flag for the 20th time in F1. The triumph was based on a two-stop strategy, compared to the five drivers behind Raikkonen who all pitted three times as Pirelli's latest range of tyres lived up to their reputation of degrading more quickly than their counterparts from last year.

The plan meant the race was effectively a walk in the park for the 33-year-old Raikkonen, who said: "We got it exactly right. The team worked very well, we had a good plan, we followed and it worked out perfectly for us."

He added: "I could save the tyres, go fast if I needed and I really drove very easily. It was one of the easiest races I've done to win. Hopefully we can have many more of these kind of races."

The omens are good for Raikkonen because 11 times in the previous 17 runnings of the race Down Under the winner has gone on to be crowned champion, including the Finn himself in 2007.

But just as one swallow does not make a summer, so Raikkonen preached a degree of caution, adding: "The win feels good, but it's only one race.

"It doesn't change our aim and our work for this year. Definitely we are happy with the win, but there is an awful lot to still do to try to win the championship."

There is no doubt the top three in the race - who finished as the top three in reverse order in the championship standings last year - will be the main protagonists this season on the evidence of Sunday.

After a woeful start to last year with a car far off the pace, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was naturally delighted to at least be at the sharp end 12 months on as he finished second on the podium.

"We can claim to have started this season on the right foot, in the fight with the best," said double world champion Alonso. "Obviously at the end I was a little sad not to win the race, but finishing ahead of the Red Bull tastes like a win, even if we know that despite the result they are still the quickest."