Sunday 10 April 2011

Malaysian GP Report: Seb still on top, but a lot happening behind him

Sebastian Vettel claimed the Malaysian Grand Prix, making it two wins out of two this year. This topline does however hide that he had to work much harder for the win than in Melbourne two weeks ago. Nevertheless, Seb demonstrated his growing maturity by always staying calm and in command up ahead and making passes when necessary during the pit stop phase, no matter what was going on behind him. And a lot was.

To a large extent, the Sepang race was our first genuine look at the 'new' formula for this year, much more so than in Melbourne. As predicted pre-season, the tyre degradation in the race is such that three or four pits stops were the norm in Malaysia, with most trying to eke out a three stop strategy, and there is the constant possibility of tyres 'falling off a cliff', to use the parlance, when they're at the end of their life. This resulted in a rather topsy-turvey race, not panning out in nearly as predictable fashion as we've grown used to in F1 races over the last decade or so. No bad thing in my view.

Further, the DRS systems contributed to the topsy-turviness, helping a few overtakes into turn one without making things too easy. The system continues to get a cautious thumbs up from me.

Anyway, back to the order. The McLarens kept Vettel even more honest than they did in Melbourne, which is a relief to those who feared a Red Bull walkover this year. Lewis was only just pipped by Vettel in qualifying, but come the end of race day it was his team mate Jenson Button who clung onto Vettel's coat tails, making his tyre strategy work better than his team mate and only finishing three seconds down on Seb at the end. Lewis ran ahead of Jenson for most of the way, but had a curious last phase of the race where he didn't get the harder tyre to work, made an extra stop and ended up finishing seventh (on the track only, as it transpired).

Ferrari also showed up well on race day, and certainly looked better than they did in qualifying. Alonso was racy as always, and looked on for a podium until he tagged Lewis when attempting to wrest third place from him, resulting in a extra pit stop to replace a front wing. Culpability for the incident definitely rests with Fernando, though there are some mitigating circumstances that he seemed surprised by the extent of slipstream and understeer in Lewis's wake. He ended up sixth, just behind his team mate, and will be frustrated, though also encouraged to some extent by their race pace, though they don't look quite to be on Red Bull/McLaren pace, and by the car's tyre management (Alonso was last to pit in each round of stops). Massa looked more solid than he has done recently, if still not able to run quite at his team mate's pace.

Both Alonso and Hamilton got penalised 20 seconds after the race, Alonso for causing the collision with Hamilton, Hamilton for moving more than once in defending his position (not at the same time as the collision it seems but earlier, on the pit straight). Alonso remains sixth but Hamilton drops a place to eighth, behind Kobayashi. I can't help but think that the stewards should have butted out on both counts. Let's also hope this doesn't represent a return to the over policing of on track battles that we'd hoped had a lid put on it last year.

The Renaults again showed up well, confirming that they're 'best of the rest' (certainly ahead of Mercedes who again struggled, finishing in P9 and P12, with Schumi ahead). Nick Heidfeld bounced back magnificently after his Melbourne struggles, showing all his class in coming third. Indeed, Heidfeld ran in second place from lap one, making up places off the start and through the first few corners in a way that he's a master at. Petrov however looked a little ragged, in a way we'd thought he maybe had put behind him. The error that put him out was one of a rookie, I'm afraid.

Mark Webber followed Heidfeld home closely in fourth place, recovering well after an appalling start, as well as that he made four stops rather than the three employed by those ahead of him. Tyre wear may be an Achilles' heel for the Red Bulls this year (and it seems on today's evidence that Webbo if suffering more than Seb), though few races will give their boots as much of a workout as Malaysia. Also, Red Bull's marriage with KERS still seems to be an uneasy one. They ran with KERS, unlike in Australia, but the system stopped working on both cars during the race (and in Webber's case, before). Seb will be relieved that no one got close enough to take advantage.

And another shout out to Paul di Resta, who came in tenth, making it two out of two for finishing in the points in his debut year.

The next race, in China, is but a week away, and I'm looking forward to it already.

Race results

Highlights on the BBC website


  1. Helloooo again Graham ... yes it's me (the passionate Alonso fan) giving my views another airing on your blog ... as usual I have a slightly different skew on the Alonso v Hamilton 'collision' in Sepang and completely disagree with the race stewards' subsequent decision to penalise Fernando (even though the penalty didn't affect his position or points gained) ... so if you're interested please read on:

    With regard to who was at fault in the Alonso v Hamilton coming together on lap 46 of the Sepang GP ... clearly Martin Brundle and David Coulthard at the time of the ‘collision’ (and shortly after) were being totally premature in their hasty assumption that (and I quote): ... ‘it was all Alonso’s fault’ ... ‘it was a misjudgement by Alonso’ ... ‘yes Alonso has to take 100% responsibility for that’ ... when in fact the rear overhead camera at the time of the ‘collision’ (as opposed to all the other camera angles that they were subsequently shown and analysed?) reveals quite clearly that:

    Alonso was still hot on Hamilton’s tail and determined to get past him as they both rounded that final sweeping bend ... Hamilton brushes against the chevrons on the left of the (very broad) track and then immediately swings out widely to his right to block Alonso from passing ... when the same footage is studied in slow-motion we can see that Alonso is closing in and positioning himself just fractionally behind and to the right of the McLaren so that he can pick up the slipstream and make his move on this long clear strait (bearing in mind that his DRS is not functioning?) ... then at the crucial moment as Alonso turns sharply to his right to fly past the McLaren we can also discern that Hamilton is simultaneously veering across Alonso’s path??

    Let me spell that out again ... Hamilton’s car is on the edge of the chevrons as Alonso is right up behind him (but not on the chevrons) ... as Alonso turns out sharply to the right the McLaren is already half-a-car-width to the right of the chevrons ... a split-second later as the debris from Alonso’s wing is still airborne Hamilton’s car is a full-car-width away from the chevrons ... then two-car-widths ... this is irrefutable proof that Hamilton swung out in front of Alonso knowing that he was about to pass him and it is this totally indefensible move to the right by Hamilton that resulted in Alonso’s left front wing clipping H’s right rear tyre (and let’s not forget that Brundle had assured us just prior to the ‘collision’ that Hamilton had been really struggling on this last set of tyres and had another 10 laps to go on them, etc?).



    Obviously Hamilton was not prepared to give way or yield to Alonso and certainly wasn’t going to let him finally succeed (after a full two minutes of trying) in sublimely and spectacularly overtaking him to steam ahead towards the 3rd podium ... he would rather risk Alonso running into the back of him and the Ferrari leaving the ground and launching itself into the air (he must have known just how dangerous it could have been for Alonso) ... yes it needs to be said again ... it’s Lewis Hamilton who is undoubtedly guilty of ‘causing that particular avoidable collision’ and of ‘making more than one move to defend his position’ (aka ‘weaving’) ... in my opinion not only should he have been penalised for both offences (and Alonso completely exonerated from any blame) but in addition Hamilton should have been severely reprimanded by the stewards and penalised for ‘dangerous driving’?!?

    Hamilton cannot say in his defence that he didn’t know where Alonso was because he would have seen in his right mirror that the Ferrari was only a hair’s breadth behind him and a fraction to his right (and more importantly TRAVELLING A LOT FASTER THAN HIM BECAUSE OF THE SLIPSTREAM?!?).

    Further proof (again in my estimation) of Hamilton’s culpability is that it was glaringly obvious in his post-race interview with Lee Mckenzie that either Hamilton himself or ‘someone’ had specifically instructed her not to ask him about the HvA incident or who he thought was to blame for the ‘collision’, etc ... Hamilton isn’t very good at hiding his emotions and his body language/facial expressions and hesitancy all spoke palpable reams ... he actually couldn’t speak to Lee for a full three seconds at first and was visibly distressed and struggling to say ‘something’ ... until Ms Mckenzie then asked him ‘how disappointed are you?’ to which he seemed relieved that it wasn’t the dreaded question???

    Still his speech was stilted and there were long pauses and looking down at the floor before Hamilton answered ‘I don’t want to want to talk about it really’ ... he then managed to compose himself after biting his lip ... lots of umming and erring and a couple of forced smiles for the camera ... then of course we had to listen to his usual batch of excuses to explain why his race was so lousy ... sorry but Hamilton looked and acted as guilty as hell and obviously hadn’t had a chance to be briefed/primed about what to say by his ‘team'.



    In complete contrast when Ms Mckenzie spoke to Alonso his body language was at the opposite extreme to Hamilton’s ... she asked him straight off to talk about the little hit he had with Hamilton and he was quite calm and at ease when he answered her ... there was just a shrug of his shoulders and a hint of disappointment in his voice when he explained how they had touched and as a result he had to pit for a new wing which maybe had cost him the podium (all this was said by him without any vestige of blame) ... he continued to inform her that he was pleased and surprised with the improvement in the car from Australia and will try again in China, etc.

    Please note that:
    1) The first part of Hamilton’s post-race interview where he was conspicuously looking anxious/sheepish and tongue-tied was edited out for the BBC’s afternoon race re-run (and the 7pm highlights) and Alonso’s interview wasn’t shown at all (lest perhaps people should spot the distinct difference in their body languages’ and demeanours’ and realise the truth??).

    2) McLaren’s Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh was not interviewed to give his opinions on either of his drivers’ races (an inexplicable omission considering that Button came 2nd?) ... this omission only serves to strengthen my argument.

    3) As I predicted (and Sepang is only the second race of the season) ... the pairing of Martin Brundle and David Coulthard in the commentary box would result in Coulthard agreeing with most of what Brundle says and both of them continuing to cover-up/disguise/gloss-over and make light of any ‘mistakes’ made by Hamilton ... but conversely jump on anything that Alonso might do that can be construed as (and I quote): ... ‘the two-times world champion making a schoolboy error’, etc??

    STUDY AND SCRUTINISE THE EVIDENCE PEOPLE BEFORE YOU MAKE YOUR HASTY AND HARMFUL JUDGEMENTS because you probably made it more difficult for the stewards to totally disagree with what you both had so emphatically stated about Alonso being 100% at fault and that Hamilton was just driving along minding his own business, etc! Clearly Mssrs Brundle and Coulthard have vested interests in still trying to portray Hamilton as being the great/fantastic/skilful driver that in fact he never was (or ever has been?) ... and of course they continue to (albeit more stealthily nowadays) minimise and under-rate Alonso’s achievements, ie: when Red Bull’s Webber and Renault’s Heidfeld overtook another car in Sepang their moves were described as ‘beautiful’ ... no such superlative would ever be used for Alonso because it would literally get stuck in their throats ... their glee and euphoria when Alonso had to pit for his new wing was palpable?!?

    4) I’ve said it from day one of the 2007 season and my opinion of Hamilton hasn’t changed much since then ... he is a harebrained young man and always has been a second-rate/mediocre/immature and reckless F1 driver and he will remain so mainly because he has invariably been positioned on pole or put (yes put?) on the front row at the start of most races ... in Australia it worked out brilliantly for him (as indeed in numerous other races over the last four years) ... but when he’s not up front (and sometimes even when he is?) ... he usually makes at least one cringe-worthy mistake somewhere during the race which his team and certain others are quick to minimise and brush aside!

    I will rest my case for now and wait to see what surprises/plans/ploys have been contrived and hatched for the Chinese GP on Sunday!