No bye week after the Australian Grand Prix, boy oh boy, which means two straight weekends of F1 action. This week the circus took its act to Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Sepang International Circuit was the first blank canvas racetrack designed specifically for F1 by German architect Hermann Tilke. Tilke has since gone on to design six other F1 circuits, which makes him the unofficial F1 architectural oracle. The circuit is a favorite among the drivers, despite its unusual layout with a pit straight that is separated from the back straight by just one hairpin turn. Enjoy this onboard lap with Felipe Massa:
Sepang is notorious for its unpredictably torrential weather patterns, and it looks like this year’s race will be no exception. Racing in the wet is a completely different animal from racing in the dry, and up until the weekend the practice sessions were relatively dry, so it’ll be interesting to see how the teams deal with the track if and when the rain starts coming down.
Unlike the weather in Australia, the rain is coming down steadily on the track, so it should be a wet qualifying session. Not all of the cars, however, are lined up on the pit exit, one can only speculate as to what the teams’ strategies are for Q1. Both Ferrari and McLaren are MIA, either they’re expecting the weather conditions to change in a matter of minutes or they’re confident they can advance to Q2 without setting too many laps. I assume it’s the latter, but it’s a risky move considering the wet conditions could wreak havoc on the drivers’ ability to complete a consistent lap.
Speaking of storms, BBC pundit Eddie Jordan is sweating up a hurricane, as his choice of a light blue dress shirt was an absolute miscue in the sweltering and humid heat. Mark Webber, after his disappointing result at Melbourne, looked strong in all of the practice sessions, consistently setting chart topping times.
Jenson Button is off the track and his car is bottomed out on the gravel, so no Q2 for him. After his performance in Melbourne, there’s no way I can dismiss his chances of mixing it up on Sunday, but his work day just got that much harder. Hamilton isn’t faring much better, and after flubbing his second to last flying lap, he also fails to make to Q2. Alonso and Massa equally struggle to keep their cars on the track, and they both also miss out on Q2. I can’t recall the last time both Ferrari and McLaren failed to get a car into Q2, I’ll attribute it to a combination of unpredictable weather conditions and a hubris-induced brain fart.
Schumi is struggling yet again, the Regenmeister is perhaps no more, which is a sad realization for both Schumi and his legion of fans. Schumi’s comeback is uncannily similar to Lance Armstrong’s, the parallels between the two are reflective of both athletes’ larger than life personas and equally large egos. Both are uber-confident and highly driven competitors, both won seven championships in their respective sport, and both made their comebacks after three year layoffs. So will Schumi match Lance’s accomplishment of a third place finish in last year’s Tour De France by coming in 3rd in the Drivers championship? At this rate, I think Schumi would be happy with that result.
Webber takes pole position! Red Bull decided to hedge their options and put Vettel on full wets and Webber on intermediates for Q3. Webber set the fastest lap of the session by more than a second, so his qualifying victory is more attributable to fortunate tire selection rather than pure speed. Rosberg outshines Schumi yet again, coming in 2nd, and Vettel rounds out the top three.
Pre Race: There’s a 50% chance of rain, but it’s not coming down just as of yet. In the words of Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali, the rain comes when it’s on the track.
Start: Turn up the volume for the start! Webber and Vettel both get away clean, but Vettel’s start is slightly better and he takes the lead going into the first turn. Both Hamilton and Massa get great starts and both move up seven places in less than half a lap.
Lap 2: Massa is holding up Button, and Alonso capitalizes and swoops past the Brit. Nice teamwork boys, now work together and keep it clean.
Lap 4: Hamilton passes samurai pilot Kobayashi, Hamilton has now moved up from 20th to 10th in just four laps. Timo Glock spins out and is stuck on the gravel trap, and his day is prematurely over yet again. He almost took out Jarno Trulli with him, but the Italian manages to keep his Lotus running and avoids any damage to his car. That little exchange was a microcosm for both the Lotus and Virgin teams, it’ll be interesting to see if Virgin can bridge the gap to their upstart rivals, or at least finish a race for starters. Baby steps, baby steps.
Lap 7: Hamilton passes Petrov, and on just one straight he goes from one side of the track to the other three times to break the tow on Petrov. He didn’t swerve unpredictably, so it wasn’t dirty, but it certainly shows how desperate Hamiton is to protect his position.
Lap 10: Button pits first, taking on a set of primes. Interesting decision to pit so early, I guess he felt his option tires weren’t holding up that well. Schumacher is crawling on the track, and he retires his Mercedes for the first time this season due to a suspension failure. His comeback has been far from perfect, and his disappointing weekend only adds fuel to the fire that Schumi is not what he used to be, and that he may never be his old balls to the wall and driving on the limit self.
Lap 24: Vettel pits, and just edges out Hamilton coming out of the pit exit lane. Vettel looks unfazed by his cold tires, and incredibly starts pulling away from Hamilton almost immediately. Webber pits a lap later, and his right front wheelman has trouble with his torque gun. Hopefully this isn’t an ominous sign of a wheel flying off.
Lap 41: Massa and Button are dueling for 7th place, and meanwhile Alonso is closing in fast on both of them.
Lap 43: Buemi passes Barrichello. Meh.
Lap 44: Massa breaks though and passes Button. Alonso is up next, Button is feeling the heat from the Ferraris. Forza!
Lap 54: Button has been holding Alonso off for ten laps now, Alonso makes a last ditch dive past Button into Turn 1, but goes far too deep past the apex, and then suddenly his engine blows a cylinder. This has been a forgettable weekend for the double world champion, he will lose his top spot in the Driver’s championship standings, but I’m confident Alonso will bounce back.
Finish: Vettel finally takes his first win of the season! His win was long overdue, Red Bull earned a superb 1-2 finish with Webber finishing 2nd, and Rosberg rounds out the podium. Red Bull has gotten a lot of deserved flak for their reliability, but it’s easier to make a fast car reliable than to make a reliable car fast. And congrats to Lucas Di Grassi and Virgin Racing for finishing their first ever F1 race, I wonder if Branson is going to hail today as the beginning of a new era in F1.
Here’s the race chart of the leaders, as you can see Vettel pretty much controlled the entire race from start to finish. Impressive. Also below is the standings of the Drivers and Constructors championships.
|1 Felipe Massa||39.0|
|2 Fernando Alonso||37.0|
|3 Sebastian Vettel||37.0|
|4 Jenson Button||35.0|
|5 Nico Rosberg||35.0|
|6 Lewis Hamilton||31.0|
|7 Robert Kubica||30.0|
|8 Mark Webber||24.0|
|9 Adrian Sutil||10.0|
|10 Michael Schumacher||9.0|
|10Lotus F1 Racing||0.0|
Seven drivers separated by only 9 points? Looks like the Drivers championship is going to be a wide open race, the question is who is going to assert themselves and seize hold of the top spot? And Adrian Sutil is ahead of Schumi? This is 2010, not the twilight zone, what the hell is going on around here? See you in two weeks for the Chinese Grand Prix from Shanghai, 再见!