Thoughts on F1: Malaysian GP

Thoughts on F1: 2010 Malaysian GP

The first ‘normal’ race* of the 2010 season wasn’t any different to a normal race of the 2009 season.

The fast cars at the front raced away at the start. It just so happened they wore the same livery. Those fast cars stuck down the order made up places in the first couple of laps before settling down, stuck in traffic. Then we waited for the pitstops while nearly everyone essentially held station, just like last year. The stops changed the midfield order a bit and a tyre miscue ruined one of the front-runners’ chances of a win. There was a bit of strategy, it was just with tyres instead of fuel. Fine. Whatever. Same difference, same result. Red Bull would still have walked away with it. McLaren and Ferrari would still have been caught in traffic.

I tell you, just like any race of the last decade. The stops were just a tiny bit shorter.

It was interesting that Button and Hamilton were on opposite strategies (Button starting on hards and Hamilton on softs) yet after the pitstops they were running togther, even side by side as one left the pits. I sensed Ron would’ve been pleased the strategy put them in the same place and allowed the two to sort out who led.

It was a great drive from Vettel and mostly from Webber. Mark cost himself the race when he allowed a gap for Sebastian to nose through at the very start. We saw good runs from Rosberg, Kubica and Sutil too. You could legitimately argue those three would’ve been behind the Ferraris and McLarens had they started in their normal positions and you’d probably be right – but we’ll never know.

I was going to praise Button, Hamilton, Massa and Alonso as a collective unit for their progress up the field but I can’t do that. Button made the wrong tyre call twice in as many days – that’s fine, we’re all fallible and that’s the way it goes sometimes. Massa and Alonso did a good job – scratch that, Alonso did an exceptional job to run that quickly with an ailing gearbox that eventually let go.

We turn to Mr Hamilton. He was doing reasonably well but seemed to get desperate and started blocking and weaving against Vitaly Petrov. I am very disappointed in the race stewards for not awarding him a drive-through penalty or worse. They deployed the ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ warning flag, a flag I personally feel is underused across the whole of racing, yet in this case was not the right response in my view. I would like to know why that action was taken. Weaving is completely out of order.

New Rules

I was in favour of the ban on refuelling. To my mind the fuel strategies of the last couple of years haven’t varied a great deal from team to team. They all pitted within 2 or 3 laps of each other – what’s the point in that? The interesting tactical decisions of most of the previous decade or more,  and that you still see in the likes of IndyCar and ALMS, they seemed to have disappeared from F1 as everyone ran broadly the same ideal strategy as computed by their expensive software. If everyone is going to run the same fuel throughout, why not just run the same fuel throughout by having them not refuel? It makes ‘em think. Gives ‘em something new to figure out, for a while anyway.

I miss the 1-stop vs 2-stop (not so much 3-stop) as much as anyone but I genuinely don’t remember seeing a good race like that in quite a while. To me the period from roughly ’98 to roughly ’07 was the best for that sort of racing. If they aren’t willing to think out of the box any more on fuel strategy let’s give them a different challenge.

On Friday when I talked about the Australian GP I suspected people would complain about the Sepang race. I was right, there hasn’t been as many people criticising it as Bahrain but what I have seen has been quite vocal. I perhaps uncharitably said these people were goldfish because they forget that past dry Sepang races are mid-range in terms of excitement – neither turgidly dull or spectacularly fun.
They also seem to forget the very large amount of criticism of the 2009 races in general, the season itself was fine but the races weren’t great unless you were a team superfan. If the races are still not great under very different competition rules then surely that points to a larger more fundamental problem with F1? It isn’t refuelling or not-refuelling that is the problem. There is something else at play. It might be aero, it might be the tyres, it might be something else – I have my suspicions but I don’t know for sure.

If the races were processional and boring with refuelling and processional and boring without refuelling, then surely it has nothing to do with whether or not they are refuelling?

Is that too simplistic? I don’t know. It just seems obvious to me but what do I know?

Future

So we go to Shanghai in China in two weeks. Woopidoo. If anyone calls that race boring because of the new rules I will personally shoot them. This race is almost always boring. Barcelona after that isn’t great, either. Bernie’s decision to stack the first half of the year with rubbish racetracks may yet decide the outcome of the refuelling / non-refuelling debate.

Anyway where was the rain today? I was promised rain. I like rainy races.

* I call this the first ‘normal’ race because Australia was rain-affected, and in Bahrain it seems clear to me that every team was taking it easy as they explored the new rules. At Sepang they stepped up a gear.

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