Rain! Showers and storms were forecast all weekend yet the F1 sessions were largely unaffected until race day. With limited wet running in pre-season this was our first look at the pace of the field in damp conditions.
Stars Of The Race
F1 has a new superstar in Sergio Perez. What a drive to get a mid-grid car into second place, not only keeping it there but pulling away from Lewis Hamilton for lap after lap (himself no slouch in the wet) AND catching Fernando Alonso. I think we all expected him to drop back after the stops for slicks, surely there was no way a Sauber could stay with a Ferrari. Especially a Sauber on hard compounds and a Ferrari on mediums. Yet that’s exactly what he did, after the stops the gap began to fall again! Very, very impressive. You can certainly see why Ferrari are so interested in him.
Such a shame that two small mistakes cost him the win. The first was the mistake in not slicks early enough, it was becoming clear slicks were up to 5 seconds per lap faster and so it turned out – staying out an extra lap lost him 5 seconds. I assumed that was a team decision but it could also be inexperience on his part. The other was a minor mistake in the final laps when he got a wheel on a wet kerb which sent him into the (thankfully tarmac) runoff.
Some idiots on the internet and maybe even the media (and Martin Whitmarsh come to that, perhaps jokingly) suggested it was a conspiracy, that he was asked to do it to allow Alonso to win in return for swapping with Massa later in the year. I thought it was a joke, all good fun at the expense of the team buying engines from the leaders. Ha ha, fair enough. Yet others were being totally serious! Absolute nonsense of course, it was a straightforward error from a driver on the limit. We’re talking about a guy on the verge of his first Grand Prix win – he was never going to give it up.
The other star driver was Alonso himself, who insists this car is bad even though he leads the Championship. He’s in danger of sounding like Nigel Mansell, or Jason Plato. If the car really is bad then it is a remarkable achievement – I’m willing to believe it because surely even Massa isn’t bad enough of a driver to finish 15th just because it is raining, without having hit anyone as Button did. Mind you, Massa has done this before.
The conjecture on the Sky coverage was that this car overheats its tyres in the dry hence it is slow, yet that very same effect means it keeps the wet tyres heated and grippy and therefore fast whereas rivals can’t get the same heat into them. It sounds plausible to me, even at a hot Malaysia, and I’ve seen it happen in the past. It still doesn’t explain Massa though, unless he really is that bad in the wet!
Almost, But Not Quite
I’m sure Hamilton is kicking himself for scoring two poles in two weeks, twice converting them into finishing third. He seemed happier after this race, personally I think it was because he beat Jenson, it seems to matter a lot to him to beat his teammate.
The Red Bulls seemed to come alive in the last stint, suddenly they were on the pace and catching Hamilton. I’m not sure how Vettel hit Karthikeyan, it looks like he assumed he’d cleared the HRT when he hadn’t. Somehow Karthikeyan is the one with the penalty, I don’t know how that works as the guy was practically off the track already! For me it was a racing incident, with any blame to be apportioned going to Vettel.
Despite a great qualifying performance, Mercedes were absolulely nowhere in the race. Are these cars poor in the wet or is there more to it? Conversely the Lotuses were absolutely flying. Kimi Raikkonen used it to great effect to finish first of the ‘best of the rest’ (non McLaren/RBR/Ferrari), and he also set Fastest Lap. It was like he’d never been away. Sadly Grosjean was again out early, trying to pass Schumacher as the fast Lotus caught the slow Mercedes.
Congratulations to Williams for the first double points finish since.. who knows when? After two races they have already scored more points than in the whole of 2011, and this time it was Senna who impressed. 6th place was well-deserved and came with 4 stops, more than anyone else in the top ten (although Vettel also had had four and was on course to finish 4th). It remains to be seen what effect the surprise resignation of Adam Parr will have on the team. It can’t be helpful.
Good to see the two Force Indias in the top ten as well, not that I remember seeing anything of them on the TV coverage. They split Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso who scored his first F1 points. Rounding out the top ten was Michael Schumacher scoring Mercedes’ first and only point of the 2012 season, an incredible stat given their qualifying pace over the last two weeks.
At The Back
Credit too to Marussia and HRT for registering finishes with both cars. Marussia’s cars are still slow but have gained reliability, a trait sorely lacking in their first two cars and a change I welcome. After HRT’s double-DNQ in Melbourne this was their first full race of the year – a slow start but making noticeable progress. They even ended up 10th for a time but only because they hadn’t pitted before the red flag. If they’d remained 7 seconds down on the frontrunners serious questions would have to be asked, as it is they picked roughly 1.5-2.0 seconds if you compare times in Q1 between the two events. Another slight improvement puts them on a par with Marussia, the battle for the wooden spoon is just as fraught as the one up front.
1. Alonso 35
2. Hamilton 30
3. Button 25
4. Webber 24
5. Perez 22
Alonso’s lead has to be considered temporary unless Ferrari are able to make some progress in dry-weather pace before China, or we get a string of wet races. The easy money says this year’s WDC will go to a McLaren driver – but which? Who would’ve put money on Vettel lying 6th after the first two races, with Perez ahead of him?! Worth noting that Kimi is 7th, and the Mercedes drivers will probably look very glum in Shanghai.
1. McLaren 55
2. Red Bull 42
3. Ferrari 35
4. Sauber 30
5. Lotus 16
Early days in the WCC but I think we already have our two title contenders up front. In fact given their race pace I’d almost be surprised if McLaren doesn’t walk the WCC in the way RBR has of late. Alonso has scored all of Ferrari’s points so far, Kimi has done the same for Lotus. Sauber will be very happy with 30 points given they only scored 44 all last year, and I’ve already mentioned Williams already up on their 2011 tally. We all expected Mercedes in that 4th spot, and Sauber 7th or worse. As I say, early days.
April 15th: Chinese GP, Shanghai, China
A strange decision to open the year with a back-to-back pairing before a three-week gap, it strikes me as being an unnecessary loss of momentum, however I can see why the team personnel would appreciate a chance to go home after a couple of weeks away – particularly if any of them went to Australia straight from pre-season testing.
Shanghai is one of those races with a bad reputation and sometimes it is deserved, I barely remember some of the tedious races here, yet I well remember the last two events being pleasantly surprising. The unwinding corner into the long straight into a hairpin does make for a good combo even if the rest of this quite technical track promotes field spread. As with many tracks the best races here are when it rains.
It may not be a highlight of the year and being a Tilke design it is often derided, but it is not the worst among them by any means. It may not be Spa, it isn’t Barcelona either. Give it a chance.