F1 Reaction: Malaysian GP 2012

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.

Middle Order

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.

Championships

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.

Next Race

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.

I’m Watching.. MotoGP

MotoGP 2010 – Malaysian GP

Sepang, Malaysia – Rnd 15 of 18

3 October 2010
BBC coverage

I have a massive backlog of articles but as I’m in the middle of sorting a move to another flat things are a bit delayed.

Front row: Jorge Lorenzo starts on pole, Nicky Hayden 2nd, Andrea ‘Dovi’ Dovizioso 3rd.
Dani Pedrosa is still out with an injury sustained in free practice in Japan.

At the start Lorenzo gets away with a small gap, yet by the end of lap one Dovi had got side by side with him at the last corner – Lorenzo fended him off and the battle continued. Just as they were dropping the Ducatis one of them, Stoner, found himself in the gravel thus enlargening the gap between the leaders and the other Ducati of Hayden, who had about 6 bikes on his tail.

Valentino Rossi had dropped from 6th to 11th at the start and immediately set about re-passing people. After just a couple of laps he was in 6th again, two laps more and he was up to 3rd! Incredible even for him, if you consider he’s still carrying an injury from earlier in the season. We’re told his leg has fully healed, his shoulder has not.

Capirossi parked up and limped away, he’s still carrying an injury from a few races before. A pit report from Matt Roberts later in the race confirms he retired due to an electrical fault on his Suzuki, it wasn’t down to his injury.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=MotoGP+Sepang&iid=10016264″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/10016264/motogp-malaysia-race/motogp-malaysia-race.jpg?size=500&imageId=10016264″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]

Dovi hassled Lorenzo for lap after lap as Rossi slowly, slowly closed in on them, before Dovizioso was able to make the move on lap 8 with a great pass! Edwards retired from 8th somewhere here.

Rossi passes Lorenzo for 2nd, I don’t think Lorenzo worked TOO hard for it because he wants to secure the title in this race. In the same place one lap later Rossi takes the lead! He dove into the tight left-hander and darted away into the lead, immediately opening a little gap. Simply brilliant.

Hayden slipped to the back of the fairly big pack running in the upper midfield as Spies and Simoncelli fought to head this group. Suddenly on lap 15 Dovizioso seems to come from nowhere to retake the race lead from Rossi! Half a lap later Vale retakes the place in his favourite overtaking spot. This is really fantastic stuff!

Wow, great scrap between Simoncelli, Bautista, Hayden and Ayama. Bautista passed two guys in one move! It continued and Simoncelli and Aoyama bumped and bruised until they run wide (Simoncelli’s fault) allowing Hayden to pass both.
Up front, Rossi and Dovi dropped Lorenzo by a big margin, the trio miles ahead of the rest. That’s how it finished.

Podium: 1. Rossi, 2. Dovizioso, 3. Lorenzo. Jorge Lorenzo confirmed as 2010 MotoGP World Champion!
Some guys dressed as Mario and Luigi meet him on the cooldown lap and he holds up a Game Over sign to the bike’s onboard camera! Massive cheers from the crowd, and it is a big crowd.
Spies finished 4th, Bautista, Hayden, Aoyama, etc.

What a stunning race. After several really boring GPs the series has regained its old form in style, well done to all concerned.

Well done to both race winner Rossi and champion Lorenzo, who’s run of race wins and other podium positions were going to be incredibly hard to beat even if the opposition hadn’t struggled with injury, there’s no false title here as Lorenzo worked for every result.

Points:

Lorenzo 313 (C), Pedrosa 228, Rossi 181, Stoner 180, Dovizioso 179, Spies 152

The next round is Phillip Island, Australia, for which there will be a post up in a few days.

Photo credit:  Andrea Dovizioso leads after passing Jorge Lorenzo, while Valentino Rossi is closing, closing, closing. (c) Getty Images via Picapp.

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.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=malaysian+grand+prix&iid=8431362″ src=”f/9/0/c/F1_Grand_Prix_6536.jpg?adImageId=12103228&imageId=8431362″ width=”380″ height=”255″ /]

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.

Race Review: GP2 Asia Sepang ’09

GP2 Asia Series 2008/09
Sepang, Malaysia
Held: 4&5 April 09
Commentary: Martin Haven & Gareth Rees

Continuing my Race Review catch up series, this was the primary support event to the Malaysian GP and is the penultimate round of the series.

Points coming in:

Kobayashi 39
Valsecchi 29
Hülkenberg 27
Perez 25
D’Ambrosio 23

Feature Race – 33 laps
(the Sprint Race is noted below)

Qualifying:
1. D’Ambrosio (DAMS)
2. Nunes (Piquet GP)
3. Jakes (Super Nova)
4. Kobayashi (DAMS)
5. Villa (Super Nova)
6. Petrov (Campos)

The top 22 are covered by under 1 second, which the guys say is a surprise, and as Gareth says “this isn’t Mallory Park this is a proper Grand Prix circuit”.

Drama as the coverage begins as D’Ambrosio has NOT taken his pole position! His car broke down on the warm-up lap and he had to pit, he won’t take the start, could rejoin later but will be many laps down.

The other omission is Nico Hülkenberg who is not racing this weekend, Pastor Maldonado has reclaimed the seat.

START

Several slow starts and the cars fan out wide, Villa stalls it from 5th on the grid. Lots of bumping and contact through that twiddly bit at the start of the lap.

Lots of side-by-side action throughout the first lap, but Mortara is out on lap one.
Nunes leads Petrov, Kobayashi and Maldonado.

32 to go – Parente passes..someone. Hard to tell. These liveries aren’t easy to ID.

30 – Perez started 18th but is already up to 10th.

27 – Nunes leads, in 2nd and 3rd Petrov and Kobayashi are all over each other!

26 – Early pit stop for Kobayashi. He was sort of caught behind Petrov.
Ooh, Petrov runs VERY wide and allows Jakes into 2nd place.

25 – Maldonado pushing hard runs wide, scoots across the grasscrete or whatever it is, rejoins with dirty tyres and some positions down. Gareth: “Typical Pastor”. The guys say he’s a charming chap but he’s a rough diamond.

Nice move by Yelmer Buurman on Vitaly Petrov, who is really struggling to get his car stopped yet still made Buurman work for it.

23 – Petrov loses another place as someone drafts him down the back straight, so he dives into the pits for new rear tyres.
Slow car on track: Razia crawling in 1st or maybe even coasting.

22 – Maldonado pits.. he’s got damage on the nose. He’s out in 15th with more yet to stop.

Shots of F1 personnel on the pit stand watching the race, including Nelson Piquet Jr and Felipe Massa. Remember this race happened shortly after F1 qualifying. Parente takes Gonzalez, who then pits..

20 – Nunes pits from the lead, as does Valsecchi who has a very slow stop with a sticking right rear.

19 – Perez has stopped in the pit entry, nearly blocking it. Dark clouds are approaching!
Perez has been pushed to his pit – replay and it looks like his radiator has been holed.

17 – Jakes is pushing Kobayashi for what will end up as 2nd after the pitstops.

15 – Al-Fardan finally makes his stop, the last to do so.

8 – Jakes is still close behind Kobayashi but can’t seem to do anything about it.

7 – Maldonado smokes his tyres in an attempt to pass Petrov, can’t make it by at the hairpin, tries it again at turn one and still can’t do it! Couple of flat-spots on those tyres now, Valsecchi watching on.

4 – Discussion on the merits of KERS and how GP2 could have it if F1 develops it to be cheap enough. Hmm, hindsight.. 🙂

3 – Maldonado makes an error and allows Parente to draw alongside, both have patience and Parente takes the position. Comment from Gareth that the Maldonado of old would’ve taken Parente out there and then.

2 – Maldonado and Valsecchi are close together as they lap a backmarker, both are just a little behind Petrov.

Diego Nunes wins!

Result:
1 Nunes (PiquetGP) 33 laps
2 Kobayashi (DAMS) +8.36s
3 Jakes (Super Nova) +9.15s
4 Rodriguez (PiquetGP) +13.87s
5 Buurman (Ocean) +16.81s
6 Petrov (Campos) +41.46s

Summary:
Pretty flat end to the race. Lots of drivers in little close groups but not seemingly able to do anything to make a pass. Good job from Nunes and Jakes, complete change of fortunes over previous form, well done. Amazingly, Al-Fardan came 9th after looking utterly hopeless back in Qatar.

Sprint Race – 22 laps

It is wet for Sunday’s race, which was held a couple of hours before the F1 race. As ever the grid is the result of the Feature with the top 8 reversed.

1 Valsecchi
2 Maldonado
3 Petrov
4 Buurman
5 Rodriguez
6 Jakes

As it turns out this race has been delayed by 30 minutes by the wet conditions and we will have a Safety Car start (and no formation lap).

START

Yamamoto has stalled at the start and so has one of the FMS cars, could be Chen. Both cars are pushed into the pitlane. Yamamoto gets fired but stops at the end of pitlane, while they are taking the engine cover off Chen’s car. I’m not sure why Yamamoto stopped, he has a green light which now turns red as the field comes by behind the SC to complete lap 1.

18 to go – Safety Car is in, green flag!
Contact on the last corner between Maldonado and Valsecchi.

A couple of spinners at turn two including James Jakes – that’s a shame after his race 1 run.

No rain but the track is very wet, the cars are kicking up spray so it is hard to see who is close behind someone.

17 – Maldonado tries several times and makes it by Valsecchi, Petrov’s coming with him. Meanwhile Buurman runs wide and loses a couple of places. I was doing the same at that corner on the Wii last night..

16 – Kobayashi brakes far too late and runs into the wide runoff at turn one, loses a position.

15 – Maldonado leads, followed by Petrov, Valsecchi, Nunes, Al Fardan, Buurman, Parente and Gonzalez. Kobayashi is 11th, D’Ambrosio 17th.

12 – The DPR cars are off course and out of the race.

Nice dive from Petrov at the final corner to pass Maldonado for the lead! Interesting to see Petrov is quite a bit faster today, relative the rest of the field.

11 – Petrov, Maldonado, Valsecchi, Nunes, Al Fardan, Gonzalez, Kobayashi, Buurman. Points only go to the top 6 in the Sprint though.

Petrov just set the fastest lap of the race. Apparently Jakes got the point for FL yesterday (Villa was faster, Jakes was fastest of the top ten finishers, a rule to prevent pitting for tyres and going for a time).

Replay of D’Ambrosio running off track into an area where several marshalls and a tractor were working on two cars already – dangerous stuff, he should’ve backed off under yellow and he didn’t. Commentary guys are saying he should get a penalty, I agree.

9 – Rodriguez off course, too much speed and into the gravel. I think he recovers eventually.
Pics of Razia walking back to the pits.

The track is drying now and there’s not much spray. Due to the Safety Car start and the wet conditions this is now a timed race and there are 11 minutes to go.

D’Ambrosio does indeed get a black flag, hooray for the stewards! Replay again, the car in front checks up and Jerome just drives by and off course. He pits and shuts down the engine – looks like a straight black flag and not a time penalty!

8mins – Replay of Al Fardan running wide at turn one, same way Rodriguez did.

Perez vs Gonzalez – Perez makes the pass through turns 1 and 2 but loses out at the switchback, he makes it stick a few corners later.

5mins – Nunes sets Fastest Lap. The guys are talking about setups, some of those who have gone for dry or intermediate setups should be getting faster than the guys with wet setups now.

2m30s – Parente is now fastest. Kobayashi is pressuring Al Fardan for 4th, he’s closed up but doesn’t seem to be able to make the move.

The clock hits zero, last lap.

Vitaly Petrov wins!

Kobayashi and Perez cross the line side-by-side!! Who got it? How did Perez get up to Kobayashi?
Replays: Perez gets the position by half a nose! Fantastic, and it was the final points place as well..

Result:
1 Petrov (Campos) 22 laps
2 Maldonado (ART) +2.91s
3 Valsecchi (Durango) +4.34s
4 Nunes (Piquet GP) +6.36s
5 Al Fardan (iSport) +21.54s
6 Perez (Campos) +24.49s

Summary:
A drying race track saw some desparate moves, some worked and some didn’t and it was fun to watch both those and the struggles to control the cars on the slippery surface.

POINTS:
1 Kobayashi 47
2 Valsecchi 34
3 Petrov 28
4 Hulkenberg 27
5 Rodriguez 27
6 Perez 26

Next up is final round of this GP2 Asia season supporting the Bahrain GP, and with 22 points available for two wins and two fastest laps it isn’t over yet.