Mar.27 (James Rossi) We take a look at the winners and the losers after an drama packed Malaysian Grand Prix at a rain drenched Sepang circuit, where we witnessed a gritty performance by a wily double world champion, a remarkable drive by a young upstart and, of course, everything in between.
Malaysian race fans: After a rain-cancelled 2009 event, the regrettable cancellation of last year’s MotoGP race and the red-flag of yesterday, those who shelled out their hard earned Ringgits may have been feeling rather short-changed. Instead, they were treated to a wonderful spectacle and the emergence of yet another potentially great racing driver in the form of Sergio Perez. Whilst Malaysian backed Mercedes fell back, and Malaysian owned Caterham made no inroads into the midfield, it was a great day for F1 racing.
Sergio Perez: The only surprise with the Mexican’s performance was that so many people were surprised. In GP2, he showed his quality with five wins enroute to the runner’s up position in 2010. In his short spell in F1, he has proved to be a smooth, yet rapid driver. The Malaysian Grand Prix of 2012 should really have been won by Sergio Perez; that he was warned as to his current position, that he was brought in by his team a lap too late for the switch to slicks, all point to a team that suffer nosebleeds above fifth or sixth position. In the end, it was Perez’ own mistake that cost him the race. Regardless, a fantastic result.
Fernando Alonso: In keeping with last week’s Alonso format, the usual script. Mixed conditions. Adaptation necessary. Cool head and right strategy calls. There’s only one winner, isn’t there?
Bruno Senna & Lewis Hamilton: In Melbourne, both drivers fell short of expectations. Hamilton went backwards, was outpaced and looked glum. Senna’s race was messy, he was outpaced, and generally forgotten in the midst of Maldonado’s run towards 6th, and eventually the barrier.
However, both drivers drove solidly and bounced back from mediocre races just seven days earlier. Senna’s climb through the field was majestic, finding grip on badly worn intermediates when others could not. Hamilton on the other hand seems to have reverted to his 2007 self – slowly picking up podiums, not getting into trouble, and being consistent. The same cannot be said of team mate Button, who inexplicably suffered from a moment of brain fade as he careered into the side of the hapless Narain Karthikeyan. Usually one of the most adept at judging conditions, Button’s race was ruined on this occasion by his inability to judge the track surface.
Hamilton has learnt from his post-race demeanour in Australia (or has been given a lengthy PR briefing), and looked content with his podium finish. If he keeps this solid consistency up, driver stereotypes might just have to be rewritten.
Sebastian Vettel: Well, well, well. How very Lewis Hamilton circa 2011-esque. Despite actually running ahead of his team mate and looking on course for a helpful haul of points, Vettel’s Malaysian race did not show the mark of a champion. He was not generally fast, whereas Webber’s average laps over the race were among the fastest.
He also dropped back in the wettest of conditions, whereas Webber and those ahead managed to build a small gap to him. Finally, his incident with Karthikeyan was a mess from start to finish. The Indian was at fault, and duly received an inconsequential penalty, considering the machinery he has at his disposal. However, on one of the widest circuits in the calendar, last year’s world champion decided to leave the HRT driver, and a known liability with blue flags, just one car length of room by the side of the track.
To then repeatedly insult Karthikeyan, proceed down the back straight with his foot flat to the floor, spreading tyre rubber across the track, and label his afternoon’s nemesis as an “idiot”, smacks of somebody feeling the pressure. Has he learnt from 2010? Considering yesterday’s behaviour, perhaps not. This season will be very telling for the legacy of Sebastian Vettel as either a great, humble champion (note Button’s apology to Karthikeyan), or a fast but fragile man-child.
Mercedes: Where does their pace go? Is the ‘Super DRS’ a hindrance to them over a race distance? In Australia, their cars qualified P4 and P7. In Malaysia, P3 and P8. They leave both events with one point, and those points were gained through the retirements of two competitors ahead.
Although Michael Schumacher was involved in a first lap incident with Romain Grosjean, it’s debatable whether or not he would have held onto his position in the top three. Alonso, Perez, Hamilton and Webber all posted faster average times throughout the race, and it wasn’t until the last stint on dry tyres where Rosberg managed to match a disinterested and non-points scoring Button in the McLaren.
There hasn’t been this much promise without delivering since every Real Madrid team of the last decade.
Conspiracy theorists: The biggest loser(s) shall be saved for last. Those who steadfastly claim that Sauber and Ferrari colluded to ensure a victory for the Maranello squad. Those who are sure in their conviction that a stand-alone, privateer team who were about to get the best result in their history in that form, would rather risk not finishing the race than upset their engine suppliers. Such ignorance and idiocy is incomprehensible.
Known as having an ultra-smooth driving style, the young Sergio Perez had been belting round in an effort to catch and pass fellow Spanish speaking rival, Fernando Alonso. When you’re chasing a double world champion for victory, in damp conditions, AND you’re 22 years old, small mistakes such as the one that befell the Mexican can and do happen.
If we are going to go down the route of such unlikely collusion between teams and suppliers in such circumstances, we will end up losing sight of the fact that F1 is not a sport for the red-tops and tabloid hysteria. It is the cutting edge of technology, housing some of the world’s most intelligent and creative designers, engineers and skilled drivers. Mistakes happen, and such ridiculous assumptions should be left for the wet behind the ears and fair-weather fans and commentators.