It has been told to me a number of times that the third race is usually the first “actual” race of the season. A time where we start to see clearly where the teams stack up against each other. Sepang would be this third race and I was able to pull away some interesting ideas while also gathering a clear understanding of who the real contenders would be.
Red Bull Racing used this weekend to put on yet another clinic. This time they were able to get the job done. Sebastian Vettel is just looking unstoppable this season. The young German made quick work of his teammate Mark Webber in turn 1 lap 1 and never looked back. One of the things I noted this week was that after a strong start where both cars pulled away as has been traditional, Vettel seemed to let off a little. One of the points I had made leading up to this week was perhaps young Vettel was too hard on his equipment. This week it looked as though Vettel was not trying to run the car into the ground and actual conserved it. Perhaps a lesson learned from the last two rounds where he was not as lucky. I chalked it up to having a veteran like Webber on the team who usually crosses the line and keeps the car in good shape. Speaking of the Aussie, what a good weekend after all that had transpired at his home event. Webber was glued to the back of his teammate for most of the race. He was clearly not out of sight, but was out of mind. Great finish and a much needed boost to Red Bull’s manufacturer title aspirations.
My drive of the race was a split award really this week. Lewis Hamilton drove a phenomenal race and actually shut up this weekend. I like to watch Lewis drive through the pack like that because the guy can pass. I usually never defend or cheer for him, but I really liked what I saw this weekend. A positive reinforcement after the trouble in Australia. He would not be the only one who grabbed my attention however. Fernando Alonso put on what has to be called one of the best drives of his career. We are no stranger to Alonso taking a pig of a car and making magic, but his Ferrari was on its last note all day long and the Spaniard did an awesome job conserving it and even challenging faster drivers for position late in the race. It was later discovered that Alonso had actually been racing without a clutch for most of the event. He did a brilliant drive all day and only when he forced the issue with Jenson did the engine finally retire. The interesting thing about all of this is the fact that Fred only has 7 engines left for 16 races. The thing is that Ferrari are also still concerned with their reliability, which means this may or may not be the last we hear from the broken gearbox.
The new cars and drivers were pushed to the front this event after the nightmare that was qualifying. The best news story from the Cosworth end of the grid in my opinion was the fact that both HRT cars crossed the line! A team that was all but thought to be out of the championship a month or so ago has finally finished a race with both machines. The impressive part about this was the amount of practice laps and what not that the team actually completed. The HRT cars worked harder than most of the machines on the grid and I am happy to see them rewarded for their hard work. The Lotus guys could have had a better weekend in front of their home crowd, but it was not to be. A few silly collisions and mechanical issues would see both drivers suffer. The car did show some impressive pace during the qualifying session. Heikki even made it into Q2 after all the buffoonery committed by the top two teams.
One thing that we did have this weekend was the test for the new stewards panel for penalties. As we remember from the off season, there would now be drivers sitting in on the steward panel and this event would prove itself this weekend. Both Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were investigated for actions on track during the Malaysian Grand Prix. Vettel for overtaking the Lotus of Jarno Trulli and Hamilton for his ridiculous blocking moves on Russian F1 debutant Vitaly Petrov. In both cases the drivers were handed warnings and sent on their way. A far cry from the extreme and sometimes random 25 second penalties that we are all used to. It was thought that by having a driver in the stewards panel, the decisions could be made from a guy who was on track before and had a clear understanding of the chaos that goes on during the course of the event. While Vettel deserved a warning for his actions (granted the Lotus was in trouble), Lewis Hamilton deserved a penalty. His driving was reckless and put both competitors in danger. You are allowed to make two blocking moves and then you must yield. Hamilton was swerving like a mad man during this stretch and I think he should consider himself rather lucky that all he got was a warning. I appreciate the stewards not being over the top, but there is a fine line and I think that line was clearly crossed by Hammy’s blocking.
All in all I thought the race was absolutely awesome for a Tilke circuit. Rain still had a little to say about the outcome, but the race itself was dry and there was still some passing in mid pack that awesome. The byproduct of the rainy qualifying has me thinking though. What if we just invert the grid? Use the qualifying sessions as extra test sessions that we don’t have at all during the year and then invert the grid according to championship standings? As we seen this weekend, even on a Tilke circuit it can yield a very interesting race. I think it would be tough to manipulate the system too. Given the points change this season, it would be tough for a team to lay back and allow smaller teams to win because of the big gap that may occur. That gap teamed with the chance you could suffer reliability issues would nearly force the big teams to the back and make them display driver skill as they work around some of the smaller teams. Which we also found out this week is not so easy when stuck behind a Torro Rosso. What do you all think? Should we invert the grid or should we do what Bernie says and have the grid girls drawl starting spots? Is this a potential solution to our current predicament?
The next race will be in two weeks time from Shanghai China. If you remember nothing else about the Chinese Grand Prix, always remember WORLD EXPO 2010!!!
Beautiful Hi-Res shots are from Paul Tan. Make sure to click the link to see his site and amazing photography.