Archive: Sepang International Circuit

It is awful that, less than a week after the death of Dan Wheldon, another major motorsport star has been killed during a race.

Unlike IndyCar, I follow MotoGP quite closely and I have watched all of the races this year. I was a big fan of Marco Simoncelli. For me, Marco Simoncelli was the clear stand-out rider in a MotoGP series that is not as exciting as it once was.

Simoncelli had his critics. Some thought he was too aggressive. It is perhaps true that sometimes he stepped beyond the line. But he was still young. As this year progressed he was beginning to become a more measured rider — and he was no less exciting for it.

Simoncelli has single-handedly saved a few dull MotoGP races by actually doing extraordinary, exciting things. His talent was clear for all to see, and I personally thought he would become a World Champion in the future.

Sadly the journey came to an end today. What is especially sad is that in the lap or so up to his fatal accident, he was demonstrating exactly what made him such a wonderful spectacle in a brilliant ding-dong battle with Alvaro Bautista.

Thoughts must also go out to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who collided with Marco Simoncelli. It must be an unimaginably awful experience.

It is always a hair-raising experience watching motorcycles race. It is clearly an especially dangerous form of motorsport. As we see time and again, when control is lost, a bike can go anywhere. Worse still, a rider can go anywhere too. It is always a heart-stopping moment when a rider goes down in the middle of the circuit as opposed to a run-off area.

The skill and bravery of motorcycle racers is one of the things that makes it such a draw. But today, there was another reminder that the quest for more safety can never stop.

Thanks for entertaining us, Marco Simoncelli.

For a change, the FIA handed out a sensible punishment. I think for what McLaren did, to be banned from any races would have been too much. At the same time, a three race suspended ban reflects the fact that McLaren really should not get caught doing this sort of thing again. I called for the FIA to deal with the situation in a fair manner, and I think they have done so. For once, the FIA made a sensible decision!

Where it starts to stink, though, is in the FIA’s justification for why the punishment was not too lenient. James Allen, among many others, noted how the departure of Ron Dennis appears to have paved the way for this relatively light sentence.

FIA president Max Mosley saw no need to labour the point on this matter and said he was satisfied that a real and lasting change had been made at McLaren with the departure of Dennis and the appointment of a new chairman, a captain of industry, Richard Lapthorne.

Mosley said, “In the end there were decisions taken by the people who are no longer involved. That being the case, it would have been unfair to go on with the matter.

“We think it’s entirely fair. They’ve demonstrated there’s a complete culture change and under those circumstances it’s better to put the whole thing behind us.

“Unless they do something similar, that’s the end of the matter.”

Mosley suggested that the decision to lie to the stewards in Melbourne and to continue the deceit in Malaysia was down to sporting director Dave Ryan and implied that the FIA felt Dennis had been involved. Although Whitmarsh told journalists in Malaysia that no-one more senior than Ryan had been involved in the matter and Dennis strenously denied that his decision to move away from the race team had anything to do with the case, the implication in Mosley’s words is that he feels he was involved.

This kind of sums up the relationship the FIA appears to have with McLaren and Ron Dennis. Even though there is no real evidence that Ron Dennis was remotely involved in the decision of Dave Ryan and Lewis Hamilton to lie to the stewards, Mosley had a hunch, and that’s enough apparently. But with Ron Dennis gone, there’s no need to “labour the point” any more, so there is no ONE HUNDRED MEELION DOLLARS fine this time round.

If you ask me, there is far more of a sense that Martin Whitmarsh knew more about this issue than he let on. And how Ron Dennis could have been so heavily involved is beyond me. He wasn’t even present at Sepang, so how on earth could he have manipulated the situation as it unfolded there?

As for a culture change, don’t get me started. It’s bad enough that the FIA have managed to delude themselves that they can somehow tell how much money all the teams will be spending from next year onwards. But now they are also apparently auditors of culture too! Do they have spies within McLaren keeping track of the culture all the time? And how the hell does a culture change so “completely” within one month anyway?

As if you needed further proof that the FIA were basically on a Ron Dennis witch-hunt for the past several years, Max Mosley added these choice words:

Martin Whitmarsh made a very good impression. He’s straightforward and wants to work with us. We’re all trying to do the same thing, which is make the championship successful. Martin fully understands that and we reacted accordingly.

In other words, Martin Whitmarsh is more likely to accede to the FIA’s bully-boy tactics, while Ron Dennis was more willing to stand up to the FIA. And I have to say that Ron Dennis seemed much more closely aligned to the fans than Max Mosley ever does. A bit of the sport died when Ron Dennis left. But the FIA are now rubbing their hands with glee.

I only hope that Fota turns out to have the will power to stand up to the FIA for the good of the sport. In the meantime, the FIA will do everything in their power to break the partnership down. They scored a major victory by finally getting rid of Ron Dennis.

This is no way to run a sport. When is Max Mosley going to be put up before the WMSC for bringing the sport into disrepute? Because he has brought it into disrepute a thousand times more than Ron Dennis ever did.

Brawn GP have had about a month in the spotlight. With their Lazarus-like rebirth, their fairytale Melbourne victory and the diffuser controversy, no-one has been able to stop talking about them. The dominance of their performance in Melbourne led many to suspect that Brawn would have at least the first few races completely wrapped up.

But already in Sepang there were signs that the Brawn supremacy was not quite as large as it had seemed. Although Jenson Button won the race, Rubens Barrichello rued his 4th place finish. Then in China Brawn had to make do with a 3-4 rather than the 1-2 they will have been aiming for.

It is easy to write this off as a temporary blip. The Red Bull is clearly an awesome car in the wet. We saw this also in Sepang, when Mark Webber absolutely flew once it started to rain. This has been a trait of Red Bull cars for a few years now, and it even continues in spite of the radical changes to the technical regulations this year.

Fuel-corrected qualifying times show that Brawn still had the advantage over one lap in the dry. But nonetheless, Red Bull’s pace must be giving Brawn cause for concern. The car is also nifty in the dry, as we saw in Melbourne where Sebastian Vettel was running in 2nd for almost the entire race until his crash with Robert Kubica.

What’s more, Red Bull are now hard at work creating a double diffuser which will probably be on the car come Monaco or Turkey. There is already a question mark over whether Brawn will have the resources to continue to develop the car. Red Bull have a big area that they still haven’t exploited, yet they are already in a position to win races.

So congratulations to Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. What a transformation from last year’s damp squib. To think that there were rumours that Christian Horner was going to get the sack. Not any more!

Red Bull are among the most likeable teams, and Seb and Mark are two charismatic drivers. It has been noted before that this year’s press conferences are much better now that there are personable, chatty drivers finishing in the top three.

At the opposite end of the grid, an equally novel presence — Ferrari. Although the Scuderia can seek solace from the fact that Massa was running quite well until his retirement, the fact is that Ferrari are currently dogged by reliability problems and are not in a position to win races, never mind the championship. Now they have failed to score a point, though they have at least leapfrogged Force India. Nonetheless, this their worst start to the season since 1980. Ominously, that was the start of a 21 year long Championship drought for Ferrari.

Once again I must make the point that this makes McLaren look as though they are having a great season. Lewis Hamilton was racy in the first half of the race in China, no doubt using his kers to good effect. But later on he dropped off, constantly falling off track and spinning. This seems to be a return of his trait of poor tyre management.

In the end, the steadier Heikki Kovalainen leapfrogged him while he was off-track — the icing on the cake of a lacklustre race for Hamilton. 4th in the Constructors’ Championship is not quite the unmitigated disaster this season promised to be for McLaren. It seems as though the car is dire over one lap, but its race pace is not so bad.

One of the teams that McLaren has unexpectedly outshone so far is Renault. I feel deeply sorry for the way Alonso’s race unfolded. Renault opted for a bold and aggressive strategy by filling Alonso light. But this unravelled as the race was — unnecessarily, in my view — started behind the safety car.

This gave Alonso no chance to build up a gap as intended. Indeed, matters were compounded by the fact that Alonso took a pit stop at just the wrong time. This meant that effectively Alonso started the race from the back, rather than second as intended. The fact that Alonso made it back up to 9th by the end of the race is to be applauded.

Alonso’s team mate Nelsinho Piquet provided an excellent demonstration of just why he is not Formula 1 material. It is difficult to guess which F1 driver will get the sack first. There are two other prime candidates in my view.

First is Giancarlo Fisichella, who rumour has it is beginning to try the patience of the Force India team. Fisichella has been largely anonymous so far this season, apart from the moment where he forgot where his pit box was, to much embarrassment. In comparison, Adrian Sutil was running a highly credible 6th on merit when he aquaplaned off the circuit in Shanghai. Had he finished, it would have caused major embarrassment for Ferrari, who would have been the only team yet to score a point.

The third driver who must be hoping to improve soon is Sébastien Bourdais. I thought he should have been given another year to properly assess his abilities. The Frenchman promised he would be better on slicks. Well, now we have slicks — and he has failed to up his game.

He is being totally outclassed by this season’s only rookie, Sébastien Buemi. He showed moments of serious talent in Shanghai, including a bold overtaking move on Kimi Räikkönen. In the end, Buemi could not stop himself from having the occasional off, but he still managed to finish 8th.

Not many suspected that Buemi would be a star of F1 based on his GP2 performances. Mike Gascoyne (who, incidentally, was excellent on the BBC this weekend — could he be our Steve Matchett?) said something to this effect. I was first seriously impressed by Buemi after watching him in last year’s GP2 sprint race at Magny Cours. During that race he ploughed his way through the field, making Bruno Senna look a bit ordinary. That was also a wet race. Is Buemi therefore a wet weather specialist, not unlike his fellow Red Bull protégé Vettel?

Final word — what on earth happened to Toyota’s pace? And Williams for that matter. So much for the advantages of the double decker diffuser!