2006 Malaysian Grand Prix

Not a very action-packed race. For a period about two thirds of the way through it looked like it was going to be one of those rare races that actually get closer towards the end, but it was not to be. I didn’t fall asleep though, so I’m becoming expert at surviving these races that are on at funny times.

I think the biggest thing to point out is how confusing qualifying is these days. Qualifying in Bahrain may have been a success, but yesterday’s session was a bit of a shambles. We had Steve Rider and Mark Blundell standing there on ITV’s coverage going on about how Michael Schumacher had been knocked out when he actually hadn’t. You could actually see the moment when Mark Blundell was told through his earpiece that Schumacher was actually still in; his face fell!

But the confusion wasn’t to end there, because there were several engine penalties. I really think this is the most idiotic rule in Formula 1 at the moment. They say that if a car breaks down 50 yards after the finish line then the car has done its job perfectly. Well, not any more. David Coulthard was given an engine penalty after his engine expired after the race. But if it blew before the chequered flag he wouldn’t have got a penalty.

Massa’s engine problems were confusing as well. We were told that he wasn’t even going to take part in qualifying because of his engine penalties. Then he did, but only in stage one — he qualified for stage two but didn’t take part in it. Why? And then there was the issue of Michael Schumacher. ITV and BBCi were both reporting that he would start 10th because of his engine penalty. I didn’t understand that. Today Martin Brundle said he asked three different Ferrari people and got three different answers — none of which ended up being correct!

Bernie and chums go on about how important it is to entertain fans during qualifying. But what is the point when nobody knows what the grid is actually going to be like until just before the race? Formula1.com has this to say:

The official provisional grid, as released by the FIA on Sunday morning, follows below. Further changes are still possible prior to the race

Ridiculous! They almost may as well determine the grid order by plucking names out of a hat. And the FIA want to have engines lasting for six races! This engine rule is meant to be a cost-cutting exercise, but at this rate everybody will be starting at the “back” of the grid, and just making as many engine changes as they want anyway. And the grid will probably end up be determined by the fastest times.

So here’s a bright idea. Why not just forget the whole engines business — and the race fuel loads while you’re at it — and let’s have the fastest drivers at the front of the grid. What a novel idea!

I can’t help wondering if some teams are actually taking advantage of the engine rules. If you’re starting from the back of the grid you can fuel heavily and have fewer pit stops. This is how the somewhat average Felipe Massa beat his seven-times World Champion team-mate from further back on the grid today. Unusually, Ferrari opted not to swap the drivers around — but it’s only a point, eh? That could come back to bite them!

It doesn’t help that with the new V8s, engines are most teams’ achille’s heel at the moment. The Ferraris seem particularly bad. I know nothing about engines, but that Ferrari engine sounds seriously rough. It cackles away. Sometimes it sounds like Michael Schumacher’s dragging along a tub that’s scraping along the ground. Both Cosworths also blew, which was a particular shame for Nico Rosberg. Nick Heidfeld was also looking good when his BMW went.

Apparently Juan Pablo Montoya’s engine wasn’t in too great nick either. That’s just as well recently, because he was looking seriously mediocre. 4th might be a respectable result, but we’ve seen what Kimi Räikkönen can do with a McLaren and he ends up making the “fiery” Montoya look quite mundane. Sometimes I wonder if Montoya has enough drive. He often seems to settle for finishing fourth or fifth rather than making that effort for a podium finish.

Rubens Barrichello was once again a disappointment. He is used to driving a car that does all the work for him, and he’s finding his new Honda hard work. Meanwhile Button is racking up the points. For the second race in a row Button has said that he could not get anything more out of the car. Clearly the Honda is not quite up there with the very best cars. And looking at the huge gap between Button and Barrichello, maybe Button is better than we thought all along? Apparently no driver who has yet to win has started so many races. That surprises me, but it just goes to show that a win from Button is overdue.

Fisichella was brilliant today though. Alonso’s qualifying fuel mishap may have gifted him the clear winning opportunity, but you don’t win a race from pole by accident. As for Alonso, my favourite moment was his move at the very start of the race. It’s one of those overtaking manoeuvres that looks like it simply should not be possible — an effortless move from nowhere around the outside of the two Williams cars. Brilliant.

Alonso’s already opened up quite a wide gap at the top of the championship standings though. I hope we don’t end up having a Renault-dominated season. The next race is another tough one for the body clock. It’s properly in the middle of the night, not merely early in the morning like today’s race was. Hopefully it will be worth getting up for.

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