The state of play after Sepang

For my thoughts on the issues surrounding the suspension of the Malaysian Grand Prix, see my post on F1 Fanatic: Unravelling the mayhem in Malaysia.

Here is a quick look at some of the stand-out talking points as I see them.

First of all, the “Brawn supremacy” is not quite as extreme as it seemed in Melbourne. Most observers posited that Brawn had extra pace in the bag in Australia. That may have been the case, but it seemed to almost evaporate in Malaysia.

The Achilles’ heel of the car appears to be its starts. After Rubens Barrichello’s anti-stall kicked in at the start in Australia, Jenson Button suffered from a sluggish getaway in Sepang. We have also seen a number of slow getaways from pitstops. Presumably this is a consequence of the late change of engine supplier. It could be important for Brawn because until the first set of pitstops Jenson Button had to make do with 3rd place when he seemed to have a car capable of winning.

In such a situation it helps for the boss of your team to be a renowned master tactician. After the race, Barrichello bemoaned “strange tyre choices” that thwarted his race. But Button banging in a couple of scintillating laps in clean air just before his pitstop to allow him to leapfrog to the front was pure Brawn. It was very reminiscent of the Schumacher days.

Schumacher himself wasn’t performing so well on the Ferrari pit wall. Rumour has it that he was the person who made the decision to put Kimi Räikkönen on wet tyres while the circuit was still bone dry. By the time the rain came, the furious Finn was on the radio: “my tyres are completely destroyed!!”

To rub salt in the wounds, it seems as though the Ferrari car is generally underperforming. They don’t seem to be in as bad a position as McLaren, but they are not much better. Now the teams to watch are Brawn, Toyota, Red Bull and maybe Williams. Ferrari need to improve and quick.

It would take a heart of stone not to be amused by the fact that Ferrari are currently bottom of the Constructors’ Championship, behind even Force India. Given that McLaren are supposed to be the team in the doldrums, it’s amazing that Ferrari have fouled up the start of this season so badly.

If McLaren hadn’t gone into self-destruct mode, they would have 6 (or 7) points and be lying 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship! Putting aside the unsavoury events in the stewards’ office, you have to pay tribute to Lewis Hamilton’s ability to get on with the job. By all accounts, the McLaren car is a shithouse, but the World Champion is doing a creditable job with it, especially when you consider the storm that currently surrounds him.

Hamilton had a spirited battle with Mark Webber. The Australian’s Red Bull was clearly superior in the wet (and it was such a joy to watch too!), but Hamilton was able to use kers to great effect, providing a good spectacle for the viewers for a lap or two. That is one good side of the introduction of kers, but the effect would be neutralised if all the cars were to run it.

Toyota are looking like major contenders now. I have to say I am beginning to feel like a massive pillock for writing them off back in January. Glock was another driver who benefited from an excellent strategy in Sepang, and it has to be said he did a great job ploughing through the field, maximising his advantage as one of the only drivers on intermediate tyres. I haven’t taken much notice of Glock before, but maybe it’s time to start paying attention.

Nick Heidfeld also had a good strategy, pitting just once. He spent more time on the racetrack, meaning that he finished the race in 2nd place. He didn’t actually have all that good a race though. He fell off the island while under pressure from Sebastian Vettel and allowed Hamilton through in the process too. After that he was in 11th place. In a way, though, that makes his progression all the way back up to 2nd all the more commendable.

More ominously, for a BMW supporter like me, Robert Kubica had to retire after just one lap with engine trouble. BMW may be 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship, but it is quite a distant 3rd. The first two races have not brought much cheer for BMW. Fingers crossed it is just a blip and the team will get it together.

Williams were promising, and it was notable that Nico Rosberg led the race for a considerable portion — on merit. It looks as though, if ever Williams have a chance to become front-runners again, it is this year. I sense that their drivers don’t have the talent to feel the heat at the sharp end of the field though. Looking at the lap chart, it is clear that Rosberg suffered more than most when the rain came down.

All-in-all, despite the curtailment of the race, I think the Malaysian Grand Prix was an absolute cracker. Brawn’s advantage appears to be slipping away, and the teams snapping at their heels are not the usual suspects. This is what we endure years of Ferrari dominance for. 😀

10 comments

  1. And again you forgot Renault and the best driver of the grid: A magnificent start from ALO that was ruined by the poor performance of the car and a mistake of the driver.
    By the way, the best image of the race was Kimi eating and ice cream while the others where ready to drive. Kimi seems to be so out of focus that I am starting to be afraid of him.

  2. Ponzonha, Thanks for bringing up Alonso. I had forgotten to include him until after I had published the post. I guess the reason I am not mentioning him is because he is performing exactly as I expected. We know the Renault car is underperforming, but Alonso is as good as ever.

    You have to wonder about Kimi. Clearly the focus still isn’t quite there. First the crash in Melbourne, now the indifference at Sepang.

  3. I really think that BGP is more than a step beyond their competitors. They were able to slow down their pace in Melbourne and easily score a first/second; they also won the last race stopping no less than four times. I don’t see their relatively poor performance at starts as a big problem for them: they can easily recover the head of the race thanks to strategy, and also thanks to the fact that their car is so good they can load it with a lot more of fuel than everyone around the pole position. I clearly see the first part of the Championship as a child game for them, if they don’t do silly mistakes, and you can expect that from a team lead by Ross Brawn.

  4. Can, thanks for your comment. I think the biggest advantage of the Brawn seems to be its management of tyres. This will help exploit their other strong point, by being able to try unusual strategies by making the car very heavy with fuel.

  5. I notice that Brundle has been taking note of your twitter updates, Vee. His blog entry on the BBC f1 site mentions clause 5.3 of the regulations.

    He doesn’t mention the fact that he was wrong though 😉

    How is Kimi viewed by the Tifosi? His apparent indifference at driving for Ferrari (and sometimes in F1) annoys even me (and I am not a Ferrari fan). We know the guy is quick, and can produce some stunning drives, but sometimes he just looks like he can’t be bothered if he’s not winning. We laughed at Massa’s ability in the Silverstone rain a couple of years ago, but at least the guy was trying to push, and has eventually come out as a more respected driver.

  6. I think Kimi has let a lot of people down. Most people find Massa likeable and competent now. Kimi is fast but lazy. I guess it’s easy to say which of the drivers the Tifosi prefer in general.

    I seem to remember that the Tifosi were lukewarm towards Kimi even in 2007. That was until he won the World Championship of course. 😉

  7. We do not know all the facts about Kimi and his apparent indifference after Sepang. I have heard that the deluge had effected the KERS so the car was not going to restart anyway.

  8. “I haven’t taken much notice of Glock before, but maybe it’s time to start paying attention.”

    My belief is that like Robert was the revelation of 2008, Timo will be for 2009. He may not always be as fast as Jarno but he has some of the race-consistency and cleverness of Heidfeld but is much more hungry for scoring points (e.g. his overtake of Alonso at Melbourne).

  9. Hi Rich, thanks for your comments.

    I did think there must have been some kind of issue with Kimi’s car, otherwise there would surely be no way Ferrari would let him go about the place eating ice cream.

    Let’s see if you’re right about Glock. You could well be.