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Vettel marches on

Posted by Carrot on April 10, 2011 | No Comments

Even with a broken KERS unit, Sebastian Vettel again won from pole in the second race of the season to extend his lead at the top of the standings. The forecast rain never really materialised in Malaysia and the reigning World Champion effortlessly moved his title ambitions forward.

Vettel led all but two laps of the race, including the most important last lap, and thereby claimed maximum points from the two races this year. It gives the young German a lead of more than a race win over everyone else except second place man Jenson Button. It’s worth bearing in mind that he managed to win this second race without KERS for a significant portion of the race, the system malfunctioned partway through the race forcing him to drive with all of the disadvantages of the KERS and without any of the benefits. Team mate Mark Webber had a better race than he did in Australia, even with the disastrous start he had due to a complete failure on his KERS unit. Smart race strategy in making the four stop race plan work enabled the Aussie to finish fourth, though a couple more laps would have seen him on the podium.

Things were somewhat different at McLaren for Lewis Hamilton. His blistering pace to challenge Vettel for pole position came back to bite him as he was forced to make one more pit stop than Vettel and team mate Button that left him off the pace and down the order come the finish. Contact with Fernando Alonso and the post-race punishment from the stewards meant the 2008 World Champion finished eighth. In Australia Hamilton said that it was a myth that he was harder on his tyres than Button, he certainly failed to dispel that myth in Malaysia. Button’s race ended a lot better, taking second and the haul of points that comes with the second step on the podium. Button drove a smart race, conserving his tyres by running conservative lap times during certain portions of the race in order to stretch the Pirelli rubber to the end. Given Hamilton’s woes it was definitely the smart decision. McLaren were much closer to Red Bull this race, even without significant development due to the lack of opportunity to return the cars to base. The slightest positive development or design misstep in design is going to decide the pecking order between these teams.

Another race, another Renault on the podium. This race it was Nick Heidfeld, who had conquered the woes he suffered in Australia and out-qualify his team mate and bring the car home for the final podium position. Vitaly Petrov had a memorable race. Going off the circuit, the young Russian gave the car a boot full of power to get back to the tarmac and went airborne. The impact was so hard that it shattered the steering column of the Renault, ultimately causing his retirement. This season only three teams have finished on the podium, while Red Bull and McLaren are expected, Renault aren’t, especially given Ferrari’s pace in pre-season testing. Although Ferrari currently hold third in the standings, this is largely because both of their cars have been finishing in the points and Renault haven’t been managing this. Should Renault get their act together and maintain relative development then Ferrari could be in for a massive fight for third this year, and it’s a fight they could lose.

Speaking of the Scuderia, Felipe Massa managed to beat his team mate to the line, finishing fifth to Alonso’s sixth. This seems like a great result for Massa, until you look at the numbers. He finished just over 20 seconds ahead of his team mate, and when you realise that Alonso had 20 seconds added due to his collision with Hamilton and that the Spaniard lost time getting round most of a lap with a broken wing and had to make an extra pit stop to replace the wing, it’s not impressive at all. We did see some flashes of the old Massa this race, particularly at the start, but in comparison to his team mate he’s really under-performing in that car. This fact isn’t going to be lost on Ferrari management when they assess their driver line-up later in the year, and remember this is the team that happily threw out Kimi Raikkonen even though he was the only one able to drive their car fast at the time. Alonso had the better race for the team except for the one mistake with Hamilton that cost him hugely. On the subject of the penalty, I don’t understand the logic of punishing both drivers. Either it was Hamilton brake testing Alonso, or it was Alonso causing an avoidable collision, I don’t see how you can find fault with both competitors at the same time. Especially since anyone with half a clue watching that could see it was the very definition of a racing incident.

Rounding out the points positions were Kamui Kobayashi, making up for Sauber’s double disqualification in Australia with some respectable points, Michael Schumacher, bringing home Mercedes GP’s first points of the season with ninth and Paul di Resta, scoring for the second race in a row, outperforming his highly rated team mate in the race and out-qualifying him for the second race as well.

Malaysia has shown us quite clearly that the new toys, KERS and DRS, are still fragile. Failures of KERS on both Red Bulls as well as Alonso’s DRS show that these new technologies can’t be taken for granted. With the majority of reliability problems virtually non-existent for the established team (compared to the mid 90s), these failings are going to be a cause for concern for the teams and mean a lot more money is going to poured into the black hole that is the development budget. Anyone remember how much cheaper the hole in the bodywork that was the F-duct was?

Now the drivers are getting used to the new DRS, Malaysia was the first indication of the ways that it’s going to be exploited this year. Jenson Button’s post-race interview was very revealing where he said that he thought Petrov was deliberately slowing around the activation threshold to deny Button the chance to use it and gain the benefit himself. Whether this was the case or not, when combined with defensive driving and the one line nature of some corners due to the massive degradation of the new tyres could mean this might turn into a real tactic this year.

A potentially dangerous development came from Button’s observation that the frontrunners were aiming to stay close to cars they were lapping in the activation zone in order to gain the benefit of the system down the straight in addition to the obligation of the back markers not to impede them. Simply put, this is dangerous. You don’t want a situation where faster cars are running closer to slower cars with longer braking distances in order to take advantage of an FIA system. Anyone remember what happened between Heikki Kovalainen and Mark Webber in Valencia last year? The FIA needs to alter the system immediately so that you only gain the benefit if the car ahead is one you are racing for position. Otherwise there’s a good chance that leading cars are going to be getting close to slower cars that are trying to get out of the way and this will lead to serious incidents.

And just like that, Malaysia is over. The second race is finished, and the first with a full grid after Hispania managed to make the 107% cut this time, and we’re off again. Only a week’s break this time, all the team gear will be in China by Tuesday to be set up again for next weekend’s race. China has the longest straight in F1, Red Bull have only a few days to solve their KERS issues or risk being mugged off the start like Webber was today. See you then.

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  • Drivers Championship 2013

    1 Kimi Raikkonen 25
    2 Fernando Alonso 18
    3 Sebastian Vettel 15
    4 Felipe Massa 12
    5 Lewis Hamilton 10
    6 Mark Webber 8
    7 Adrian Sutil 6
    8 Paul Di Resta 4
    9 Jenson Button 2
    10 Romain Grosjean 1

  • Constructors Championship 2013

    1 Ferrari 30
    2 Lotus 26
    3 Red Bull 23
    4 Mercedes 10
    5 Force India 10
    6 McLaren 2
    7 Toro Rosso 0
    8 Sauber 0
    9 Williams 0
    10 Marussia 0
    11 Caterham 0