This Malaysian weather gods didn't deliver their promises, the predicted heavy rains never arrived at the circuit, it was hot and dry in Sepang, and instead of the chaos the rain was expected to cause, it became a straight forward race without any commotion. No rain and therefore no surprises, or the surprise was perhaps that Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull race car this time lasted the whole race distance, and the young German driver finally scored his first win of the season. With team mate Mark Webber finishing in second place, the Red Bull team clearly dominated the race.
Team principal Christian Horner was very pleased with the result. Horner; "It was great to see the team achieve a faultless one-two finish. Obviously we've had frustrations in the first two races, but the team has stayed focused. Both cars behaved impeccably, so it puts us right back in the Championship and gives everyone a lot of confidence." Race winner Vettel about his first win of the season: "It's a very good result for us after two races where we didn't finish where we wanted. Sitting here on Sunday afternoon after finishing in first position is the best result we can get. It's a big plus for the team and a lot of points for us, I'm very, very happy."
Red Bull Racing had very little competition, during qualifying both the McLaren and Ferrari teams made the crucial mistake of thinking the rain would subside during Q1, but it didn't, and that was a disaster for Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, who had to start from 17th and 20th position, while Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa had to start from 19th and 21st position. Force India drivers Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi didn't make such mistakes, and both drivers made it into Q3.
Pedro de la Rosa's BMW-Sauber stopped at the end of the pit lane when he wanted to join the grid, his mechanics managed to get him going again, but he didn't get very far, after a few puffs of smoke his car stopped again, and De la Rosa was out of the race before he even had started. Nine laps into the race Kamui Kobayashi encountered the same technical problem, and the BMW-Sauber team was the first team to pack their stuff to go home.
The outcome of the race was decided during the first few hundred meters after the start, Vettel overtook Nico Rosberg's Mercedes and a few moments later he overtook team colleague Webber. Vettel only lost the lead to Webber after his pit stop, but when Webber pitted one lap later he was back in first position. But with McLaren and Ferrari starting from the back of the grid, it was no surprise most of the action took place midfield, and drivers showed overtaking is still possible, even without rain.
Hamilton was already in 9th position after 5 laps, and got into a fight with Renault's Vitaly Petrov who was sometimes behind, and sometimes in front of him. Hamilton was weaving across the track to defend his position, and after the Renault team had reported this to race control, Hamilton got a warning. Two laps later Petrov pitted for new tyres, but Hamilton was now stuck behind the Force India of Adrian Sutil, and whatever he tried, he could not pass him. On lap 20 Sutil pitted for new tyres and Hamilton was able to continue his charge, and because most drivers in front of him also pitted for new tyres, he was in second position on lap 25. On lap 30 it was time for Hamilton to change tyres, and he rejoined to race in 7th position, and he was again behind Sutil. When Alonso, who was in front them, made his pit stop, the pair moved up to 5th and 6th position in which they also finished the race. Sutil showed the world what he is worth and successfully kept Hamilton behind him until the end of the race, a very impressive performance indeed.
The man of the race was without a doubt Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso. From the start of the race he had an engine and gearbox problem, which forced him to select alternative gears in slow corners. Alonso postponed his pit stop as long as possible, and after a quick stop on lap 36 he rejoined the race in 9th position behind team colleague Massa. When Massa finally overtook Button, who was in front of him, Alonso was next in line to pass Button, and despite his gearbox problems Alonso put the fasted lap times on the clocks, and managed to get close behind Button. With only three laps to go, Alonso overtook Button, but at that moment he ran out of luck. Big white clouds of smoke emerged from the back of the Ferrari and Alonso was out of the race.
Button and Massa also spiced up the race, Massa made his pit stop on lap 26, and rejoined the race behind Button, who had made his pit stop early in the race. Both drivers were now dicing for positions, and after some 'trial and error' overtaking attempts Massa finally passed Button on lap 43. Massa finished in 7th position, and Button in 8th position.
It was also a very good race for Nico Rosberg and his Mercedes team, Rosberg finished in third position and gave his team the first podium finish. Rosberg had a pretty uneventful race, he was in third position when he changed his tyres on lap 22, and a few laps later he was back in third position again, and finished only 13.5 seconds behind winner Vettel. Michael Schumacher was forced to retire after 10 laps: "It was a shame that I could not finish the race but unfortunately the wheel nut on the left rear wheel was lost. The car suddenly became very unstable in turn six and I could hardly steer and had no drive left."
Williams driver Nico H?lkenberg scored the first championship point of his career, while his team mate Rubens Barrichello had a problem at the start: "I don't know what happened at the start, I went to the back of the field. We tried a different strategy to get us back up, but our car was just not competitive. We lost a nice opportunity today." Toro Rosso drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi took 9th and 11th position, for the complete race result of the Malaysian GP, see the link at the bottom of this page.
Force India improves race by race
After Force India's first pole position and the 2nd place on the podium during the Belgium Grand Prix in 2009, the team is gradually making its way to the top of the charts. Their pole position in Belgium was not a lucky strike, and since then the team has definitely improved their performance. Although Liuzzi retired after 13 laps, Sutil showed the potential of the car by keeping Hamilton behind him during the race, and scored the team's first 10 points of the season by finishing in 5th position.
At the start Sutil lost one place to Kubica, and he admitted the rest of the race was pretty boring, only the last 20 laps, when Hamilton started to push Sutil a bit harder, it became more exiting for the German driver: "It was always very close with Lewis [Hamilton] just behind me in the closing stages, but I knew that if I didn't make any mistakes I wouldn't have any problems, so it was just trying to concentrate. I had to push, of course, but it was under control. Sutil remains optimistic for the next race: "I think we can now carry this forward to China, we are still a good top 10 competitor and we need to continue like this - Q3 and a few points each race would be great at this stage in the season."
Renault is a lot stronger than anticipated
Kubica's 4th place confirms the Renault is really not such a bad car at all, Kubica's performance was messed up in Bahrain after a first corner incident, but during the last two races the team was really up to speed. The Pole scored a 2nd place in Australia, albeit with some luck, and in Malaysia he again showed the potential of the car. He is now 7th in the championship with 30 points, only one point behind Hamilton in 6th place.
Kubica about his race: "The start of the race was really important because I managed to get ahead of Hulkenberg into Turn 1, and then I got a good exit out of Turn 2, which helped me overtake Sutil. After that I managed to build a good gap to the cars behind me, but we didn't have the pace to catch Rosberg." According to team principal Eric Boullier, Kubica works very hard and close with his engineers to get the best out of the Renault, and that is the secret of his success.
The new teams
Virgin driver Timo Glock was forced into retirement after he had hit Jarno Trulli's Lotus, Trulli was able to continue the race, but finished in 17th and last position, 5 laps behind the leader. Other Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen tried to overtake the remaining Virgin car piloted by Lucas di Grassi, but Di Grassi clipped his front wing on Kovalainen's left rear wheel, and the Finn had to limp back to the pits with a punctured tyre. He later retired due to hydraulic problems.
HRT drivers Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna both finished the race 3 and 4 laps behind the leader, not bad according to team boss Colin Kolles: "A fantastic day for the team completing our first two-car finish in only our third race, with no pre-season testing. Again we have made a great step forward. We reached our goal with two cars finishing the race."
The next important step for all three new teams will be gaining more speed, a daunting task, all newcomers have limited resources and in-season testing is not allowed.
Bridgestone tyre report
During the race the top three drivers were on a one-stop strategy, and all three started on the soft compound and changed to the harder compound during their pit stop. Bridgestone's director of tyre development Hirohide Hamashima: "Those who started with the soft tyre had to stop sooner than those who started with the hard tyre, as the soft had a shorter wear life. The hard [tyres] allowed drivers to continue pushing, as shown by Mark Webber setting the race's fastest lap on lap 53 with this hard tyre. The soft [tyres] required a more forgiving style to maintain its performance."
Teams were also able to use fresh tyre sets during the race, because they had qualified on wet weather tyres, and the fastest race laps were recorded by drivers on fresh rubber. Hamashima was content with the race: "Our compounds were able to support a variety of strategies and it was good to see the racing on track between many drivers at different times through the race, today we did not need wet weather to provide excitement on track."
FIA Stewards Report
On Friday Button was fined 600 Euro and H?lkenberg 200 Euro for speeding in the pit lane. After a request of the FIA Safety Delegate (Charlie Whiting), the stewards agreed refueling during the qualifying session should be carried out in the pit box, and not in the pit lane. On Saturday Timo Glock was fined 2200 Euro for speeding in the pit lane. And on Sunday during the race Hamilton got a warning for dangerous driving, he was weaving across the track and blocking Vitaly Petrov. Vettel overtook the Lotus of Trulli under yellow, but after examining the telemetry and hearing representatives of both teams -- and because it was obvious Trulli was slowing down because of a technical problem -- the stewards decided not to penalize Vettel.
The F-Duct: 'F'aster or just a 'F'arce?
Is Formula One's latest gadget really such an improvement? Hamilton in his F-Duct equipped McLaren was stuck behind Adrian Sutil for most of the race and Hamilton didn't seem to have the higher top speed the system supposedly has to offer him. In the first part of the race Hamilton was behind Sutil for 7 laps, and after the pit stops he was behind Sutil from lap 31 until the end of the race. The F-Duct should have given him some 6 to 8 km extra top speed on the straight. The Sepang circuit with its two almost 1 km long straights was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the advantage of the system, but it was even visible with the naked eye that the McLaren was not really faster on the straights.
Although both McLarens clocked the highest top speed at the speed trap, it does not mean they were fastest during the race as well. The fastest race laps were recorded by Webber, Alonso and Buemi, with Hamilton in fourth and Button in tenth place. The official FIA maximum speed tables show Hamilton was the fastest in Section 1, but his advantage was only marginal, his maximum speed was 289.5 km/h, with on second place Buemi with 288.8 km/h, and Alonso was third with 286.7 km/h. In Section 3, which includes the second long straight, Hamilton was in third position with 265.9 km/h, while the Ferraris of Massa and Alonso were faster and had a maximum speed of 267.7 and 266,8 km/h respectively.
The data from the first three races doesn't provide any conclusive evidence the system is a huge advantage, and perhaps even suggests the system isn't much of an overtaking tool after all. Top-notch Red Bull designer Adrian Newey is even concerned about the safety, in an interview with the Italian Gazzetta dello Sport he admitted it was an ingenious trick, but warned about the risk of losing downforce on the straights. According to Newey "the system disrupts the airflow around the rear wing, and when a driver is forced to make a sudden movement, he could lose control due to the decreased downforce".
The other teams are now working on the F-Duct design, and during the next race in China, more teams will run the system during the race, perhaps the race in China will provide us with more clues whether the system is a useful tool for overtaking or not.
See also: Malaysian GP: Race results