High excitement at Malaysian Grand Prix as Pirelli tyres prove decisive
For the second race in succession, Red Bull’s reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel has converted pole position to a win on Pirelli tyres. Tyre strategy proved crucial to the race, with the drivers who best looked after their tyres in the punishing conditions of Malaysia being rewarded with the top positions. Just like the opening grand prix of the year in Australia, McLaren was second and Lotus Renault was third – but this time it was thanks to Jenson Button and Nick Heidfeld, who went from Pirelli test driver to podium finisher in less than six months.
Before the start of the race, which started with 35 degrees centigrade of track temperature and 29 degrees centigrade ambient, Button predicted: “I think it will be a very exciting race with the tyres that we have.”
The Englishman was proved right, as the second race of Pirelli’s three-year Formula One agreement provided plenty of action and overtaking from beginning to end. The podium was not decided until the very final lap, with Vettel winning by just over three seconds while Heidfeld just managed to hold off fourth-placed Mark Webber.
The top three finishers all selected a similar three-stop strategy, running the soft tyre for the first two stints before switching to the hard tyre for the final stint. Button conserved his rubber to maximum effect, running to the end of the race on the hard tyre following his final stop on lap 38.
Heidfeld was also able to showcase his tyre management skills, using hard tyres that had covered 18 laps to fend off Mark Webber’s Red Bull, which stopped four times. Heidfeld consequently stood on the podium for the first time since the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2009.
Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi was the top finisher to complete the race on just two stops, making the hard tyre last for 20 laps following his switch from the soft tyres on lap 36. The Japanese driver finished eighth, picking up his first points of the year.
All the drivers started the race on the soft tyres. Despite some intermittent spots of rain, conditions remained dry: allowing the PZero tyres to demonstrate their performance.
As well as a close finish, the race was characterised by plenty of overtaking including some spectacular battles between Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button on lap 17, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa on lap 27, and Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso on lap 45.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery said: “If we thought the Australian Grand Prix was good, then Malaysia was something else! Thankfully the weather stayed dry, which meant that we were able to see our tyres performing without the rain factor. The Malaysian Grand Prix turned into a battle of strategy and bravery from start to finish, where choosing the right tyres at the right time was absolutely crucial.
Particular I’d like to congratulate Nick Heidfeld who was our very first test driver
Once those vital decisions had been made, it then became a question of looking after the tyres in the best way possible, to make the choices really count in these very punishing conditions. All three drivers on the podium today were able to underline their extraordinary talents in this area, with the tyres playing a vital role in setting up a series of battles that went down to the very final lap. In particular I’d like to congratulate Nick Heidfeld who was our very first test driver when our Formula One tyres first took to the track in August last year. After such a breath-taking race though there’s no actual time to draw breath, as now we head straight to China for yet another new challenge – and hopefully just as thrilling a spectacle.”
The Chinese Grand Prix takes place next weekend at Shanghai, where Pirelli will once more supply hard and soft PZero compounds to the 12 Formula One teams.