By: Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
- Vettel invincible once again
- Heidfeld surprises with 3rd place
- Hamilton and Alonso penalised
- Eight drivers retired from the race
The reigning Formula One World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, was invincible once again as the second race of the season in Malaysia got underway. The German cruised his way from pole position, to pass the chequered flag as the winner. The Red Bull driver now has 12 Grand Prix victories under his belt, as a result of being 3.2secs ahead of second placeman Jenson Button. It was also a rewarding day for the newly appointed Renault driver, Nick Heidfeld. The German landed himself a third place podium finish, his first one since the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2009.
Vettel seems positive with the direction he is taking already in 2011. “I’m very pleased with today’s result. I love what I do and don’t think I could be happier at this stage. It’s been close here, so we need to keep cool and keep pushing, but the guys know this is the way forward, so I’m not worried. But for today we will enjoy it and be very proud.”
It was primarily the pit stops that meant Vettel lost the lead temporarily. However, he soon climbed his way back up to the top spot, and seemed to be running away with the lead as his lap times proved. On lap 34 Vettel set the fastest lap of the race at the time, recording 1min41.539secs on the timesheets. It was not a completely easy ride for Vettel, as his closest rivals were chasing him down little by little.
I love what I do and don’t think I could be happier at this stage
On two occasions his team mate and fourth placeman, Mark Webber set the fastest lap. On lap 37 it was through the middle sector that the Australian was ahead, and set a lap time of 1min41.423secs. Button was also on the money pace wise and was catching Vettel. The 2009 World Champion recorded a time of 1min41.388secs on lap 41, and was 31secs behind Vettel at the time. Although Webber was in seventh position with nine laps to go until the end, he recorded a lap time of 1:40.736secs.
Despite making four pit stops for tyre changes and dropping back at the start, Webber demonstrated in the sister Red Bull, that he was still on the mark in terms of pace. In the closing stages of the Grand Prix on lap 50, Webber was on the tail of Felipe Massa who was then in sixth place. On the previous lap, Webber attempted to overtake the Ferrari driver but could not quite catch him. However, on the following lap Webber showed that even without the use of his KERS, he could finally pip the Brazilian to take fifth position. On the final couple of laps of the race, Webber attempted to catch Heidfeld, who was struggling for grip, but Renault drive maintained his position.
Even though Massa lost out to Webber towards the end of the race, he had an early advantage when Webber was vulnerable on lap 22. Unlike Webber, Massa still had the use of KRS, which led him to take sixth place at the time. Massa was one place better off when he passed the chequered flag in fifth place, and finished just in front of his team mate, Fernando Alonso.
In the early stages of the race, and when it was well underway, there were lots of scraps between drivers for position. Alonso made the most of his first opportunity, when the Renault driver, Vitaly Petrov ran wide on the exit of Turn 13 into 14. Alonso seemed to be in good form, as he passed Button to take fifth place on lap 17 as well. The Spaniard’s race seemed to be going fairly smoothly until lap 45. He was fighting for position with Lewis Hamilton, who defended third place well in his McLaren. On the following lap, Alonso reported to the team that his DRS had failed, and was not able to overtake Hamilton. Alonso then took a chance to catch the Englishman in front, but this did not go according to plan.
As a result the pair touched, with Alonso’s front wing making contact with Hamilton’s right rear tyre. Alonso was forced to make a visit to the pits for a new front wing, but Hamilton’s car appeared to be unscathed. Alonso seemed concerned about the incident, and he went to see the stewards after the race. However, it was reported on lap 51 that McLaren and Hamilton were concerned, about aerodynamic damage as a result of the knock. Up until the contact with Alonso, Hamilton maintained strong grid positions in between pit stops. His pace seemed to drop slightly though, and he had to settle for a seventh place finish.
After reviewing the incident between the pair, the stewards have now come to a decision. They have penalised both drivers, with Hamilton the only one to lose his final position. As a result of changing direction more than once, to defend position from Alonso, Hamilton now drops to eighth place, and this promotes Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi to seventh position instead. Both drivers had 20 seconds taken off their final race time, with it being more of a blow to Hamilton than Alonso.
Kobayashi pulled a few of his famous feisty manoeuvres during the race, as he fought for position with Webber and the Mercedes driver, Michael Schumacher. On lap six, Webber was the first victim, as Kobayashi put his DRS to use, and gained ninth place from him. Kobayashi’s next target was Schumacher, who he chose to enable the DRS over, and consequently the Japanese driver’s gadget allowed him to take eighth place from the German.
Schumacher maintained ninth place until the end of the race though, which meant he picked up a few valuable points for himself and the team. Whereas, his fellow countryman and team mate, Nico Rosberg, was not quite so successful. He finished outside the top ten in 12th place. He seemed to have a fairly quiet race, and only appeared in the limelight when being overtaken.
On lap 40 of the race, one of the four rookies, Paul Di Resta impressed with his performance, as he was the one to deny Rosberg of 11th position at the time. He had a good result from his second race weekend, in his debut Formula One season. Not only did the Scotsman out qualified his team mate, Adrian Sutil, but also for the second race in a row, he picked up some well-deserved points for himself and Force India. Di Resta gained one point from the Australian Grand Prix, when the Sauber team were stripped of their points and disqualified. The stewards found the rear wings were bigger, by a few millimetres than they should be. Therefore, Di Resta picked up a Championship point for himself. Di Resta is pleased with the early progress, which he is making in Formula One.
“I am quite happy I must say. The team did a good job with the strategy. I just could not hold off Michael at the end, he had fresher tyres and we had to stop a bit earlier for my third stop than predicted. But I also did not want to risk the Championship point as well,” commented Di Resta. His team mate, Sutil, just missed out on the points to secure 11th position.
Sadly, it was not the best day for the Toro Rosso team. Just on lap 18 of the race when it had barely begun, Sebastian Buemi was under investigation by the stewards. He was suspected of speeding in the pits, when he went in for a tyre change. On the following lap, the stewards confirmed this was the case, and issued the Belgian with a 10 second stop and go penalty. Buemi’s Spanish team mate, Jaime Alguersuari also lost 11th position to Schumacher on lap 31. Buemi finished the better of the two though in 13th place, and Alguersuari came across the line in 14th position respectively.
As in qualifying yesterday and for much of the 2010 season, Team Lotus outperformed their closest rivals. Heikki Kovalainen was the sole Lotus to reach the end, and did so in 15th place. The Finnish driver got ahead of Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock, who was just behind in 16th position.
On lap 35, Kovalainen’s Italian team mate returned to the pits and parked up in the garage. It was reported a while later that he retired from the race, as his car suffered clutch failure.
Even though it was a Renault driver on the podium in third place like Australia, on this occasion it was not Petrov. The Russian’s race was going fairly well, until just two laps before the end. He ran wide between Turns seven and eight. His steering column appeared to have come off in his hands, and he drove over a rain gully, which saw him go up in the air slightly and landed on the grass. Before the incident occurred, Petrov was in eighth place, but rapidly dropped down the field and finished in 17th position.
Other retirees from the race in addition to Trulli, include Rubens Barrichello. The Williams driver had a miserable start to his race on lap three, when his car suffered a left rear tyre puncture. The Brazilian had to make an unexpected trip to the pits for a tyre change. He rejoined the race at the back of the field in 24th place, and did not get too much further before he retired on lap 25. It was later discovered that he had a gearbox problem.
On the very same lap that Barrichello made a swift exit, Sergio Perez also suffered the same fate. The Sauber driver’s car was hit by something that came off Buemi’s car. This caused a loss of power on Perez’s, and saw him retire from the race shortly after. The Mexican joins two of his fellow rookies, who also retired from the race. Pastor Maldonado accompanied his Williams team mate, as both of them failed to make it to the end. Jerome d’Ambrosio was also unable to complete the 56 laps in his Virgin Racing car, with it being only his second race in the sport. The final two drivers, who missed out on racing to the end, were the two Hispania Racing drivers, Vitantonio Liuzzi, and his team mate, Narain Karthikeyan.
Now the drivers have taken part in two races of the 2011 season, it is still Vettel who is on top of the Drivers’ Standings. He currently leads by 50 points, with Jenson Button behind in second place with 26 points. Hamilton and Webber are now level pegging with 22 points, as a result of Hamilton’s penalty after the race. The Ferrari drivers are next, with Alonso ahead in fifth and Massa in sixth position.
In terms of the Constructor’s Standings, Red Bull have built quite a margin from Mclaren already. They currently lead with 72 points, while Mclaren are second with 48 points. Ferrari have 30 points to start off their season, and Renault are only six points behind them.
The drivers only have one week to wait until their next race in China. It is certain that Vettel will be keeping his fingers crossed, as he goes for a hat trick of pole positions and race victories. Meanwhile his closest rivals will be looking to close the gap on him, and prevent him from achieving three out of three.