A 4 way showdown for Pole Position on Saturday was followed by an action packed race with 55 overtakes and 63 pitstops. Up front, Sebastian Vettel continued his brilliant form with a fourth consecutive grand prix win. There were loads of stories throughout the field...
Vettel wins and Webber recovers: Sebastian Vettel had to work harder for his win this weekend than in Melbourne. Qualifying saw him edge out Lewis Hamilton and despite a loss of his KERS during the race he won without too many problems. Mark Webber had a manic race. After a KERS issue in qualifying the team replaced parts of the system in Parc Ferme. However it failed before the race and coupled with a poor start left the Australian swamped. He fought back with a 4 stop strategy, 1 more than most drivers. The advantage of that was he could really attack on his shorter stints and made up the time loss of an extra stop - and more. A good fightback to 4th will left his spirits but in still has a team mate to deal with whose confidence is sky high.
Hamilton v Alonso: Lap 45 and 46 seen controversy - heightened by post race penalties - between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren driver was penalised for moving more than once on the pit straight. We've seen drivers in past seasons push this 'code' but this year it is a written rule. In a Ferrari pre-season video their sporting director seem well up on the new regulations and it wouldn't surprise me if he was the one who told the team to protest the move. That was key because it forced the stewards to analyse it and make a decision and by the rule book Hamilton did break a rule. I think his thinking in the move was confused. Alonso was close and he probably thought that he'd be under more pressure but because the Ferrari's DRS wasn't working he wasn't as quick on the straight. So Hamilton made unnecessary moves and then backtracked and it cost him. Alonso got a harsh penalty for what was a minor mistake. If you penalise him for that then you have to penalise a lot of other incidents e.g Webber hitting Hamilton Australia 2010, Vettel hitting Sutil Great Britain 2010 etc. Costly mistake because a podium was there for the taking.
Fortunes reversed for Renault pair: Lewis Hamilton said after a stunning start move in Malaysia in 2007 around the outside that he had studied the past starts at the track and decided to go that way. On Sunday he looked for the inside instead and on that outside route came Nick Heidfeld in the Renault. Some stunning racing between the pair continued to turn 4 but it was the German who would make it stick and finish the lap 2nd after starting 6th. He lost some ground during his first stop but kept his cool - apart from 1 brief off track moment - to come home 3rd. Vitaly Petrov wasn't far off the pace of his team mate but a few minor mistakes seen him slip back. When Hamilton pitted late on Petrov had him in his mirrors and he ran off the circuit after getting offline onto the numerous marbles. Probably in a panic to maintain 7th he kept his foot down but on the mounted grass he got a massive amount of air and snapped the steering wheel mounting as well as wrecking the suspension. A nasty and bizarre incident for the Russian.
Mixed day for the rookies: Another race, another point for Paul di Resta. He delivered a good, clean weekend. The Force India hasn't got the raw pace but the evolution of the car has at least ensured some reliability. He has benefited from a good grounding with those practice runs last year but he has come in and coped well in what have been busy races. Replacing Liuzzi with the Scot is proving to be a good decision. Sergio Perez had his race ended in very strange circumstances. A piece fell off Sebastien Buemi's car and struck the floor of the Sauber. This set off a fire extinguisher which in turn knocked off the electrics in the car. Pastor Maldonado had more mechanical issues, Williams had a poor weekend and the South Americian hasn't been able to show his worth yet. Another tough weekend for Jerome D'Ambrosio who will be awaiting Virgin's updates with eagerness.
Confused? I'm confused: In an ideal world we would want every race to be a great race with clear and good entertainment. The addition of DRS and the deliberate making of high wearing tyres have been done to improve the show. Of course you would rather not revert to these gadgets but in this day and age it is needed. Sunday was a fantastic race and to see some journalists who report on the sport spinning a negative story on it because of all the activity is quite strange and disappointing. I'm looking at this more on a UK perspective but the race on Sunday recorded the best figures for a race in Malaysia ever. My Dad stayed and watched the whole thing. A guy who works for him even watched some of the race and enjoyed it. It was a fantastic race and i will take one like that every day over one like Bahrain 2010. KERS, DRS, the removal of the double diffusers and the tyres all played their part. Don't forget track design. It is clear that this is a factor. Sepang's long straights followed by tight corners in Sector's 1 and 3 really contribute to the action. Other circuits take note.
A few other things to note from the past weekend as well as the one to come in Shanghai.
- Another difficult weekend for Ferrari but the Prancing Horse was closer to the pace during the race. Senior staff have flown back to Italy between these back to back races which tells you a lot about the concern that there is about the car. It's believed by Italian media that the team will see how the Chinese Grand Prix goes before deciding on what course of action they will take with the development with the car. Ferrari implemented big updates during 2010 so don't write them off yet.
- Sebastien Buemi received a stop/go penalty for speeding in the pitlane. He was clocked doing 120.6 km/h in the 100 km/h limited pitlane. He pressed the limiter coming in but felt it had not gone on. However it had and in pressing it again thinking he was putting it on he turned it off and subsequently broke the limit. Usually this gets a drive through penalty so maybe he got a harsher penalty for the excess of speed he had. You could argue a situation like Lewis Hamilton passing the safety car in Valencia last year could have been dealt with in a similar manner. Jaime Alguersuari reported understeer in his car and it was discovered afterwards that there was damage to the front nose.
- There was some surprise when Hamilton went onto prime tyres at his second stop and used that compound until the end of the race. This can probably be explained by Q2 where he flatspotted his right front tyre into turn 1. So that set of tyres may well have been deemed unusable for the race. This meant he only had the set he started on plus one other set, forcing him into doing half the race on primes. That qualifying lock up may well have proved quite costly. Another imprtant thing is the tyre drop off. Sauber ran longer in the first stint in expectation of rain but once the tyres went off they were 3-4 seconds slower a lap. Kamui Kobayashi did manage a 2 stop strategy so another example of Sauber keeping the tyres well on their car.
- The DRS zone in China will be just over 900 metres long and positioned on the 1.175 km back straight between turn 13 and 14. The detection zone for the 1 second gap will be at turn 12. Should see plenty of action down into the hairpin. There has been resurfacing carried out on parts of the track. Also a 4.5 metre debris fence at turn 14. This is probably a response to the incident with Sebastien Buemi in practice last year where a wheel from the Toro Rosso went into a spectator area. We've seen a lot of standing water gather at times in the final corner during wet races in the past at Shanghai and the organisers have changed the drainage on that part of the track.
- Some quotes have come out from the organisers at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain which say they are still trying to get the race on at some point this year. There is even some talk that the King of Bahrain will be in the Shanghai paddock this weekend. Abu Dhabi is prepared to let Bahrain have their November 13th slot and then move the race at Yas Marina to December 4th. They'll be happy to do this as it means they get the season finale. A few weeks ago it seem unlikely in the extreme that a race would occur in Bahrain this year but the possibility remains open. At present the UK foreign office still advise against all but essential travel to the region
- The timetable for the Indian Grand Prix has been revealed:
Times are Local/UK
Fri 28 October
Practice 1 1000 - 1130/0530 - 0700
Practice 2 1400 - 1530/0930 - 1100
Sat 29 October
Practice 3 1100 - 1200/0630 - 0730
Sun 30 October