Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Race Review - Malaysia - 2011

Round 2 of the 2011 Formula 1 world championship in Malaysia... Vettel takes 2 from 2; Button sneaks onto the podium; Heidfeld has a close shave to take 3rd; Webber fights to 4th despite losing KERS; Petrov flies; Alonso uses Hamilton to break his front wing; and the rain never came.

Despite the concerns about rain in Kuala Lumpur, the clouds managed to contain their regular afternoon downpour.  There was a constant threat of rain and a few drops that never turned into a shower for a few laps from lap 13.

Malaysia 2011 was all about tyre wear.  While the leading teams tried to run 3 stop strategies, a few of the drivers had to pit 4 times for new tyres as the wear rates were higher than hoped.  There were a few careful drivers who even managed to 2 stop, although most of these were tail enders hoping to pick up the scraps from others misfortunes or mistakes.

Sebastian Vettel - qualified 1st - finished 1st
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard
Vettel continued his perfect start to the 2011 season with 2 poles and 2 wins from 2 race weekends.  Again, he superbly managed the gap to 2nd while taking as much care as he could with the tyres.  This was particularly impressive as the team instructed him to stop using KERS mid-way through the race.  We are yet to see Sebastian being pushed in 2011 and I suspect this is disguising how harsh the RB7 is on its tyres, although Webber is showcasing this point pretty clearly.

Jenson Button - qualified 4th - finished 2nd
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard,
Jenson managed to sneak onto the second step of the Malaysian podium by staying out of trouble and pumping out consistent times.  His pace relative to Hamilton was helped by having an extra set of the soft Pirelli tyres on during his third stint while Lewis was on the hard tyresAs a result, Jenson exited the pits after his third stop in front of Hamilton and Alonso.

Nick Heidfeld - qualified 6th - finished 3rd
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard
Heidfeld performed superbly in Malaysia.  His run down to turn 1 from the start line had him firmly placed in the middle of the track into turn 1, running on the outside Hamilton through turn 1, he had the inside position into turn 2 and he headed up to turn 3 in second place.  He held this position until the first round of pitstops before falling back into the pack.  His path to the podium was helped by Hamilton and Alonso making unexpected stops late in the race.  This surprise podium was applauded by fans, as evidenced by "Heidfeld" trending on Twitter shortly after the race.

Mark Webber - qualified 3rd - finished 4th
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard, hard 
Webber dropped back to 8th on the run down to turn 1 before falling back even further to 11th following his KERS failing on the warmup lap.  This made the race particularly difficult for Webber, who was looking for a trouble free run after a disappointing weekend in Melbourne.  In true Webber style, he showed his Aussie grit and determination and kept up the pace throughout the race.  After the first couple of laps, he started making some progress, but despite his higher than average tyre wear, he managed to push Heidfeld in the final few laps as Mark tried to steal the final podium position from the German, but extracted too much from his tyres in the process.  Given that he was running without KERS, this was a great fight back from Webber, but the rate of wear on his tyres in both races so far is worrying for his championship hopes.  With the more frequent fresh rubber, Webber was setting consistent fastest laps after each stop and ended up recording the fastest lap of the race.  It may be a small consolotion for the Australian, but it shows that there is still pace in his Red Bull even without KERS, and perhaps more importantly he kept Vettel from taking the triple crown of pole, 1st place and fastest lap.

Felipe Massa - qualified 7th - finished 5th
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard
Massa had a good race in Malaysia.  Not a great race, but a good one with a couple of highlights.  Felipe had a good start on the run down to turn 1 and snuck through on the outside of Alonso at turn 2.  Massa was not really on the pace though and Alonso made up a lot of ground until he had to pit for a new nose after colliding with Hamilton.  In the end, despite Alonso being faster than him, Felipe finished just in front of his team mate.

Fernando Alonso - qualified 5th - finished 6th (after a 20 second time penalty)
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard, hard
Fernando threw away his chance to be on the podium by touching Hamilton whilst fighting for 2nd place late in the race and breaking his front wing in the process.  He was penalised 20 seconds by the stewards after the race for this incident, but he did not lose a place as a result.  He showed solid pace throughout the race despite losing out to Massa at turn 2 on the first lap of the race and losing the function of his rear wing flap mid-way through the race.  Alonso and Ferrari lost some valuable points as a result of the damage, but they can take some solace in that Alonso was looking a certainty for a podium at that stage of the race, and if he could have held on to the tyres would have finished 2nd given Hamilton's tyre life.

Kamui Kobayashi - qualified 10th - finished 7th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Kobayashi yet again showed impressive pace, being the only mid-pack car that stopped for tyres only twice.  This did not mean that he drove sedately around the Sepang circuit though, as he provided some entertainment in the form of a brief battle with Schumacher that Kamui ended up winning.  Schumacher headed into the pits at the end of that lap for some fresh tyres, but it is still good to see the young guns fighting it out with the 7 time world champion.

Lewis Hamilton - qualified 2nd - finished 8th (after a 20 second time penalty)
Tyres - soft, soft, hard, hard, hard
Despite a good start, Lewis ended up losing out to Heidfeld in the first 2 corners of the race.  In the first 2 stints, Lewis was staying close enough to Vettel to take advantage of any mistakes that he may have made, but the early shift to hard tyres for Lewis resulted in a drop off the pace.  This was made even worse by a slow pit stop as one of his front wheels not co-operating during the tyre change.  This ultimately led to Button exiting from his 3rd stop in front of Lewis.  Hamilton was struggling with his second set of hard tyres that were apparently a used set and left the track a couple of times.  He made a very late 4th stop for another set of tyres and that ended his chance of a podium finish.

Michael Schumacher - qualified 11th - finished 9th
Tyres - Soft, soft, hard, hard,
The Mercedes is simply not cutting it early in the 2011 season.  Schumacher struggled to keep the car on track throughout qualifying and other than a couple of defensive battles, he did not really show any spectacular performance.  Schumacher will, however be relieved to have beaten his team mate to the line for the first time since Korea last year when Rosberg was taken out of the race by Webber.

Paul Di Resta - qualified 14th - finished 10th
Tyres - Soft, soft, soft, hard,
Di Resta managed to pick up the final points paying position for the second race in a row.  This time, however, he was not promoted due to other cars being disqualified, this was all his own pace.  Perhaps more importantly though, he beat his team mate across the line.  The young Scot had an uneventful but solid race, no doubt pleasing team owner Vijay Mallya. 

Adrian Sutil - qualified 17th - finished 11th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard, soft
Adrian Sutil's race was compromised at the end of lap 1 after he and Barrichello touched, puncturing the rear left tyre of the Williams and breaking Sutil's front wing.  Sutil needed to replace the nose of his Force India and that put an end to his planned 2 stop strategy.  The rest of his race was solid and he ended up finishing just 9.8 seconds behind his team mate despite the earlier drama.

Nico Rosberg - qualified 9th - finished 12th
Tyres - Soft, soft, soft, hard,
Rosberg struggled in Malaysia, finishing right in the middle of the pack.  This was a rare race where Rosberg was outpaced by his team mate, Michael Schumacher.  Mercedes GP have really fallen behind the teams that they were beating just a couple of years ago when they were Brawn GP. 

Sebastian Buemi - qualified 12th - finished 13th
Tyres -  soft, soft, soft, hard
After losing his sidepod cover in qualifying, Buemi's car managed to shed some more bodywork in the race, much to the chagrin of Maldonado, whose Williams picked up the rogue part.  His race was further compromised when he sped in the pit lane after switching the pit limiter off when he thought it wasn't engaged.  He received a 10 second stop-go penalty for his mistake but despite this he still managed to beat his team mate to the finish line.  Perhaps a toggle switch is a better solution to a button for the pit speed limiter.

Jaime Alguersuari - qualified 13th - finished 14th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Alguersuari had a poor weekend in Malaysia, firstly being outperformed in Friday Practice by Torro Rosso reserve driver, Daniel Ricciardo, then by being well and truly outpaced in the race by Sebastian Buemi in the sister Toro Rosso, despite Buemi having to serve a 10 second stop-go penalty.  Jaime will be lucky to still have a full-time F1 seat through to the end of the year at this rate.

Heikki Kovaleinen - qualified 19th - finished 15th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
The Lotus driver's progress in the race was more due to the failure of faster cars to survive to the finish, however, the Finn managed a 2 stop strategy to finish top of the newer teams.

Timo Glock - qualified 21st - finished 16th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Timo, in his Virgin, managed his tyres to a 2 stop strategy to be the last driver to cross the line.

Vitaly Petrov - qualified 8th - DNF (classified 17th)
Tyres - soft, soft, hard, hard
Petrov had a good but not brilliant start to the race, but ran wide on lap 5 after locking his front wheels.  The rest of his race was solid although he was outshone by Nick Heidfeld in the other Lotus.  Petrov did manage to provide viewers with an indelible image of Formula 1 at its extreme.  With only 4 laps remaining, the Russian was trying to make it to the end on his fourth set of tyres when he slid wide on the exit of turn 8.  In an effort to make a smooth re-entry to the track he drove beyond the end of the synthetic grass run-off area and found a bump that catapulted his Renault several feet into the air.  Landing back on the tarmac, the steering broke and Vitaly ended coasted to a stop with his steering wheel floating around the cockpit.  Fortunately Petrov walked away and will be back to entertain us in China.

Tonio Liuzzi - qualified 23rd - DNF
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Liuzzi managed 46 laps in a car that qualified for it's first race in Malaysia.  He retired after suffering a rear wing issue that was an unfortunate end to what was a great weekend for the Hispania team.  The HRT surprised most by qualifying in Malaysia, which was expected to be one of the harder to qualify within the 107% time limit. 

Jerome D'Ambrosio - qualified 22nd - DNF
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
D'Ambrosio, in his 2nd race in Formula 1 managed 42 laps in his Virgin, but after hitting a kerb harder than usual, the engine switch toggled to the off position and the car stopped on the circuit.

Jarno Trulli - qualified 20th - DNF
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Jarno retired after 31 laps with a clutch issue, as Lotus continue with their reliability issues.

Sergio Perez - qualified 16th - DNF
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
After a fantastic debut in Australia, Perez suffered damage from a rogue piece of bodywork from Buemi's Torro Rosso that stopped the Sauber out on track.  This was a disappointing end to the promising rookie's race, but did log another 23 race laps in his car on the Pirelli tyres.

Rubens Barrichello - qualified 15th - DNF
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard
Rubens suffered a left rear puncture at the end of lap 1 following a touch with Sutil. He managed to nurse his car back to the pits, although the tyre carcass had departed by the time he made it back around the track.  To add insult to injury, the Williams developed a terminal hydraulic leak, probably as a result of the tyre damage and retired on lap 22.  This continues the Williams team's miserable start to 2011, with neither car finishing a race so far.  Hopefully they will have more luck in China next week.

Narain Karthikeyan - qualified 24th - DNF
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Narain completed 14 laps in the HRT in his first Formula 1 race laps since 2005.  His race ended early following a hydraulic issue, but at least he got some track time in race conditions.

Pastor Maldonado - qualified 18th - DNF
Tyres - soft
Maldonado only managed to 8 laps in Malaysia, retiring with an engine misfire.  Hopefully we will see both the Williams cars cross the finish line in China.

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