Malaysian Grand Prix: Driver-by-driver

Posted on March 29, 2012


The unpredictable nature of the Malaysian Grand Prix left us with a surprise result, some very happy people and many teams scratching their heads. Here’s the intelligentF1 view:

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault): 11th: Never quite at the races, at least by Red Bull standards. Stayed in touch in the first stint, kept pace with the McLaren of Hamilton in the second stint (once past Rosberg) and then tripped over Karthikeyan when maintaining a comfortable fourth place. Could easily have given the HRT more room even if it was the Indian driver’s fault – he didn’t need to lose the points regardless of what Karthikeyan did. Frustrating – in terms of pace as well as result.

Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault): 4th: Can’t decide if he will be happier with this fourth place than the one in Melbourne. Finished in touch with Hamilton again, having matched the McLaren’s pace for the second half of the race. Without the unexpected top two, we would be talking about a fine second place. There are glimmers of good race pace from the Red Bulls. I don’t think he’ll be too disappointed.

Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes): 14th: Up to the point he hit Karthikeyan, it was all going to plan. Didn’t jump Hamilton in the first stop (to wets), but made it by in the second stop (from wets). After requiring the nose change he was a little slower than Hamilton, but not much. Maldonado started to pull away, so they put on new tyres – he definitely lost out from this. I reckon if his curve were to follow Hamilton’s (and he didn’t stop) he would have been about 14s up the road at the end of the stint – it would have put him in the mix for a point or two. He will be disappointed.

Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes): 3rd: Led the first stint well, and got shuffled to third by a delayed release from his stop due to the Ferrari double pitstop. However, this was when you would have expected him to catch and pass the Ferrari and Sauber and win easily. Indeed, were it not for the inspired duo ahead of him, we would be talking about a measured victory and McLaren domination. That would have masked the fact that McLaren were not that fast in the second half of the race, but I think that they still have the fastest car in nominal conditions. Decent start to the season.

Fernando Alonso (Ferrari): 1st: When people come to compile their top ten drivers of the year, Alonso has to be in on the strength of the first two races alone. While fifth in Australia was little short of a miracle, the victory in Malaysia was beyond credibility. Apart from the first half of the stint on inters, he was not the fastest man on the track, but he gained enough in that period to thwart all but Perez, who did for himself. Simply inspired.

Felipe Massa (Ferrari): 15th: This drive was about on a par with Australia. Slowest of the midfield, he got himself into the top eight with an early pit call to wets, and then proceeded to hold up the midfield. As they started to go past him, he pitted for new inters, but they didn’t help and his second stint on inters was horrible as Petrov pulled away from him in the Caterham. While his team mate was leading. He did beat the Caterham, being 18s ahead by the end, but I don’t think that will be much consolation.

Michael Schumacher (Mercedes): 10th: Qualified well. Started well. Then it all went wrong. I haven’t changed those first words from the last race. The contact with Grosjean just meant that he dropped quickly down the field, rather than fade as his team mate did. The pace in the last stint was OK, and he got a point due to Vettel’s puncture and Maldonado’s engine. I think more than one point from two races was expected.

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes): 13th: Near the start of the stint on inters, he was fourth ahead of the Red Bulls, but a second a lap slower. Hung on for a while, but when they passed him, he pitted for new inters, which left him fighting Button for 13th. Matching his curve to Schumacher’s, not stopping would have left him in the thick of the battle for 7th-10th places. So all things being equal (which they aren’t) stopping cost some points. Mercedes tyre struggles continue.

Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault): 5th: Kimi seems to be quiet at the beginning of stints, and quick at the end. Got between the Red Bulls once the stops for inters had shaken out after the safety car. Lost some time passing Rosberg, and was slower than Vettel ahead, and Webber behind, for the rest of the stint. Jumped by Webber in the stops for slicks. Caught by Senna in the opening laps on slicks, but eventually pulled away, and by the end was comfortably the fastest car on the track. If they can unlock the pace consistently, Lotus will get some big results.

Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault): retired: Two races in, four laps completed. Maybe he has a nosebleed from being so close to the front in F1, but hitting Schumacher wilist running in the top five on lap one does not display the patience he so often showed in the early laps on the way to the GP2 title last year. Being the only person to go off permanently in the first segment leaves him in the position where an unfair reputation as a crasher might stick. Needs to get to the end, as if he does the chances are that he will get points, and probably quite a few.

Paul Di Resta (Force India-Mercedes): 7th: Two races, two points scores. Found himself at the head of the battle behind Massa after the stops for inters. Once past showed good pace, but was shielded from the faster Williams behind (by Vergne), although Senna did eventually pass him once they were all on slicks. Benefitted from the troubles for the Mercedes/Button/Vettel. The Force India does not have the pure pace right now, so banking points when they are on offer is vital. Very good job.

Nico Hulkenburg (Force India-Mercedes): 9th: Qualified 0.013 seconds behind his team mate and finished 3.5s down. Was slower at the beginning of the stint on inters, and faster at the end. It would have been interesting to see if he could challenge Di Resta, but he couldn’t get past Vergne. Good solid job.

Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari): retired: Three and a half seconds off his team mates pace at the start of the stint on inters. Reduced the pace deficit over the first 10 laps of the stint, but was still a second a lap slower at the end of the stint. Also a lot slower on slicks, but his brakes may well have been going by then. At the back of the midfield bunch, was in the battle which turned out to be for the last point, while his team mate was battling for the win. Says more about Perez performance than his own.

Sergio Perez (Sauber-Ferrari): 2nd: Fastest car in the second half of the race. Without his minor off, might well have won if Ferrari engined team orders had allowed it. Correct call to go on to wets put him in position, and earlier stops for inters and then slicks would probably have been enough to get ahead of Alonso. Now he needs to follow it up.

Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari): 12th: At the back of the midifeld after the first stint, didn’t make any ground so tried fresh inters. As with all the other stoppers found it was the wrong move. First to risk slicks, which jumped him ahead of the Rosberg/Button combination, and it says much for their pace that he held them off to the flag. Very closely matched with his team mate, but the strategic calls didn’t work for him. One of those days.

Jean-Eric Vergne (Torro Rosso-Ferrari): 8th: Quietly, quietly, this Frenchman is beginning to look quite good. In a Toro Rosso which didn’t have the pace of most of the midfield, he held off changing from inters on anticipation of a red flag – and got it without falling off the racetrack. Once the changes to inters had shaken out, found himself between the Force Indias, with similar pace. Jumped by Senna in the stops to slicks, but remained in a Force India sandwich, and held off Hulkenburg to the end.

Pastor Maldonado (Williams-Renault): classified 19th: Williams had pace again, but Maldonado joined Button at the back after the changes to inters. Proceeded to pull away from the McLaren and by the end of the stint was ahead of all the stoppers and had caught Schumacher and the midfield. Jumped the Mercedes around the stops and caught the battle for 7th, and was holding the final points position when his engine let go with two to go. How does he have no points?

Bruno Senna (Williams-Renault): 6th: From anonymity in Melbourne to stardom in Malaysia. Lost his nose at the start, and so found himself at the back after the safety car. It took a few laps to get going, but then he passed Ricciardo and Kobayashi, Schumacher and Hulkenburg before the change to slicks and Di Resta afterwards. Harried Raikkonen for a while too. Great drive, and great result for Williams.

Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham-Renault): 18th: Well. Things were OK until he was passed by Petrov soon after the safety car pulled in. Dropped away, so tried fresh inters – this didn’t work and left him behind both Marussias. Jumped Pic in the change to slicks, but never caught Glock. Disappointing.

Vitaly Petrov (Caterham-Renault): 16th: Once past Kovalainen, he did well. Pulled away from Massa after the Ferraris stop for fresh inters, and was eventually passed after the change to slicks. Caterham haven’t quite got the pace of the midfield yet.

Narain Karthikeyan (HRT-Cosworth): 22nd: In the news for the clashes with Button (not his fault) and Vettel (sort of his fault – I guess). Held 10th after the first segment of the race due to starting on wets, and although well off the pace, he finished.

Pedro de la Rosa (HRT-Cosworth): 21st: Left on the grid at the start, but caught up as he started on wets. Was slower than Karthikeyan in the middle stint, and marginally quicker on slicks. The cars finished, and it can only get better from here.

Timo Glock (Marussia-Cosworth): 17th: Beat a Caterham due to Kovalainen using two sets of inters. Still much slower than Caterham and much quicker than than HRT. Couldn’t do much more.

Charles Pic (Marussia-Cosworth): 20th: A close look at the data showed that he kept pace with Glock for the entire stint on inters. That, in itself, says quite a bit. Decent job.