After the cynicism, controversy and general downbeat feel of the season opener in Australia, this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix showed what Formula 1 is really supposed to be all about. It is about history, risk-taking, endeavour, blood, sweat, tears, joy. It is about titanic battles between teams, and about drivers at the absolute top of their game.
Ferrari had looked good all weekend in the searing heat, with genuine pace, particularly on long runs. Things looked even better for them as Rosberg stumbled in qualifying and Vettel took the red car to the first row of the grid in P2. Little noticed at the time, but painfully relevant in the race, Mercedes had for some reason used up more sets of option tires than their opponents.
Meanwhile Manor were on the grid for the first time, despite a poor qualifying performance they were allowed to race after Will Stevens posted a sufficiently fast time in practice. It was to be his last appearance of the weekend sadly, as his car developed a fuel pump issue. Back to the cynicism for a second – Bernie’s TV crew ignored the Manor car all race, ensuring it did not appear on screen at any point – except once, by accident, in the background of the shot.
By Sunday morning people were already excited enough about the prospect of a genuine battle, however short-lived, between the Red and Silver cars. Once things got going it was better than anyone could have expected and Seb went on to win in style, in a Ferrari that had pace and was kinder on its tires than the Mercedes. His job was made easier when Mercedes made the tactical error of pitting both cars during the early safety car, which plunged them into traffic. They never fully recovered. It says a lot about the performance of the Mercs that they treated second and third as a defeat, when most would see it as a fine result!
But, whilst disappointed, they did not resort to the petty criticism and petulance of Red Bull. Instead, Mercedes responded like true racers, and warmly congratulated Ferrari on their amazing recovery (in public at least!). The same Ferrari that seemed genuinely lost a year ago. Ferrari boss Arrivabene was visibly delighted, as was the rest of the team. A lot of credit should also go to James Allison who headed up the design of the car and leads the team at Maranello responsible in large part for this success.
As for Seb, he sounded happier than he has been about any win. Seeing him on the podium listening to the German and Italian anthems was a genuine reminder of the legacy of his idol Michael Schumacher, and evidence of how much this victory must mean to him.
Championship-wise it is now ‘game on’ – Mercedes and Ferrari have already shown their hands as genuine championship contenders, and don’t rule out Williams yet. This race was almost uniquely hard on tires. At other tracks expect Williams to be taking the fight to these two early leaders. I can’t wait to see what happens next in China.
++++++ RED BULL SORE LOSER WATCH ++++++
Red Bull had a busy time between Australia and Malaysia, with a lot of complaining to do in a relatively short space of time. Followers of F1 were also treated to the amusing sight of Red Bull’s engine supplier Renault calling Red Bull, and Adrian Newey, out as liars, incapable of supporting their engine suppliers. Ouch! Final bit of Red Bull fun for the weekend was seeing both Toro Rosso cars coming in ahead of their parent team. Love it!
++++++ BEST AERO REGULATION AWARD ++++++
The best aero regulation in recent times was the banning in 2008 of winglets, flickups and similar items from F1 cars. With the benefit of hindsight the debris fest of St Pete seems obvious. Tailored Aero Kits do not have to mean wobbly winglets, there is enough diversity in the other aspects of the design to provide interest and differentiation. Hopefully things will tighten up over the season. It was sad to hear about the injury to the spectator, and I hope she recovers fully and receives a lifetime paddock pass.
++++++ NEXT UP: LONG BEACH – BUT NOT THAT ONE +++++++
Formula E comes to Long Beach on 4th April for one day only (practice, quali and the race). If you are anywhere near the area, and you can get there, DO IT! Some of the best drivers in open wheel racing hustling Frankenstein’s monsters (think a DW12 on a diet with regular road car wheels and a washing machine motor) around a shortened version of the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit. Tickets are free so you have nothing to lose. Remember to take ear plugs – the cars may be silent but there is non a stop EDM DJ playing throughout the day.